The Battle of the Little Bighorn is Still RelevantTweet
By: Chase Iron Eyes
Today is the day that we celebrate victory at the Greasy Grass, aka “Battle of the Little Big Horn. It seems long ago but 136 years ago is only 24 years prior to my grandfathers birth, for perspective. Additionally we are oral historians and that means the memories of our ancestors are never distant but are alive and well in the fire of our minds. This battle, and the beginning of the end of our buffalo days that followed, is still passed on in various families and traditions that keep our generations stable in their survival story and identities.
In order to understand the battle, one must understand why we were out in some of our favorite hunting grounds in larger than normal numbers. Here is a simple timeline that will provide back drop:
1868 Fort Laramie Treaty between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation (Sioux reserve the Black Hills unto themselves).
1871 – End of the treaty making era among the United States and all Native Nations.
1874 Gen. Custer leads an illegal expedition into the Black Hills and discovers gold, pressure mount for the U.S. to do something to open the Black Hills for exploitation.
1875- U.S. orders all Indians not on reservations to return to said agencies or be considered hostile.
1876 – Battle of the Little Big Horn. After Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho victory, principal Sioux leaders forced to seek refuge away from their former territory.
1877 United States steals/legislates the Black Hills away from the Great Sioux Nation in what is know to us as the Sign or Starve Agreement; under threat of starvation the U.S. still could not get ¾ of all adult males (according to 1868 treaty) to sign the agreement relinquishing the Black Hills.
1884 Dawes Act passed by U.S. which created surplus land out of thin air, resulted in a loss of nearly 100 million acres across Indian Country, and was an attempt at brainwashing Indians into valuing private property ownership over that of the common good.
1889- Great Sioux Act passed by Congress resulting in further loss of land and the creation of the agencies which are now the centers of government for the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) tribal governments which the United States recognizes.
1890- Wounded Knee Massacre carried out against the Lakota by the 7th Cavalry (Custers Cavalry).
So, in 1876 our people who were out in our country making a living via the buffalo economy had already made a choice that they were not going to be detered by the U.S. labeling them as hostile and sending the military to subdue them. The Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota Nations that coalesced along the beautiful landscapes of the Yellowstone River and Rosebud Creek were among those that chose to hold on to the way things used to be in the face of enormous pressure and possible death at the hands of the United States. It was certainly not an easy choice to avoid the agency and pursue the chase as long as possible with a target on your back, nor was it an easy choice to go along with the agency’s plan for our elimination; an agency plan to end who we are as indigenous practitioners of our ceremonies and languages. It is complex at every turn; I’ll just as well not judge someone who was faced with literal life or death choices for their families when I have not walked in those moccasins, yet. However, I am thankful for our people having made choices on both sides of the spectrum. The warriors who gave their last breath to protect what creator had made for them, and those of us who stayed at the agency to try to adapt. Both helped our nations go into the future.
On that hot summer day 136 years ago, Custer had advanced before his other two supporting forces, led by Reno and Benteen, could position themselves to be of any real aid. On this day every soldier under the command of Custer would be rubbed out. This would be our day. We are extremely grateful for the stance that our warriors took to defend their families, land and lifeways. Whenever we fight and are willing to give our lives it is always in defense of women, children, family, land and lifeways. Every time we have been threatened as allies and enemies of the U.S., we do this; we show that we are ready to give what we have to protect our people in any battle.
The battlefield is no longer only a physical fight to steal our lands, sever our ties to protect mother earth, eradicate our dignity, kill our languages, stop our ceremonies and purposefully and perpetually keep us in a subdued state of existence. Poverty is not an accident. The battlefield has largely shifted to the arena of our own minds.
Today our enemy is the corporate west and its institutions (legal, social, political, media, educational, etc.). These institutions that attempt to teach us that we were savage, that we were primitive, that skinny and white is beautiful, that women are objects, that we should value comfort, material products, ego, and consumer culture over sacrifice and our ceremonies. These institutions that ignore us yet demand that we work for them 8-12 hours per day for 60 years or until we retire, at the expense of our families, earth, and ceremonies.
These institutions and their perpetrators, Indian and non, seek to deny the truth that we are children of creation with the blessing and the burden to protect the earth and practice divine order in our ceremonies and life patterns as compelled by our spiritual dignity. I also would be remiss if I did not recognize that our own apathy, learned helplessness, and ego are also our enemies. The theatre of war may have changed to our hearts and minds, but the same lives are at stake.
We celebrate our unconquerable spiritual dignity today with the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota Alliance (Okaspe Yamni) in their country and in the homelands of Gall, Sitting Bull, Inkpa Duta, Rain in the face, Crazy Horse, American Horse, Big Road, and Black Elk to name a few of the Grandfathers that fought at the Greasy Grass and we remember all the others, including women such as Inyan He Wita (Rocky Butte) and Mary Crawler who fought as well.
We celebrate and choose to remember into the future, because that spirit is still alive and ready to meet any challenge in any battle.