Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull) Wokiksuye Dec 15 1890 and the Myth of Freedom by Matt RemleTweet
On December 15th, 1890 at 5:30 AM roughly 40 Indian officers descended on Sitting Bull’s home with orders to arrest him. After a brief scuffle with the Indian officers, one of history’s greatest resisters of colonialism and staunch fighter for the traditional ways of the Lakota would lay dead.
“In the fall of 1890, a Miniconjou Lakota named Kicking Bear came to Sitting Bull with news of the Ghost Dance, a ceremony that promised to rid the land of white people and restore the Indians’ way of life. Lakota had already adopted the ceremony at the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations and Indian agents there had already called for troops to bring the growing movement under control. At Standing Rock, the authorities feared that Sitting Bull, still revered as a spiritual leader, would join the Ghost Dancers as well, and they sent 43 Lakota policemen to bring him in. Before dawn on December 15, 1890, the Indian policemen burst into Sitting Bull’s cabin and dragged him outside, where his followers were gathering to protect him. In the gunfight that followed, one of the Lakota policemen put a bullet through Sitting Bull’s head.”
Since his death, Tatanka Iyotake has become a symbol of resistance and freedom for not just the Lakota, but for other Indigenous peoples and oppressed communities around the world. He is remembered not just for his military victories over the colonial settler state, the United States, but also for his fierce rejection to accept, whether through force or assimilation, the ways of the wasicu (fat takers). He understood freedom. Not the false sense of freedom that exists by the now larger general public, but freedom in its truest most natural sense.
Tatanka Iyotake made the following statement to journalist James Creel in 1882:
“This land belongs to us, for the Great Spirit gave it to us when he put us here. We were free to come and go, and to live in our own way. But the white men, who belong to another land, have come upon us, and are forcing is to live according to their ideas. That is an injustice, we have never dreamed of making white men live as we live.
White men like to dig in the ground for their food. My people prefer to hunt the buffalo as their fathers did. White men like to stay in one place. My people want to move their tipis here and there to different hunting grounds. The life of white men is slavery. They are prisoners in towns or farms. The life my people want is a life of freedom. I have seen nothing that a white man has, houses or railways or clothing or food that is as good as the right to move in the open country, and live in our own fashion. Why has our blood been shed by your soldiers?
[Sitting Bull drew a square on the ground with his thumbnail.]
There! Your soldiers made a mark like that in our country, and said that we must live there. They fed us and sent doctors. They said we should live without having to work. But they told us that we must go only so far in this direction, and only so far in that direction. They gave us meat, but took away our liberty. The white men had many things we wanted, but we could see that they did not have the one thing we liked best-freedom. I would rather live in a tipi and go without meat when game is scarce than give up my privileges as a free Indian, even though I could have all that white men have. We marched across the lines of our reservation, and the soldiers followed us. They attacked our village, and we killed them all. What would you do if your home was attacked? You would stand up like a brave man and defend it. That is our story. I have spoken.”
Tatanka Iyotake understood well that the Western world offered only the promise of enslavement, prisoners to their own institutions and ideologies. Through his eyes, during his trips back East, he saw a world that benefitted the elite that held no compassion for the natural world, or even cared for its own children. It is often repeated that Tatanka Iyotake was baffled at the sight of poor white children begging for food on the streets of east coast cities.
Sitting Bull’s speech at the Powder River Council, 1877
“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! Every seed is awakened, and all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being, and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even to our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves to inhabit this vast land.
Yet hear me, friends! We have now to deal with another people, small and feeble when our forefathers first met with them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not! They have a religion in which the poor worship, but the rich will not! They even take tithes of the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse. They compel her to produce out of season, and when sterile she is made to take medicine in order to produce again. All this is sacrilege.”
Since his assassination, we can see that his words of freedom ring as true today as they did back then. The Western world lives under the illusion of freedom. The reality is that the political elite serve the interest of the economic elite, period. All the so-called systems around us, banks, education, criminal justice, military and so on were established to support and maintain the colonial settler state.
Think this is an exaggeration? Just look who the police maintain law and order over. Ever see a CEO of a multinational corporation serve time for the crime of literally turning mni, water, from a source of life to a source you can set fire to when it flows out of your faucet? Or, simple look at the villain the corporate media has made out of Edward Snowden and not vilifying the “big brother” state the government has unleashed on us all.
Just as Tatanka Iyotake, and many others, resisted colonialism and its trappings, so too do many, especially Indigenous peoples, continue to do so to this day. We understand well that we are children of earth, relatives to all creation, given responsibilities to live as a relative to all relations as originally free children of earth. We are fools to allow ourselves to be slaves to the corporate economic elite who care not for the health and well being of creation.
Mitakuyepi, my relatives live free like our relative Pte Oyate, the buffalo nation, roaming the great plains, like that of the salmon nation swimming free in the great oceans, like that of Wanbli Oyate, the eagle nation soaring the skies above. Live free as our relative Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull, understood freedom.