January 31, 2016

Meet Native America: Ken St. Marks, Chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 

 

Chairman Ken St. Marks
Chairman Ken St. Marks, Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. January 2016, Box Elder, Montana.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Ken St. Marks. I'm chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

My great-grandmother gave me the name Skinnyman. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is in north central Montana. 

Where is your tribe originally from? 

Rocky Boy’s Band of Chippewa came from the Great Lakes area, and Little Bear’s Band of Cree came from the Canadian territories. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share? 

Our reservation was created by an Act of Congress in 1916, helped by many prominent political activists in Montana. Both bands of Chippewa and Cree were landless at the time of reservation's establishment. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have an elected chairman and eight elected members of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee (CCBC). The CCBC is the governing body for the Chippewa Cree Tribe. 

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

We do have a group of Peacemakers, elected by the tribal government. The Peacemakers serve as a guiding entity to our traditional belief systems as Chippewa Cree. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Members of the CCBC are elected to staggered terms lasting four years. The chairman is elected every four years. We are a sovereign nation, and we are one of the first tribes in the nation to go into an agreement with the federal government to establish ourselves as a self-governance nation. This was done in 1994. 

How often does your tribal council meet? 

The CCBC has monthly meetings, along with monthly subcommittee meetings. Most, if not all, members of the Business Committee sit on at least one subcommittee. 

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

I wanted to be chairman for the sake of the people and the tribe. I've fought hard to be in this leadership position for the past four years. I would like to have a Native community healing gathering for all tribal members and to have the spiritual aspect of our culture be a central focus. I would like the tribe to be connected and united as one, once again, and to do so through prayer and spirituality. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe? 

Before being elected chairman, I served as a Business Committee member. I've run various businesses for the tribe, as well as being self-employed and creating the excavation contracting company Arrow Enterprises, Inc. I am also a Vietnam-era veteran. I served with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Former Chairman John "Roddy" Sun Child. I learned a lot from him and how he handled himself in Washington. Because of who he was and how he treated others, doors were easily opened for him, and with that, it became a better connection for his people. My three grandmothers—Mary St. Marks, Rosanne Saddler, and Gramma Taha Saddler—were also an inspiration for the way I think today. They were prominent figures in my life. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

I'm a descendant of Rocky Boy's Band of Chippewas. Also, one set of my grandparents came from the Cree Nation in Canada.  

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

The tribe has around 6,400 members. Two-thirds of our members live on the reservation, and half are under the age of 18. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

To be a member, a person's parents have to be enrolled and living on the reservation at the time of birth. For those living off the reservation, the criteria are 50 percent Indian blood and one enrolled parent. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers? 

Yes, Chippewa and Cree are still spoken, with an estimated 20 percent of the people speaking fluently. Chippewa Cree language is a primary reason why our culture is still flourishing and intact. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

The tribe owns Dry Fork Farms, Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, PlainGreen LLC, and the Chippewa Cree Community Development Corporation. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

The largest event we host is Rocky Boy's Annual Celebration and Rodeo. Our annual celebration for 2016 will commemorate that it has been 100 years since our reservation was established. 

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

There is the Chippewa Cree Recreation Area, in the Bears Paw Mountains, and the Bear Paw Ski Bowl. Also on our land is the sacred mountain Baldy Butte, along with many other landmarks that are sacred to the Chippewa Cree people. Tours that follow the proper protocols can be arranged for visitors. 

Rocky Boy's Reservation

A beautiful spring day on Chippewa Cree land. April 2014, the Rocky Boy's Reservation, Montana.


How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation? 

We have established a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. federal government. Because of historical ties, we also have unspoken trust and respect agreements with Canadian tribes. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe? 

Our ancestors prayed hard for a place for our people to live and practice our traditional ways and system of beliefs. Take care of this land. It’s our home. And take care to practice self-sufficiency. Our older generation worked hard for what we have today. Follow those ways. 

Our original Chief Stone Child’s last words were, “Be kind to one another and help one another.” 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

The Chippewa Cree Tribe has been through some difficult times while we tried to clean up our government and to see that the business of the tribe was conducted by the legally elected Business Committee, whose members represent the people's interests. It got very personal. 

I’m grateful to my family and many others on the reservation and in neighboring communities who stood by me and helped me fight this. I’d also like to thank the law firm of Fredericks Peeples & Morgan for all their work. With their help, I became the first American Indian tribal leader to receive federal whistleblower protection while we fought to make things right here.

The chairman’s office and the Business Committee are working well together now, for the welfare of our people. That’s the most important thing I’d like people to know.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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January 24, 2016

Thinking of Maria Tallchief on Her Birthday

 

"I'm very proud of my Indian heritage. I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy, they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married, they dance when someone dies." 

—Maria Tallchief

 

Today we celebrate the birthday of Maria Tallchief (Osage, 1925–2013), one of America’s greatest ballerinas, and—with Rosella Hightower (Choctaw, 1920–2008), Yvonne Chouteau (Shawnee and Cherokee, b. 1929), Moscelyne Larkin (Shawnee–Peoria, 1925–2012), and her sister, Marjorie Tallchief (Osage, b. 1926)—a member of a remarkable generation of Oklahoma-born Native American ballet dancers.

Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn
Maria Tallchief and Eric Bruhn, Dance Magazine, July 1961

Critics who saw Maria Tallchief dance praised her grace, energy, strength, and musicality. Dance historians describe her as a bridge between Old World traditions and a new, American ballet. Certainly Tallchief saw herself as an American artist: “A ballerina takes steps given to her and makes them her own," she is quoted as saying."Each individual brings something different to the same role. As an American, I believe in great individualism. That's the way I was brought up."

Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief was born to a wealthy family in Fairfax, Oklahoma, on the Osage Indian Reservation. She studied piano and dance in Fairfax (the dance teacher came weekly from Tulsa) and in Colorado Springs, where her family spent the summer, then Los Angeles, where they moved in 1933. Her mother hoped she would be a concert musician, but she fell in love with ballet. In 1942, she went to New York and was accepted by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. (She refused the director's suggestion that she change her name to the Russian-sounding Tallchieva, but she did use the simpler Maria Tallchief.)

When George Ballanchine became the choreographer of the Ballet Russe in 1944, her artistic course was set. She became Ballanchine’s student—relearning the most basic elements of ballet in the classical Russian style—and his muse. "I always thought Balanchine was more of a musician even than a choreographer,” she later wrote, “and perhaps that’s why he and I connected."

Maria Tallchief—Eurydice
Maria Tallchief as Eurydice in Balanchine’s Orpheus, c. 1948. The estate of George Platt Lynes/The George Balanchine Trust/New York City Ballet Archives

In 1947, Tallchief joined the American Ballet, soon to become the New York City Ballet, under Ballanchine's artistic direction. There she helped Ballanchine achieve his vision of the City Ballet as one of the great ballet companies in the world.

Tallchief also performed with other companies in the United States and abroad. In 1962, with the American Ballet Theatre, she became the first American to dance at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. After she retired, Tallchief became director of ballet and founder of the ballet school of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and, with her sister, Marjorie, founder of the Chicago City Ballet. In 1999, Maria Tallchief received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government

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January 15, 2016

Meet Native America: Jeff L. Grubbe, Tribal Chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Chairman Jeff Grubbe
Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Me yah whae (hello), I am Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

Where is your tribal community located? 

The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation is located in the Coachella Valley, in Southern California, and crosses the municipal boundaries of Palms Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City, as well as portions of unincorporated Riverside County. 

Where is your tribe originally from? 

We have deep roots here. The Cahuilla name for the area was originally Sec-he (boiling water) for the nearby hot spring. The Spanish who arrived named it Agua Caliente (hot water). Then came the name Palm Springs, in reference to both the native Washingtonia filifiera palm tree and the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?  

A significant turning point in the tribe’s history was when the Agua Caliente Band adopted its first Constitution and By-Laws in the mid 1950s. The first all-woman tribal council in the United States was formed in 1954. This group, and subsequent councils, successfully opposed federal termination efforts, obtaining the first long-term land lease legislation in the United States for Indian lands and clearing the way for tribal land development across the country.

How is your tribal government set up? 

The Tribal Council is the governing body that sets policy, makes laws and implements the direction voted upon by tribal membership. The structure of the Tribal Council is composed of five positions and four proxy members. The council includes a chairman, vice chairman, secretary–treasurer and two council members. 

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

No. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Tribal elections are held each year. Officers serve two-year terms, and council members serve one-year terms. 

How often does your tribal council meet? 

We meet weekly, with some exceptions throughout the year. 

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

My responsibility as chairman is to ensure that the decisions we make today improve the lives of our future generations. That’s why we are investing in educational opportunities for our tribal members, economic development for the future vitality of our tribe, and community organizations that provide much-needed services in and around our community. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe? 

I had the opportunity to grow up in and around tribal government. My grandfather, Lawrence Pierce, served on the Tribal Council, so I was able to learn from him. I also became interested in serving my tribe at an early age. 

Chairman Grubbe 2
Chairman Grubbe. August 2014, Palm Springs, California.

Upon completion of college, in 1999 I entered the Agua Caliente Resort and Spa Tribal Intern Program, where I worked in the casino as a table games shift manager. My experience there led me to my involvement in other tribal service, including the Agua Caliente Child Development Committee, the Agua Caliente Election Board, the Gaming Commission, and the Tribal Building Committee. I later joined the Agua Caliente Development Authority. I was elected to Tribal Council in 2006 and elected chairman of the Tribal Council in 2012.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

An important mentor has been former Tribal Chairman Richard M. Milanovich. He shared with me over many years how to lead with diplomacy and grace. My grandfather also played an important role of inspiration, but he passed away while I was in high school. My mother also inspired me through her work on the board of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and on our Enrollment Committee.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

We have approximately 480 enrolled members.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

Our enrollment requirements include that the applicant must be one-eighth degree of Indian blood and the issue of a legal marriage. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers? 

Like many other tribal nations, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is working on recovering our language and teaching it to others through language classes by our Cultural Preservation Committee. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians owns and/or operates the Spa Resort Casino in downtown Palm Springs; the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa and The Show in Rancho Mirage; and the Indian Canyons Golf Resort and Tahquitz Canyon and Indian Canyons recreational areas. In addition we manage land leases throughout the reservation. 

Chairman Grubbe

Chairman Grubbe standing at the entrance to the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa. May 2014, Rancho Mirage, California. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians provides hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to support many community and nonprofit programs and events. In addition we host an annual Celebrity–Charity Golf Tournament that benefits five charities each year, as well as the annual Richard M. Milanovich Legacy Hike, which benefits an educational scholarship within the Native American Political Leadership Program at George Washington University.

We also support the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and the events they put on every year, including the Dinner in the Canyons, the Native American Film Festival, and the Singing of the Birds. These are all great events that share not only our culture, but also cultures and traditions from throughout Indian Country.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

The most unique are Tahquitz Canyon and the Indian Canyons. The tribe is steward to more than 60 miles of hiking and walking trails in the beautiful Southern California desert. The canyons include the world’s first and second largest groves of Washingtonia filifera palm trees, the only palm tree native to California’s desert. Tahquitz Canyon features a 60-foot waterfall. These canyons are also our ancestral homes. 

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation? 

We have government-to-government relationships with local, state, and U.S. federal government. We have important and close relationships with decision-makers at all levels. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe? 

The future success of our tribe and our tribal members is with our youth. We are making decisions and investments now to provide opportunities so that our young people can grow up and become strong, proud, educated, and successful adults. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I am honored to a part of this project. You have interviewed many great leaders, many of whom I know and work with today. We have a long, proud history in this country, and we have overcome so many injustices to get where we are today. Although we have come very far the last 10 to 15 years, we have so much farther to go. I look forward to those challenges and to working with our past, present, and future leaders in Indian Country. Alowah (thank you), and God bless. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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January 08, 2016

Meet Native America: Francis Gray, Tribal Chairman of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh  

Sen. Campbell and Chariman Gray, NCAI 2015
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) and Piscataway Conoy Tribal Chairman Francis Gray at the Tribal Leader Reception during the White House Tribal Nations Conference. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Francis Gray (Bear Clan), the eldest son of Charles and Regina Gray. I am currently the Tribal Chairman of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

I have yet to receive a Piscataway name. When I do, it will be determined by how I exhibit my character within our tribal community. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

Currently our main core is located within the southern region of Maryland in Charles, Prince Georges, St. Mary’s, and Calvert counties.

Where is your tribe originally from? 

We are the people from where the waters blend. This encompasses all of the area on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay from our northern boundary of the Patapsco River watershed (just south of Baltimore) extending south and west to the Potomac River watershed (to include the Virginia, District of Columbia, and Maryland tributary creeks) and west to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share? 

January 9, 2012, the date of the official re-establishment of the Piscataway Conoy people with the State of Maryland. Some people like to refer it as recognition. However, we have always been here, so that day actually reflects when our people and the State of Maryland reinvigorated a relationship that began over 300 years ago. This historic relationship is well documented in Maryland's rich history. 

We, the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, formally revived our official, duly elected Tribal Council as our governing body and reinstituted a government-to-government relationship with Maryland. Today the Piscataway Conoy people continue to embrace our culture and traditional values. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have a Tribal Council made up of a seven members elected by our people based upon a democratic process. 

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

Yes, we have traditional Clan Mothers and an Elders Council, as well. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet? 

The Tribal Council meets on a monthly basis. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe? 

As a young man, I was instilled with strong principles while growing up in our community—knowing who you are and where you came from and making those important connections of culture and relationships that define the Piscataway Conoy people. While traveling up and down the East Coast with my family, I interacted with other tribal nations and took part in the Trail of Self-Determination and the Longest Walk during the 1970s, to name a few important events.

I also witnessed the removal of a cinderblock structure that was built over one of our ancestral ossuaries located on National Park land. Inside this cinderblock structure, visitors could look through windows and view the bones of my ancestors which lay upon the ground. Schoolchildren and tourists would come and view these remains. In 1976, our tribal leadership requested that the National Park Service tear down this structure, and our demand was granted. The National Park Service demolished the blockhouse in the summer of 1976, and my elders reinterred the remains back into the ossuary.

These life experiences bring me here today.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

I am responsible for bringing about positive change and moving the tribe forward while at the same time preserving our history. It is my focus to ensure the betterment of the tribe by making certain that the development of cultural awareness is a priority and to sustain a strong governing structure for our tribe’s present and future. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Wow, naming just a few would not be justified as there are so many who have played important roles throughout different phases of my life. I can say my elders are my mentors, as well as other tribal leaders throughout Indian Country; I am honored and humbled by their being here with me. There is a constant theme as we progress through life that we must stand up and carry on what the elders have provided. We must protect it so that their efforts were and are not in vain.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

There are approximately 3,000 enrolled tribal members today. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

The criteria to become a tribal member are based upon genealogy. The Elders Council has a stringent process that determines one's eligibility. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

We currently do not have any economic enterprises, but we are working towards such endeavors. There are many Piscataway Conoy people who own successful businesses in almost every industry. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

We host several internal, cultural ceremonies, including the a Seed Gathering in early spring, a Feast from the Waters in early summer, and a Green Corn Festival in late summer, and we finish off our year paying tribute and celebrating our elders (Elders Dinner). When we are contacted, we also host many tribal nations coming to the Washington area from as far away as Hawaii. 


 

Francis Gray, 125th Anniversary of Indian HeadChairman Gray holding a ceramic bowl made by his ancestors and dating to between 2500 and 3000 BC. Archaeological surveys show that Native peoples have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. Celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Naval Support Facility at Indian Head, September 2015, Charles County, Maryland. 

What attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

There are a few attractions all within an hour-and-a half drive south of Washington. Jefferson Patterson Park on the south end of the Patuxent River in Calvert County, Maryland, displays a Piscataway Conoy villageHistoric St. Mary’s City, in St. Mary's County, also has a Piscataway Conoy village. Piscataway Park in Accokeek, Maryland, is only a half hour south of Washington in Prince Georges County. These are a few of the attractions that are rich in our culture. 

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation? 

Our interaction with the federal government has always been somewhat schizophrenic. At times our tribe received federal funding for instituting Indian education programs in the local county school systems. In the past we have received job placement grants to help reduce the unemployment rate in our community and to teach our members marketable employment skills. And we received grants to help address other needs within our tribal community. Our individual tribal members have been eligible to receive federal funding for college scholarships based upon both need and merit. Then, administrations changed and the eligibility criteria in federal programs became more restrictive, creating a situation in which we have less direct interface than at other times during our recent history. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe? 

I would want to ensure that our youth truly understand all of the efforts that generations of our ancestors expended to retain our identity and culture as Native people. When I was growing up in our historical homeland in southern Maryland, like many generations of Piscataway Conoy before me, we were a third race in a two-race society. Prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we had little opportunity to tell our story. As a tribe we were not included in official state demographics. But our ancestors persevered in the face of this onslaught upon our identity. 

I want our youth to know that following the traditional ways for over 13,000 years has sustained our tribe over the last 400 years of European, Colonial, and American control. I want our youth to know that learning, practicing, and embracing the traditional ways will be our path to a brighter future. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

As tribal hosts to indigenous nations who visit our historical homeland (which includes Washington and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian), the Piscataway Conoy people are proud to see Native people from the Western Hemisphere come to this area and experience the beauty of the natural world here. My ancestors enjoyed and preserved this part of the world for so many thousands of years. As tribal people, we no longer have physical control over our historic homelands, but we retain the stories, the legends, and the relationships with the lands and waters that make us who we are today, "The People from Where Waters Blend." 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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I love the interview Mr. Francis Gray gave. I came to know a lot about his tribe from his interview.

December 27, 2015

Wounded Knee: Healing the Wounds of the Past

Tuesday, December 29, 2015, marks the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, a "sad and horrible event" Native and non-Native Americans still struggle to comprehend. This article, by historian Mark Hirsch, was first published in American Indian, the membership magazine of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. 

 

Man's shirt 120001

Man's shirt, probably Hunkpapa Lakota, ca. 1875. North Dakota. Deerhide, wool cloth, porcupine quills, human hair, pigments, dyes; 105 x 151 x 6 cm. Said to have been owned by a member of Sitting Bull's band; collected from the owner ca. 1890 by General William Passmore Carlin (1829–1903), commander at Fort Yates, North Dakota. NMAI 12/1. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI 


The winter wind blows cold along Wounded Knee Creek, which threads the badlands and prairies of southwestern South Dakota. This is hallowed ground for the Sioux Nation—a powerful place of sorrow, remembrance, and healing. Here, on December 29, 1890, some 300 of their ancestors—men, women, and children—were killed by soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry. 

Memories of the Massacre at Wounded Knee have always run deep in Lakota Country. For survivors and their families, the event was a slaughter of innocents. For others, Wounded Knee was a battle—“the last major armed encounter between Indians and whites in North America,” according to historian Robert Utley.

Dee Brown demolished that notion in 1970, when he published Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The book, which sold five million copies, describes the opening of the American West from the perspective of Native people. Brown’s narrative struck a chord with readers, and reminded the world that indigenous people paid dearly for the fulfillment of America’s “Manifest Destiny.” 

SIcangu Lakota woman's dress 210969

Sicangu Lakota (Brulé SIoux) woman's dress, ca. 1880. South Dakota. Wool cloth, glass beads, dentalium shells, ribbon, sequins, thread; 128 x 135 cm. NMAI 21/969. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

Most accounts of the massacre end on the killing fields, but there is another, living history of Wounded Knee. That story is about the survivors’ and their descendants’ struggles to memorialize the dead, seek reparations for lost loved ones, and heal the wounds of the past. Theirs is a story about reclaiming history and, in so doing, turning darkness into light.

Lakotas were ready for a message of hope in the late 1800s. The buffalo were gone, and treaties with the United States reduced the Lakotas’ homelands. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 created the Great Sioux Reservation, 26 million acres encompassing all of what would later become the state of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. In 1877, the U.S. confiscated the gold-rich Black Hills, 7.3 million acres located within the Great Sioux Reservation. Eight years later, the Great Sioux Reservation was carved into several smaller reservations, and the remaining lands, some nine million acres, were opened to white settlement. The seven Lakota bands—the Brule (or Sicangu), Oglala, Minneconjou, Two Kettle, Hunkpapa, Sans Arc, and Blackfeet—were confined to the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Crow Creek, and Lower Brule reservations, where life was hard and food scarce.

Turtle 67931
Lakota umbilical charm in the form of a turtle, ca. 1880. Standing Rock Reservation. Hide, glass beads, metal cones, feathers; 15 x 16 x 4 cm. NMAI 6/7931 

Hope came from a Paiute holy man from Nevada. Wovoka envisioned a beautiful world in which the living would be reunited with the dead. The buffalo would return, and life would return to what it was before the arrival of the Europeans. Wovoka’s message generated a new religious movement, the Ghost Dance, which spread throughout Sioux Country. Many Lakotas left their homes and converged on the Stronghold, an isolated plateau in the badlands of southwest South Dakota. Wearing special shirts, which some believed would deflect bullets, they danced to hasten the coming of the new world. 

The Ghost Dance unsettled local officials, alarmed at the sight of the Sioux uniting once again. At Pine Ridge, the Indian agent responsible for managing day-to-day reservation affairs wired Washington for protection. In response, more than half the U.S. Army was sent, including the Seventh Cavalry—Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s unit, which had been obliterated at the Battle of the Little BigHorn, 14 years before. 

The presence of troops worried Chief Big Foot, leader of the Minneconjou Lakota. Big Foot had ridden in battle with Sitting Bull, and his people’s acceptance of the Ghost Dance stoked fears that his band was ready for war. Fearing for his people’s safety, Big Foot and his band left their camp on the Cheyenne River in central South Dakota and trekked southward over 200 miles off rigid prairie toward the Pine Ridge Reservation, where Chief Red Cloud had invited them to seek refuge. They were intercepted by—and surrendered to—army troops, who escorted them to Wounded Knee Creek, some 45 miles south of the Stronghold. That night, Big Foot’s band of 106 warriors and roughly 250 women and children made camp, surrounded by 470 soldiers. Four Hotchkiss cannons, capable of firing 50 two-pound explosive shells per minute, were installed on a hillside overlooking the camp. 

Girl's dress 162323
Sicangu  Lakota (Brulé SIoux) girl's dress, ca. 1890. South Dakota. Hide, glass beads, metal cones, sinew; 58 x 64 x 6 cm. NMAI 16/2323

The next day, Seventh Cavalry Commander James Forsyth ordered Big Foot’s people to surrender their weapons. Suddenly a gun was fired and the soldiers began shooting. Half the men were killed in the first five minutes. Women and children were riddled with shrapnel. People ran, but the soldiers pursued them. Bodies were later discovered three miles from camp. When the smoke cleared, 146 men, women, and children lay dead. Others perished from their wounds or froze to death in the hills. Some 31 soldiers died, many from friendly fire. 

Looters quickly stripped the bodies of Ghost Dance shirts and other possessions, which were sold to collectors and museums. Photographers canvassed the corpse-ridden fields, and sold their photos as postcards. Advertisements said they were “just the thing to send to your friends back east.” On January 1, the bodies were buried in a mass grave. Later, 27 leaders of the Ghost Dance were imprisoned at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and then released into the custody of Buffalo Bill Cody, who featured them in his Wild West show. By agreeing to go on tour, the Ghost Dancers were spared lengthy prison terms. From 1891 to 1895, the U.S. awarded 18 Medals of Honor to soldiers who served at the “Battle of Wounded Knee.”

Baby's cap 122254
Lakota baby's cap, ca. 1900. Standing Rock Reservation. Hide, cotton cloth, porcupine quills, aniline dyes, satin ribbon, sinew, cotton thread; 22 x 15 x 5 cm. NMAI 12/2254

After the massacre, survivors vowed to honor the memory of the dead. In 1901, they founded the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, which continues today. Original members included Dewey Beard (Minneconjou Lakota)—the last survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn—and Joseph Horn Cloud (Minneconjou Lakota), whose father, Chief Horn Cloud (Minneconjou Lakota), died at Wounded Knee. The two raised money for a monument that was erected near the mass grave in 1905. The association also pushed for Congressional hearings to compensate members of Big Foot’s Band, who, as “hostiles,” were disqualified from receiving monies under the Sioux Depredations Act of 1891. Hearings were held in 1939, 1975, 1990, and 1991, but no compensation was made. 

In 1986, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe began to make an arduous, 13-day pilgrimage on horseback to commemorate the massacre. The annual Big Foot Memorial Ride, begun in 1986, retraces the route taken by Chief Big Foot and his people on their fateful journey to Pine Ridge in 1890. 

Alex White Plume (Oglala Lakota), former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and one of the original organizers of the Big Foot Memorial Ride, told a Congressional committee that the purpose of the ride in 1990 was to “mark the end of 100 years of mourning,” and to release the spirits of Chief Big Foot and his people “in accordance with sacred Lakota principles.” In recent years, the memorial ride has become a means for renewal—a way of teaching younger generations about their history and their cultural responsibilities. 

In a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, White Plume declared: “The United States needs to admit that its soldiers were wrong at Wounded Knee when they killed and wounded unarmed men, women, and children.” He urged the government to “make a meaningful apology for the 1890 Massacre and establish a national monument and memorial at the mass grave site.” 

Dyani White Hawk 269334Dyani White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota), Untitled, 2014. St. Paul, Minnesota. Acrylic, oil, size 15 beads, thread on canvas; 35.6 x 35.6 cm. NMAI 26/9334

Finally, on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, the U.S. Congress expressed “deep regret to the Sioux people and in particular to the descendants of the victims and survivors of this terrible tragedy. . . .” Although Congress defined the event as a massacre, the absence of the word “apology” and unwillingness to fund a memorial to the victims have miffed many. Interest in the creation of a national monument and for the rescission of the soldiers’ Medals of Honor continues. 

The Wounded Knee Survivors Association has also successfully advocated for the repatriation of objects pilfered from their ancestors’ bodies. Mario Gonzalez (Oglala Lakota), former attorney for the survivors’ association, brokered a deal to repatriate objects held by a library in Barre, Massachusetts. The collection, which included locks of hair believed to belong to Chief Big Foot, was replaced with replicas crafted by traditional Lakota artists. 

The survivors’ association also asked the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, to repatriate a Ghost Dance shirt acquired in 1892 from a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. In 1999, the shirt was returned at a special ceremony at Pine Ridge. “The spirit of the man that wore that shirt is smiling down,” survivors’ association member Orville Sully (Oglala Lakota) told BBC News. Marcella LeBeau (Two Kettle Band/Cheyenne River Sioux) agreed: “This will bring about a sense of closure to a sad and horrible event. Now healing can begin.” 

—Mark Hirsch

Mark Hirsch is a historian in the Scholarship Group of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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