A couple years back, Cheryl and I decided to head up to South Dakota to see the sights and to visit Pine Ridge. Ever since I was a small boy, and ever since seeing the movie “Dances With Wolves” (and reading the book) I had wanted to visit the Sioux Reservation. There are actually a couple Sioux Reservations, as the “Sioux” are a relatively large band of tribes, who gathered together only occasionally but who existed on the Northern plains of North America and who are still there living on Reservations to this day. Pine Ridge is the reservation of the Lakota Sioux band of Native Americans. Cheryl had been talking about wanting to see Mt. Rushmore for some time. We both had an interest in the Black Hills it seems so we planned our trip.
Let me give you just a bit of background. Somewhere around 2006 I read a book by James Bradley called Flyboys. The author is the same who wrote Flags of Our Fathers (made into a blockbuster movie by Clint Eastwood). What intrigued me so much about Flyboys was the fact that he threw in a whole set of background material that detailed the convoluted and complex relationship between the United States and Japan. The Japanese claimed, prior to WWII, that they were not doing anything more “Imperialistic” than any of the Western powers had done in Asia, or Africa, or in fact they compared it to the United States “Conquest” of the Native American tribes, and their subsequent “Internment” on reservations.
Bradley claims that the Japanese used these arguments to prove they had the right to embark upon what they called their “Destiny” to enfold the Far-East Asian countries into a “Coprosperity Sphere.” Anyhow, one of the chapters in Bradley’s book certainly gave me pause for reflection, and when he said that the United States Government had commissioned and built a monument to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore, in the heart of the sacred Black Hills of Native America, that was the most “Imperialistic” insult (Bradley’s claim) of all towards those native peoples. Washington and Jefferson, after all, were slave owners. Although Lincoln had been an advocate and died for the freeing of the slaves, he himself had been a “Wild indian fighter” in his youth. And Teddy Roosevelt was perhaps the most Imperialistic of them all, having given rise to the proposition that America ought to be involved in foreign affairs, and in fact had a duty to the world to flex its might wherever and whenever needed. TR is thus responsible for the killings and murders, atrocities in the Philippines (during the Philippine – American War) following the Spanish American War, in which he so “Gloriously” rode up San Juan Hill with his “Roughriders.”
Now, I’m not here to pass judgement on these men, nor do I completely subscribe to Mr. Bradley’s theories about Western Imperialism being completely misguided. After all, there was some impetus by the “Christian” nations to send missionaries and protect them in far-flung places, in deepest Africa and in Asia and so on. That does not in any way excuse or condone behaviors and practices that are deemed culpable, such as the British taking Opium into China, and enslaving an entire nation in order to get a lock on the tea trade. Nor does it condone the behaviors of the likes of Leopold of Belgium in the former Congo. Many other examples of these types of atrocious behaviors exist.
The bottom line is, the world is simply shrinking, and in man’s ever increasing search for raw materials and labor for the economic processes that seem to dominate our activities on this earth, we naturally tend to jostle one another for leadership of the masses. These jostlings have led to many wars, and these wars have come to define who we are as a people. Or, on the contrary one could say, these jostlings are defined by who we are as a people. We are a violent and vicious race, in our hearts there is nothing good, as the Bible tells us. Man is capable of great evil and often that comes to a head and is expressed in outright murder of innocent people, those who have nothing to do with conflicts are often swept up and incinerated by the flames of lust and passion.
Such is the case with Wounded Knee. Stinging for years following the “Massacre” at the Little Big Horn (Custer’s “Folly”) the Army built up a huge force to chase down the Native American tribes responsible for Custer’s and his 7th Cavalry’s death. In their last bastion of the Black Hills, the natives felt secure and isolated, but the Army pressed onwards. The camps were identified and surrounded and the people penned up. As has been told many times, the soldiers went to start the disarming process and somebody, nobody knows who for sure, fired a shot. Inevitably, cannon and shellfire felled many natives that day, at least half of whom were women and children. Blood for blood, life for life, Custer was avenged by another massacre, only this time, many were “Noncombatants.”
This was why I had a desire to go to the Black Hills and to find Wounded Knee and offer my prayers and condolences there. We wound up going in the middle of winter for some odd reason. I guess we had nothing better to do. I was still working for Swisslog at the time, and I planned what you would call a “Long Weekend” for the trip. Since we were going up there to visit the Reservation I figured we might as well bring some humanitarian aid along, if possible. That desire grew out of our natural Christian desire to help our fellow man. Anyone who reads even the slightest bit about Pine Ridge is immediately struck by the hopelessness and despair that define the place. I just kinda thought maybe we could help in some small way. I got in contact with an organization called “Friends of Pine Ridge” and also I talked with a Pastor of a church up there to see how we could help.
The gal I spoke with at Friends of Pine Ridge said there was a Women’s Shelter, in a place called Kyle, and they needed diapers. She explained to me, in a letter, how the women lived there during the week, to escape their alcoholic, abusing boyfriends or husbands, and they had lots of little ones with them usually who needed diapers, and they could use some clothing by the way too she told us. So, we went and bought up a dozen or so pair of jeans, rugged shirts, jackets, and about 6 cases (over 1,000) infant diapers. She said they needed the smallest diapers for the little ones most desperately. We added a few other items, some shoes I think, whatever else we had that would normally be “Thrift type” donations, and we packed out the back of our Tahoe with all that “Stuff.”
We took off at about 2am on a Friday morning (February 13) heading up there, and it was snowing hard as we headed out I-76 from Denver towards Nebraska. I planned the route to be the least miles (or so I thought), and what I thought was the most direct route, but had no idea we’d be on secondary roads for most of the way. I-76 is a fine highway, but we got off onto a “Side road” to head directly north towards Pine Ridge, before we got to Nebraska. We stopped in Nebraska in the town of Sidney (there was a headquarters there for some big outdoors outfit, who was that, can’t remember off the top of my head…Cabela’s?) and we had breakfast at a diner in town, cutest little place you ever saw! We love diners, and family owned, or small town very much appeals to us. That place was called, well, I don’t remember anymore either, something like “Breakfast Place”, but it probably doesn’t exist any longer. Small places don’t survive in economies like we’ve had in the past 3 years, at least not usually.
We visited the local hardware store, that seems to be another tradition for us when we visit small towns, ever since our first honeymoon in Estes Park when we had to go to the hardware store to get bathing suits so we could use the hot tub at our Bed and Breakfast! No kidding, they sell bathing suits at the hardware store in Estes Park and I am pretty sure they sold them at this place in Sidney too, it was huge! Anyhow, we got gas and proceeded north going across the Nebraska pan-handle from south to north towards South Dakota, specifically Hot Springs, South Dakota, that was to be where we stayed while in South Dakota.
The drive across Nebraska was relatively uneventful, it was still snowing off and on, but it was “Showers” now and we had mostly clear driving on the secondary roads (Praise God!). The one remarkable thing we saw in all of Nebraska was what I would call the “Largest Tractor Graveyard” in the U.S.A. We came into this one town, and came around a corner on one side of town, and there it was – about 250 acres of dead tractors. All kinds, all models, all laid out in nice neat rows. It was AMAZING! If you’re a tractor lover like me, then you must realize how I was salivating to go in there and just walk the rows looking at all that old machinery. There were 1,000’s of them! I figured they hauled them in from all over the place and shipped parts probably all over the world. You need it, chances are, this place had the part for your tractor, regardless of year, make or model. What town was that? Let’s see, had to be … Alliance? I can’t find it on the map, place must still be there though. I can’t spot it on satellite views either, but that many tractors don’t just disappear that quickly!
We proceeded north through Nebraska, coming gradually into the southern portion of the Black Hills, finding our way along Highway 385 into South Dakota, and eventually following it all the way north to Hot Springs. When we got there, we had to stop and take pictures of the wheels on our Tahoe.
It was so amazing the pattern that ice and snow make on your wheels after 350 miles of driving. We drove all that day from about 2a.m. in the morning until noon or a little after in the afternoon, through snowstorms the entire way, and arrived at our hotel safely, somewhat exhausted but ready to go exploring a little bit. Praise The Lord!
We dropped much of our “Junk” at the hotel, and proceeded north out of town to find Windy Cave National Park. Remember, it was the middle of winter up there in the Black Hills, and we saw very few people out and about. That’s another thing that Cheryl and I like to do, we travel where there aren’t lots of folks, we don’t like crowds I guess. We found our way through that park, even took off on a side road for some adventuring. I remember we pulled one jeep out of a snow bank, and we drove around a while before we decided to go and see the Visitor’s Center for Windy Cave. We showed up there, with about 3 other folks in the parking lot, and decided we’d go on down in the cave for some “Spelunking.”
In reality, the cave (the tourist section) is entirely improved, with cement paths, stairs and lights and all. They even have an elevator that takes you down. I forget how far that goes down, 80 feet or so? It’s a bit of a drop, and then you come out into the pure cool air of Windy Cave and you are presented with a marvel of jagged formations and twisting grottoes, all appearing like Mars to us I guess. Caving is definitely fun, if you can handle being underground for long periods of time. I’ve been in quite a number of caves now, and enjoyed every one of them. Windy Cave is really quite something, pathways go on and on, seemingly without end. There is another related cave on the other side of Custer Park called Jewel Cave that is even more spectacular, and quite a bit larger. There is quite a bit of speculation that the two caves actually join somewhere under the Black Hills as a matter of fact, being as Jewel Cave is so extensive, and mostly unmapped, and every mapping expedition hints at even more vastness.
I took some pictures in Windy Cave, some came out pretty awesome,
even though they were only taken with my first iPhone. One of those pictures (a picture of Cheryl underground) became a “Favorite” and it was the “Home” screen picture I had for years on that phone.
I’ve got a copy of that picture in here too. We drove around Windy Cave National Park a bit more, went far enough north to where it became Custer State Park, went on a Buffalo hunt (to try and find a Buffalo to take a picture of so we could say we saw a Buffalo in Custer State Park) and then we decided we’d had enough for one day. The day started early after all! We headed back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and to find some dinner.
We relaxed in the pool for about 1/2 an hour and then followed the advice of the gal at the front desk and we went and found a restaurant called “The Stagecoach” if my memory is correct. It doesn’t show up on Google either, but at least I can still see it on the Satellite images, and the drive-by images as well. It’s off the Highway 18 bypass on the west side of town (Hot Springs), and it was good! Expensive (in a relative sense) but good. It was not expensive by city standards, but yet, we don’t have a lot of money either, we’re always broke or mostly broke it seems, but the food was good so we didn’t mind. It was mostly local rancher families out with their kids there that night anyhow, we almost fit in. We don’t look like city slickers, except for me and my pony-tail. I still don’t look much like a city slicker, and I try not to be. I really can’t stand people who think they are all that and so forth, and that’s mostly city slickers.
OK, end of day 1. We arrived in Hot Springs, SD, did some “Exploring,” and got a good night sleep. Cheryl was not feeling the greatest if I remember right, she’s had some sinus problems and neck and back problems these past few years, so we made sure we got a great night’s rest, along with that dip in the pool, and she was doing a lot better the next day. The next day we planned (on a Saturday!) to head up and see Mt. Rushmore. Again, I ask you to remember that we do not do things “By the book.” We were visiting in the middle of Winter and there was no guarantee that we would even get to see Mt. Rushmore (or that the road would even be open!) since it was still snowing heavily and forecast to continue on Saturday.
So, we geared up, tanked up with coffee and food for the trip to Mt. Rushmore, and we headed on up into the Park. We drove through Custer, and past the Crazy Horse Monument turnoff at some point, and eventually we found ourselves on the Mt. Rushmore Highway. Not much outside of the town of Custer was open, the weather was still a bit difficult, but we got to Mt. Rushmore and the snow seemed to have tapered off a little bit. We paid our “Fees” to see the monument, went up and parked and walked to the Visitor’s Center, not a far walk since the parking lot that holds well over 5,000 vehicles only had about 300 on that particular day. Still, there was a pretty good crowd in the Visitor’s Center. Folks viewing the monument from indoors, as it was bitter cold outside (like 10f).
We viewed the exhibits for a bit, bought some materials and decided to brave the elements and maybe even walk around the trail that goes under the monument.
As it turned out, the trail was closed, so we stood there in the cold for a few minutes taking pictures and talking with a few folks. The Monument is impressive, I’d seen it before one time. But in Winter, it’s simply spectacular.
The pictures I have won’t
do it justice.
The carved figures seem to have more life, more depth, with a blanket of white highlighting the features of the artist so they seem to be people just standing there. Although it was too cold to stand around outside for too long, and the trail under the President’s was closed, we did hang out there for a bit and chatted with some folks (no city slickers out in that cold that’s for sure!) and then we decided to head out and stop in Custer for some lunch. I don’t even remember where we ate, it was an unremarkable “Tourist” town, no character of its own.
We headed back to Hot Springs after driving around some more, I think we headed out to Jewel Cave as a matter of fact on that day, but we were too late to make any tours of the cave. That was when we found out all the remarkable facts about Jewel Cave though. It’s quite extensive, about the 2nd most extensive cave in the United States, and more is being mapped every year, so the speculation is that it will one day be the most extensive cave system in the United States, in all of North America perhaps. Something like 250 miles had been mapped when we were there in February, 2009, while only 100 miles of it were mapped just 10 years prior. That’s a lot of passageways! They go up, down, just seemingly endless! That was to be the last of our exploring in that direction (north of Hot Springs, up around Windy Cave and all). The next day, Sunday, was our day that we had planned to head up to Pine Ridge, the Lakota Sioux Reservation.
So now remember, we headed up to Pine Ridge on a Sunday, and we had been in contact with a Pastor of a church up there, so we headed out early enough that we figured we might get to worship with the folks at his church. He really had no idea we were coming (what day we would be there) we just showed up and they were there. The church was a small, typical country white church building, with a steeple and all, and there was a tiny parking lot and they had a little coffee shop next door (which was not open). I think we beat everyone else there, we got there at like 8:30a in the morning and the town was just as quiet as could be. The church was near the center of town, which can only be described as an intersection, with the only traffic light on the reservation probably, and a gas station. That was it. We saw no banks, grocery stores, in fact, there were no stores of any type anywhere on the reservation. The only other “Business” type establishment we saw on the entire reservation was a post office we passed way out in some other town near Wounded Knee.
But, all of that aside, we were there to worship and fellowship with these people. We met the Pastor, and his wife and children, and gradually a few other folks wandered in. I don’t remember anybody’s names since it’s three years later now, except for one fellow who I will never forget: His name was “Uncle Sam.” Of course that’s not his Sioux name, nor was it even his legal name probably, but that’s what he was called, and we had a worship service that morning with those fine folks out there on the Pine Ridge reservation. In total, there were about 25 people that morning. There were some young folks from a camp nearby of some sort, I have no idea if it was a Christian camp, or whether it was a work/volunteer camp setup by the government. They came as a group and sat together and so I don’t remember much else about them.
There were a few elderly women, and a few other men from the reservation, all of them ravaged by time, alcohol, neglect and what have you. Even Uncle Sam seemed worn down by the effects of a hard life in a hard place, but they were happy and genuine, and happy to have us there with them that morning. They served us breakfast, we ate with them as well as worshiped and heard the Pastor’s message that morning. They treated us just like we were family. We had the entire back of our Tahoe loaded with “Stuff” and I felt rather bad that we had nothing to give them except some money. We just hadn’t planned on making more than one humanitarian stop on our visit. They could sure have used some help. I gave what we could to the Pastor, and he and I had a good conversation. He really looked into my soul, and asked me some hard questions. I hadn’t expected that at all, so I was taken by surprise somewhat. Afterwards though, I understood why he asked those questions.
He asked me if we had come up to the reservation to visit the sweat lodges. I told him that we hadn’t, that we were headed way out to a place called Kyle, and that we had a bunch of donations for the Women’s Shelter out there. He asked if I’d come seeking some kind of “Experience” and again, I told him I had not. We were merely there to offer our love, encouragement, and a few meager donations to the folks on the reservation so that we could let them know they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you understand what the Pastor was driving at? He told me, so let me explain it to you. Many come out to the reservation, and not just to visit the Casino. I haven’t even mentioned the Casino on the reservation, because it was so huge and gaudy, and ugly, and was totally out of place. I’m positive that the Casino brought no “Prosperity” to these people, rather I’m sure it contributed to their misery instead. But, I digress.
The Pastor told me that the folks, even Christians like ourselves, came out to see the Natives and to participate in their “Native rituals.” They visit the sweat lodges, and seek “Visions.” They are looking for “Experiences” or what we would call Mysticism. When folks go around seeking those mystic experiences, they have substituted something very evil for what God actually wants from us. Life is not about our experiences you see. We are not supposed to be running around looking for our next “Encounter” with God, because if we are doing that, then we are probably being deceived by Satan and in fact we are dabbling in the demonic. Jesus called us to love Him, and love one another. We are to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as we would be treated. At the same time, we spread God’s word and His love to those who don’t know Him yet. But our main purpose on this earth is to serve and minister to one another, not to seek the mystic.
The Pastor gave me a great lesson that day, one I have thought a lot about these last couple years, and I am glad I’m finally getting a chance to write it down and share that with you all too. It’s extremely important for Christians to “Get” that lesson. The Pastor of our church where we’re at now, Hope Chapel Hermosa Beach, he says very much the same thing. In fact, our church is currently studying a book called When the Church Was A Family which is about much the same message. We all of us have issues, problems and so on, and we have needs and desires. When we can subordinate our desires and needs, and learn to serve our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we learn that our needs are not really that important. The basic needs, we can always rely on the Lord to take care of those each day anyhow. I’ve never been without food on my table, or a roof over my head. What need have I of more? If I am constantly running around seeking “What’s in it for me?” then my whole focus is self-centered and selfish, and I don’t care a bit for those around me, I trample on their needs and desires, when in fact, if I serve them my own needs and desires would also be met!
Anyhow, that’s a very long explanation of a very valuable lesson we learned that day from a Pastor out there on the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation that we will treasure and carry with us the rest of our lives. After the worship was over, somewhere around 11:30a I think it was, we said our goodbyes, and headed off northward and eastwards to find Kyle, South Dakota. It’s amazing, you just never have any idea how vast a place can be until you drive around it. That reservation is huge! There were lots of trees, and hills, and rivers and streams, and ranches, and houses, and people. At least we saw a few other folks. It was still pretty cold out, as we drove around the reservation. I had no maps, it was the first time I purposely took no maps with me, but instead attempted to do all our navigation by iPhone with Google Maps. Another valuable lesson for those who are clueless like I was: Google Maps may work when you’re “Way out” away from civilization, but all you get is a flashing blue dot on a background of solid tan coloration. In other words, it knows where you are, but there was no cellular signal out there so that it could load maps for us to be able to figure out where the heck we were!
Cheryl didn’t panic, she just thought I was a dodo for not bringing any maps. Of course, I was, but I figured I knew pretty much where the town was supposed to be, all we had to do was take the right turns to get there. We followed roads out east of the town of Pine Ridge and then the road ended at a North/South highway, and I knew we needed to turn north, so away we went. Again, you gotta remember, it was mid-winter, snow showers, cold, and to top it all off, it was Sunday, and there was just nobody out and about except us. I’m sure glad our Tahoe was still fairly new at that point, and reliable, and we had most of a tank of gas still. We had no idea where we were going out there in the middle of the Pine Ridge reservation!
But, the Lord was with us. We passed a few intersections, with roads heading eastwards. We knew it had to be one of those roads, we just had no idea which. The signs, well they were almost non-existent out there. We saw a few signs at the intersections, but not enough to help us navigate. We kept heading north and all of a sudden we were into the Badlands. Whoops! We actually entered Badlands National Park and at that point, from my memorized map of the area, I knew we’d gone too far north. So, there were only 2 or 3 possible roads it could have been, the road east to Kyle that is, so we turned around and headed back southwards again, this time spotting a sign that said “Kyle, left” so we took that road. We drove about another hour, through the rolling hill country, and we were really starting to wonder about the vastness of the reservation, when all of a sudden we came up and over a hill and there it was, the town, below us. The town looked modern, there was a big High School there, we thought it was a High School anyway, it had a track, and school buildings, and there was another facility, what appeared to be a clinic, and then we passed an intersection and we were through the town, without having spotted the Women’s Shelter, or a sign for it. At that point, in the town itself, we really had no idea where the shelter was, if there’d be anyone there to meet us, or whether it was even open on weekends.
So, again, the Lord provided. We took a southwards turn on the one major road heading out of town that direction, and we found a church. It was a little teeny tiny Baptist church, and the Pastor was there (miracle for us!). He came out of his building, in his slippers and flannel shirt, and looked at us and probably thought “Now what are you dumb white folks doing way out on the reservation on a day like today?” I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d laughed at us, but instead he was very cordial and helpful. I still think we shocked his socks off by showing up there asking directions to the Women’s Shelter. He too expressed his doubts as to whether there’d be anyone there on weekends.
I need to elaborate on what I started to explain earlier that the women are there – at the shelter – during the week, staying there, with their small children and such. The reason they stay in the shelter is because their husbands and boyfriends are all alcoholic and abusive, and they are mean and they drink hard and such. During the week, the men stay in another shelter, a half-way house I gathered, but it was in Rapid City (about 100 miles away from Kyle I think). They kept the men and women separated geographically to try and give those poor mothers a chance, but the system failed on weekends for reasons I still don’t understand.
My recollection as to what the woman we spoke with from Friends of Pine Ridge said is that the men (and women?) get their “Checks” (welfare) on Fridays and so the entire weekend is one big party and the women, well they want to party too, so they all leave their shelters and go hang out wherever on weekends, probably with friends, relatives, whomever. The poor little ones get dragged along for these weekend binges, what a mess. It just seemed so hopeless to us, that they had so little else in their lives to look forward too, and so little going for them that when they had the money, they simply partied like there was no tomorrow, and then they wound up back at the shelters come Monday. I should not say they always wind up back at the shelters, because the average life-expectancy for folks on the Pine Ridge reservation is about 45 – almost half what it is in our country! That is a disgrace, and I am ashamed to say how we’ve treated these folks who are the offspring of the first people to settle North America.
Hmm… I’m beginning to think I know where those folks go on weekends when they have that money (it’s money from the government by the way) in their pockets on Friday nights, they probably head to the Casino to spend it all. I heard some years back, from the former Mayor of Gallup, New Mexico, how the Native Americans there would do the same thing on Friday nights – if he paid them weekly. He partially solved his problem by paying his jewelry makers on a bi-weekly basis. He said, at least some of the money made it home to buy groceries the following week that way.
It’s just so sad, the way we’ve penned them up on some reservation, essentially they are in a box, so the rest of us can forget about them and never have to think about them. Well, I will not ever forget, that’s for sure!
So, where was I? Oh yes, the good Pastor of that little tiny Baptist church in Kyle gave us directions so we could find the Women’s Shelter on the other side of town, in fact it was nearly the first set of buildings we passed as we got into town he said, across from the Medical Clinic. So, we drove over there, and parked by the receiving dock out back and knocked on the back door. Another miracle, there was somebody there! One woman stayed the weekend there. We had no idea if she was staff, or a resident or what, we simply asked her if we could drop off our donations and she said yes, so we carried in our load and deposited it on the floor near one of the lounges in the building. It was a large building, a facility we gathered that could hold 60-70 or more women and their children. She showed us the kitchen area, since it was by the loading dock where we were parked, and gave us a short tour. I think she was just blown away by two white folks showing up on her doorstep in the middle of winter with a bunch of donations too.
I told her that the Lord had asked us to come out to see her. I told her specifically that we were sent to let her know that somebody cares. We care. We came not just to visit the reservation and to see Wounded Knee, but we also were there to share our Savior’s love for them and to let them know they are not forgotten. She had tears in her eyes, and so did we. We thanked her, and left. There wasn’t any point in our hanging out it didn’t seem. Our “Mission” was accomplished and we had a 4 hour drive to get back to our hotel, and it was already after 3p by the time we had found this place and were leaving. We tried not to be a whirlwind to her, but it was important for safety that we get back on the road and get as far as we could before it got dark.
So, we headed back towards Pine Ridge. This time, on the way back, we made it a point to stop and pray at Wounded Knee. We had passed it on the way out, so we knew where it was. We stopped there, we prayed, we asked for forgiveness for all the atrocities, and the shameful manner we treat these people. They are Americans after all, and they suffer one of the highest rates of unemployment and alcoholism of any people anywhere. We’ve neglected them, left them to rot on the vine. Nobody cares about them, except a few Pastors, some churches that send missionaries, and we know that Debbie Milligan, a friend from our church back in Colorado, she goes out there and plays concerts occasionally. But, we were satisfied in knowing that we had at least let one somebody know that they are loved, and that we care. I hope some day to go back and do more.
Wounded Knee itself was unremarkable. It was a junction of two creeks, and a big dirt parking lot, and some structures that looked like they could be “Concession stands” during the summer. There was a sign that explained the significance of the place (which I already knew). There had been a camp there. The Army had surrounded them and then the slaughter happened. Many escaped, including Black Elk, whose book I’ve read numerous times. They escaped by ducking down in the creek beds and running, staying as low as they could to get away from the cannon and rifle fire. Why did the army do it? Crazy Horse was already dead, having been captured and murdered by the Army as well. What was there to gain by disarming this small (less than a thousand) band of natives. What point did it serve, other than to get revenge for Custer (finally). Man’s inhumanity to man will always be with us it seems.
After that, we went and saw the Post Office in the town nearest Wounded Knee, another remarkably unremarkable building, and then we left the reservation, passing that ugly Casino one more time. It never ceases to amaze me how folks can believe that the Casinos have done any good for Native Americans. The Casinos have helped maybe half a dozen tribes, but that’s out of dozens, if not over 100 reservations that have Casinos! We have allowed gambling, BIG Gambling to go in and rob what little the Native Americans have left. There’s something you must understand. Let me explain it carefully for you so you are clear on it.
Native Americans, for the most part, don’t work in American Businesses. Some are involved, but for the most part, their culture did not define any kind of notion of “Work.” They were mainly hunter / gatherers when white man came to North America and started trying to find ways to economically exploit the landscape. After we “Conquered” the Native American tribes, and penned them up on reservations, they had no idea what to do or how to do it. For the most part, they had no idea what farming was or how it was supposed to work. The Government built schools, and “Agencies” to manage the natives, and to try to teach them how to be productive members of western society. But we are talking about folks who didn’t even have a written language when white man first came on the scene!
Lack of written language, the fact their heritage was passed down verbally, and the need for tribal groups to be led by spiritual as well as secular leaders, these things contribute to the Native American’s overall bewilderment when it came to the things that white man cherishes. We are enamored of our “Stuff” — our material things, the natives felt themselves to be part of the land. The natives worshiped nature, things they could see, we white men worshiped an invisible (to them) God. The bridge just could not be built simply between the two cultures, and folks stopped trying for the most part. In places like Pine Ridge, white man simply gave up almost entirely.
But, we think these natives are poor and nothing could be further from the truth! At least in the material sense, the government has seen fit to sell their water rights, their mineral rights, and any other rights they had involving the land they live on. One fellow I knew from a tribe in Washington state, his name was Stormy, he said the Native Americans get huge checks from the government twice a year, for their mineral rights that they sold long ago. Every member of the tribe gets a check. These checks are like $35,000! The men go out and buy trucks, and guns, and whatever. The women go out and buy jewelry, perfume, clothes, you can imagine. They go crazy. It’s like lottery mentality. They get a huge windfall, of money they haven’t earned, it’s not part of their budget, or targeted for “Bills” or anything, since they have no bills, the government provides their schools (lousy as they are) and pays for their food and water pretty much through the “Agencies” and so they live off welfare and have a windfall twice (or more times) per year.
That was why when we drove through Pine Ridge, we passed ranch house after ranch house that had 8 or 10 trucks parked out in front, or scattered around the property. They buy a truck, they drive it into the ground, when it breaks, they buy a new one. Those checks sure are handy! We’ve taught them to be just as wasteful and lazy with their money as we are, only difference is they have no credit to buy things they can’t even afford, we just give them “Beads” every so often to keep them pacified is all. Another shameful way they have been completely pigeonholed by our western government, treated as if they were aliens living among us, who we’d rather keep far out on their reservations than to ever have to come face to face with in our “Western” cities. It’s why we think of these people as being so totally derelict that they have all those “Busted” vehicles out in their yards, when in fact it’s a result of our attitude towards them that has caused that to be the case! You just need to see it from a different perspective in order for you to really be able to understand their plight.
Now, for the most part, I admit that I use stereotypes and paint with broad brush strokes. However, I have seen the same hopelessness and despair that we saw at Pine Ridge on other reservations. And I have talked with tribal leaders, including the former Mayor of Gallup, New Mexico. It seems to me that Wounded Knee became a scar on our hearts and that we’ve let that scar continue to darken us and blind us to the plight of these people. Some white folks have displayed a caring attitude towards our native brothers and sisters, but I would ask everyone who reads this article to find a way to help. There’s got to be something that each and every one of us can do to assuage the guilt of Wounded Knee, and to help these people up from the pit of despair and hopelessness. I pray that Jesus moves your heart today to make a difference and that my article has helped you understand what Wounded Knee represents.