Friday, November 13, 2009

Chief Sitting Bull and the Ghost Dancers

I was thinking about LastStandistan - I mean Afghanistan. That's 'last stand' as in Custer's Last Stand at the Little Big Horn. I wonder what Chief Sitting Bull of the Lakota Indians would think of the US imperial invasion of Afghanistan. Yesterday's renegade Indians are todays Muslim terrorists. Why do they hate us?

Will the US Empire keep expanding until it covers the whole globe? And then what? The Moon? Mars?

Words of wisdom attributed to Chief Sitting Bull.
Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?

The love of possessions is a disease in them.

They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.

They want us to give up another chunk of our tribal land. This is not the first time or the last time.

When I was a boy, the Sioux owned the world. The sun rose and set on their land; they sent ten thousand men to battle. Where are the warriors today? Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them?

You think I am a fool, but you are a greater fool than I am.

We did not give you our land; You stole it from us.

Many years ago now, I saw a movie called Koyaanisqatsi. I'll never forget that . The title of the film is from a Hopi word meaning "life of moral corruption and turmoil" or "life out of balance." Somehow this movie without words or dialogue reached me. It touched an inner place in my spirit. It raised my consciousness.

I wish I could say that it has changed my life. Perhaps in subtle ways, it has affected the decisions I have made in my life. But fundamentally, I still lead the same life of frivolous consumption that I would have otherwise. What choices do we have? What alternatives does our society offer?

To go hungry and beg in the streets? Not even that. While in some societies beggars are at least tolerated, here in the heart of the empire they are hustled off to prison. It's considered unseemly to have beggars on the streets of the richest and most powerful nation on the planet. Better to hide them away in 'homeless shelters' and prisons. Where they can be out of sight and out of mind. So that we can continue to delude ourselves into thinking that we live in the most just and compassionate society in the history of mankind.

Don't we give to charity? Isn't that enough? A sort of 'dollar diplomacy' for the average American household; a way to soothe the guilty soul of America.

Why just yesterday there was a statement from the UN rapporteur for right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, condemning the US for its lack of compassion towards its poor. And today there are more poor people than ever in the United States; more homeless as a result of evictions from people who have had to foreclose on homes that they could no longer afford after losing their jobs in the worst economic depression since the Great Depression of the 1930's.
A United Nations special investigator who was blocked from visiting the US by the Bush administration has accused the American government of pouring billions of dollars into rescuing banks and big business while treating as "invisible" a deepening homeless crisis.

Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing, who has just completed a seven-city tour of America, said it was shameful that a country as wealthy as the US was not spending more money on lifting its citizens out of homelessness and substandard, overcrowded housing.

"The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US," she said. "I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn't been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless."

She added: "I think those who are suffering the most in this whole situation are the very poor, the low-income population. The burden is disproportionately on them and it's of course disproportionately on African-Americans, on Latinos and immigrant communities, and on Native Americans."

Rolnik toured Chicago, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Wilkes-Barre, a Pennsylvania town where this year the first four sheriff sales – public auctions of seized property – in the county included 598 foreclosed properties. She also visited a Native American reservation.
Rolnik said that while she saw difficult conditions in all the places she visited, the worst was on the Native American reservation of Pine Ridge in South Dakota.

"You see total hopelessness, despair, very bad conditions. Nothing I have seen in other cities compared to the physical condition of the housing at Pine Ridge. Nothing compared to the overcrowding. They're not visible, they're isolated, they're far away. They're just lost," she said.
Can it be that America the Beautiful, the "home of the free and the brave", is being reduced to a nation of poverty and hopelessness -- except for those fortunate few Elite who frolic in their stolen riches.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota - which Raquel Rolnik speaks about - is the site of Wounded Knee. To see the connection to Sitting Bull we need to traverse various pages on Wikipedia.
Lakota People

The Lakota signed a treaty in 1877 ceding the Black Hills to the United States, but a low-intensity war continued, culminating, fourteen years later, in the killing of Sitting Bull (December 15, 1890) at Standing Rock and the Massacre of Wounded Knee (December 29, 1890) at Pine Ridge.
Sitting Bull - Death and Burial

Sitting Bull returned to the Standing Rock Agency in South Dakota after 4 months in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In 1890 James McLaughlin, the U.S. Indian Agent at Fort Yates on Standing Rock Agency, feared that the Lakota leader was about to flee the reservation with the Ghost Dancers, so he ordered the police to arrest Sitting Bull. On 14 December 1890, McLaughlin drafted a letter to Lt. Bullhead that included instructions and an outlined plan to capture the chief. The plan called for the attack to happen during dawn on December 15, and also advised the use of a light spring wagon to facilitate the chief's removal before his followers could rally. Lt. Bullhead decided, however, not to use the wagon. Instead, the police officers would force Sitting Bull to mount a horse as soon as the arrest was made.

At around 5:30 a.m. on December 15, 1890, a freezing drizzle fell as 39 police officers and 4 volunteers moved towards Sitting Bull's house. They surrounded the house, knocked and entered. Lt. Bullhead told Sitting Bull that he was under arrest and led him outside. At this time the camp was awake and they converged at the house of their chief. As Lt. Bullhead ordered Sitting Bull to mount the horse, he explained that the Indian affairs agent needed to see him and then he could come back to his house. However, Sitting Bull refused and the police used force on him. The Sioux in the village were enraged. A Sioux man known as Catch-the-Bear shouldered his rifle and shot Lt. Bullhead who, in return, fired his revolver into the chest of Sitting Bull. Another police officer, Red Tomahawk, shot Sitting Bull in the head and the chief dropped to the ground. A terrible close-quarters fight erupted and within minutes it was over. Six policemen were killed immediately and two more died shortly after the fight. Sitting Bull and seven of his supporters lay dead along with two horses. As the guns went off, a circus horse presented to Sitting Bull at the conclusion of his tour with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Tour responded to its cue, sitting down on its haunches and offering a hoof to "shake hands."
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Pine Ridge Reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and originally encompassed approximately 60 million acres (240,000 km²) of parts of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. In 1876, the U.S. government violated the treaty of 1868 by opening up 7.7 million acres (31,000 km²) of the Black Hills to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation was divided into seven separate reservations: Cheyenne River Agency, Crow Creek Agency, Lower Brule Agency, Rosebud Agency, Sisseton Agency, Yankton Agency and Pine Ridge Agency.

On December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, over 300 men, women and children were killed by the United States 7th Cavalry. The Native Americans were being transported to the Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge (see: Wounded Knee massacre).

Starting on February 27, 1973, the reservation was the site of the Wounded Knee Incident, a 71-day stand-off between entrenched American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and FBI agents and the National Guard. The AIM activists were led by Dennis Banks and Russell Means. During the firefight, two FBI agents were killed and a U.S. Marshal was paralyzed and two Oglala Lakotas were killed.
But who were these "Ghost Dancers" that originally prompted the Indian Agent to arrest Sitting Bull and which led to his cold blooded murder? I will let Ohiyesa (Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman) a Eastern Dakota (or Santee Sioux) who knew Sitting Bull tell the story.
At this crisis a strange thing happened. A half-breed Indian in Nevada promulgated the news that the Messiah had appeared to him upon a peak in the Rockies, dressed in rabbit skins, and bringing a message to the red race. The message was to the effect that since his first coming had been in vain, since the white people had doubted and reviled him, had nailed him to the cross, and trampled upon his doctrines, he had come again in pity to save the Indian. He declared that he would cause the earth to shake and to overthrow the cities of the whites and destroy them, that the buffalo would return, and the land belong to the red race forever! These events were to come to pass within two years; and meanwhile they were to prepare for his coming by the ceremonies and dances which he commanded.

This curious story spread like wildfire and met with eager acceptance among the suffering and discontented people. The teachings of Christian missionaries had prepared them to believe in a Messiah, and the prescribed ceremonial was much more in accord with their traditions than the conventional worship of the churches. Chiefs of many tribes sent delegations to the Indian prophet; Short Bull, Kicking Bear, and others went from among the Sioux, and on their return all inaugurated the dances at once. There was an attempt at first to keep the matter secret, but it soon became generally known and seriously disconcerted the Indian agents and others, who were quick to suspect a hostile conspiracy under all this religious enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, there was no thought of an uprising; the dancing was innocent enough, and pathetic enough their despairing hope in a pitiful Saviour who should overwhelm their oppressors and bring back their golden age.
America, America
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Remember that? Whatever happened to brotherhood? Is there a stock symbol for that? How much did it gain or lose on Wall Street today? Are their credit default swaps hedging against a rise in brotherhood in America? How much has Goldman Sachs invested in that in the black markets that hide the truth from the eyes of the unsuspecting American public?

But now listen to Ray Charles' rendition of "America".

Maybe Ray Charles is correct in emphasizing one of the lesser known stanzas of the classic song America.

America, America
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

Maybe life is all about the gold; whether its yellow gold or black gold. Or gold as in money; or gold as in land. It sure is in the America of today. Maybe it always was.

Watch and listen to Koyaanisqatsi. Maybe it will change your life; even if it didn't change mine.

A closing thought from American philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau from his book Walden Pond.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."


Frank Hope said...

I've created a tiny url alias for this post in case anyone wants to send a link via twitter.

Anonymous said...

Ohiyesa was Dakota, not Lakota.

Frank Hope said...

Thanks Richard. I edited that. I was under the mistaken impression that all Sioux are Lakota. Please let me know if there are other mistakes I have made since I have very little knowledge of American Indian culture. I've been to a pow wow before in Baltimore and met and became friends with some people there that are Lumbee Indians. And I've been to the Thanksgiving ceremony celebrated by Native Americans in Plymouth Mass. But that is about it.

I have an ingrained belief that there is more of a cultural impact of Native Americans on the current dominant US culture than the majority would like to believe. And I also believe that there is more Indian blood running through many Americans than they realize. Ultimately it is the land that shapes its human inhabitants. You can see it in the face of Sitting Bull and Geronimo. And it is also what makes modern day Americans special and different from their European brethren. It is the spirit of the land that through some process unknown to modern science creeps into the very genetic fabric of its inhabitants and imbues the language with a particular accent and peculiar cultural customs.

The spirits of Native Americans will forever inhabit these lands. Every step we take in America is on land that once was the home of one tribe or another. Every mountain and hill had its spiritual significance. And it is even today part of the spirit of every American community whether they acknowledge it or not.

The Ghost Dancers are all around us. You can see their footprints in the morning dew and see their shadowy shapes in the morning fog. And hear their songs in the wind as it passes through the trees.