Wounded Knee, the A.I.M and Me

The Native Americans in Apache welcomed me very hospitably. One concerned Rotarian drew me aside at the time of the 1973 Wounded Knee incident which was very big news in Oklahoma. Oglala Sioux and AIM activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. US Marshals, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area.

Wounded Knee 1973

The activists had chosen the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. The military was armed, the protesters were not. The Rotarian told me to be careful; the AIM was restless and could kidnap me to make demands. He certainly meant well, but it sounded far-fetched to me. After 71 days the occupation ended. Two protesters had been shot dead.

I got nothing but inclusive friendliness from the many American Indians, as they called themselves then, at school. At school they were classmates and Apache Warrior teammates in athletics and football. They invited me to a traditional pow wow one evening, and they presented me with gifts at one of their functions. 

. . .

Melvin Mithlo was a year my junior at school. He was a keen member of the American Indian Movement AIM and was fascinated by stories he had heard of the Zulus in South Africa. He would ask me about them and teach me about American Indian history. Given my avoidance of history – I gave it up in high school as soon as I could – and the poor white-wash version of history that we were taught anyway, he taught me way more than I taught him. Not that he learnt his history in school. The real history of the American West was so much more crooked, sad and brutal than the star-spangled bullshit taught by teachers. As in South Africa, they would be following the official white-wash school syllabus.

Melvin taught me about the AIM which, just before I got to Apache, had gathered about 800 members and people from other Indian groups from across the United States for a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.

He also taught me about Wounded Knee the tragic last hurrah of Indian independence in 1890. Briefly, Native Americans were squeezed into ever-smaller areas and every time they were allocated land, promises were reneged on and more and more land was stolen by settlers or government. Any resistance was depicted as hostility and the army – and vigilante bands – were sent in to murder any resisters – or even peaceful people. Many settlers believed the only real solution to the “Indian Problem” was extermination.

In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century:

  • Removal from lands east of the Mississippi;
  • Concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota;
  • Confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and
  • Assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. More honestly called the termination of the tribes.

The natives lost at every step, they were lied to and cheated at every turn, and their territory and rights shrunk with each new phase. The saying ‘White Man Speak With Forked Tongue’ was simply the plain truth.

Around 1890 a Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of nonviolent religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands, and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the Cavalry. Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in the violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.

490 cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new big machine guns down into the encampment from all sides.

Wounded Knee machine guns

Virtually all the Indians – one hundred and forty-six of them – were killed, including 62 women and children. It was a massacre. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces.

Wounded Knee grave

The U.S. Army – desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”- in a despicable, dishonest aftermath, awarded no fewer than twenty ‘Medals of Honor’ to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.

(Shades of the British defence against the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift after their big thrashing at Isandlwana. Eleven Victoria Crosses were dished out there to act as fig leaves and little was said of the equally despicable massacre that followed the defence. I wish I had known that inside story to tell Melvin!)

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the biggest domestic massacre in U.S. history. One hundred years later both U.S. houses of congress issued a half-baked apology of sorts: only a voice vote was taken, no-one had to stand up and be counted; no reparation was offered; no shameful, undeserved “Massacre Murder Medals of (dis)Honor” were rescinded.

=======ooo000ooo=======

Pow Wow

I was warmly welcomed by the friendly Native American folk in Apache. I really enjoyed them and I think they enjoyed me. They invited me as their guest to a Pow Wow one night.

Here’s a teepee in the Apache showgrounds.

Apache showgrounds

At school the American Indian society presented me with gifts. Debbie Pahdapony Grey does the honours:

The Apache Indian Society presented me with a special hand-made shirt

Oklahoma was Indian Territory before we whites stole it all back, and there’s quite a bit of Indian history about. Read something about it here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shocking-savagery-of-americas-early-history-22739301/

For more, read Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn, who has revealed the very ugly, savage treatment of the indigenous Americans in his book The Barbarous Years.

European and U.S. settler colonial projects unleashed massively destructive forces on Native peoples and communities. These include violence resulting directly from settler expansion, intertribal violence (frequently aggravated by colonial intrusions), enslavement, disease, alcohol, loss of land and resources, forced removals, and assaults on tribal religion, culture, and language.  http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com

Here Melvin Mithlo readies Joe Pedrano for an event.

Melvin Mithlo dresses Joe Pedrano

apache-powwow-4

Museum stuff at Fort Sill north of Lawton, south of Apache. Apache chief Geronimo died here, 23 years after being taken captive. His Apaches were the last tribe to be defeated.

Robert L Crews IV at the Apache museum in Lawton (Ft Sill?)

apache-powwow-5

Brief History

Earliest Period – 1830
The tribes usually described as indigenous to Oklahoma at the time of European contact include the Wichitas, Caddos, Plains Apaches* (currently the Apache Tribe), and the Quapaws. Following European arrival in America and consequent cultural changes, Osages, Pawnees, Kiowas and Comanches migrated into Oklahoma, displacing most of the earlier peoples. Anglo-American pressures in the Trans Apalachian West forced native peoples across the Mississippi River; many including Delawares, Shawnees and Kickapoos-found refuge or economic opportunities in present Oklahoma before 1830. However, some of those tribes split in the process.

*Naisha-traditional reference to the Plains Apache

1830 – 1862
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 culminated federal policy aimed at forcing all Eastern Indians west of the Mississippi River. The Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws and Seminoles–the “Five Civilized Tribes”– purchased present Oklahoma in fee simple from the federal government, while other immigrant tribes were resettled on reservations in the unorganized territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 precipitated further Anglo-American settlement of these territories, setting off a second wave of removals into present Oklahoma, which became known as “Indian Territory.” In 1859, with the state of Texas threatening genocide toward Indians, several tribes found refuge in the Leased District in western Indian Territory.

1865 – 1892
The Civil War (1861-1865) temporarily curtailed frontier settlement and removals, but postwar railroad building across the Great Plains renewed Anglo-American homesteading of Kansas and Nebraska. To protect the newcomers and provide safe passage to the developing West, the federal government in 1867 once again removed the Eastern immigrant Indians form Kansas and Nebraska reservations and relocated them on Indian Territory lands recently ceded by the Five Civilized Tribes. The same year, the Medicine Lodge Council attempted to gather the Plains tribes onto western Indian Territory reservations. Resistance among some resulted in periodic warfare until 1874. Meanwhile, the last of the Kansas and Nebraska tribes were resettled peacefully in present Oklahoma. Geronimo’s Apache followers, the last to be defeated, were established near Ft. Sill as prisoners of war.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑