On the clear, cold morning of December 29, 1890, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, three U.S. soldiers tried to wrench a valuable Winchester away from a young Lakota man. He refused to give up his hunting weapon; it was the only thing standing between his family and starvation. As the men struggled, the gun fired into the sky.
All they were doing was trying to stay ahead of their fears, given the murder of Sitting Bull. While the Ghost Dance Movement provoked fears of a general Lakota uprising, one NEVER materialized and it became the law of the land that tribes could not practice their tribal based religions (in direct conflict with the First Amendment). Colonel Forsyth made three reports about the massacre at Wounded Knee - his reports downplayed the brutality and the numbers killed. He was rewarded for his service with continued promotions and he retired as Brigadier General. Consider this, the Lakota were unarmed and they were cold and hungry, they had done everything the soldiers had asked of them, they did not want a fight, and did not have weapons to fight, and yet 20 soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for these murders. There is a strong movement to have those medals revoked. It still has not happened.
Mitakuye Oyasin (Lakota - we are all related, all humans and all living things).
Heather, My S-i-L, born this day on a Minn reservation, graduated from Harvard and Boalt, was just promoted to a senior position in the Dept of Interior where she oversees lawyer fighting for equal access to education. Every legal scrap is a battle, every piece of turf is a a battlefield of its own. Progress is so damned hard. Still. But still, thank the heavens for people like her willing to fight so hard for what’s right.
"But it is not December 29 that haunts me. It is the night of December 28, the night before the killing."
Thank you Professor Cox-Richardson. It haunts us all. No amount of psychiatric/pharmaceutical support or egocentric distractions of the 'modern' world will dispel the shadows of this nightmare until "We The People" own the truth of our murderous, rapist, exploitative culture and quit rewriting the story to justify our lies - just for starters.
Where do we begin?
From Phyllis Young of The Lakota People’s Law Project:
Last week, we took an important step forward when U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Lakota Country for a meeting with tribal leaders, including our new Standing Rock Chairwoman, Janet Alkire. Watch the video we made about the visit here!
It’s a wonderful sign, amid all that’s already on her plate, that Secretary Haaland — the first Native Cabinet secretary in U.S. history — took the time to come to our homelands and hear our concerns and feedback.
That’s emblematic of who she is. On two previous occasions, Lakota Law met directly with Secretary Haaland, and we’re excited about the values she brings to overseeing federal policy affecting Indian Country. That’s why you helped us advocate — as detailed by the New York Times — for her appointment as Interior Secretary.
It makes my heart smile as an Indigenous elder to know that our chairwoman and Secretary Haaland have met and begun a process of listening to one another. As the first woman to serve as our chair in over 60 years, Janet will represent us well. Not only did she work with Lakota Law during our successful vote campaign last year, but she also cares deeply about our environment, community-based healing, and tribal sovereignty.
We’re in an important moment. Experienced Native women are stepping into leadership positions when we need their guidance most, and we have an unparalleled opportunity for the Standing Rock Nation to reassert its stature as a global environmental justice leader. I thank you for supporting Lakota Law as we continue to assist in any way we can.
Wopila tanka — my gratitude for your care and attention!
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
This past summer, I visited Red Cloud’s grave at the Jesuits’ Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, and also their St. Francis Mission on Rosebud Reservation (both are great missions btw)Your history lessons here taught me even more than that which I purported to have learned this summer. Each evening is a class with you. I am grateful for this constant classroom of lifelong learning.
"The past is never dead -- it isn't even past." said Faulkner. Yes, we have the power to shape the future, but only if we are allowed to remember the lessons of the past -- even the horrifying lessons. Thank you, Heather. May this New Year find us wiser.
We all live on stolen land.
My spouse has Lakota ancestry and both of us are in the process of learning much about this aspect of our history. We both have read a history of the Lakota, written interestingly by a person who teaches in England...Oxford if I remember correctly. I have started Unworthy Republic which is about the emptying of the eastern half of the US of Native Americans and sending them across the Mississippi. It has upset me so much that I haven't finished it yet just as I haven't finished The Half Which Has Never Been Told about cotton slavery. We also have orders written by someone fighting Native Americans in southern Oregon and it is quite the revealing document about attitudes towards Native Americans. Every time I read of these aspects of the history of the US, I just want to weep. Right now I am reading Finding the Mother Tree which is about forestry practices in both the US and Canada. It is also an autobiography of the author. She frequently mentions how the indigenous people have treated the forest in contrast to the lumber companies which are all about short term profit. This also makes me want to weep. So we are living on stolen land and much of our wealth was built on the backs of slaves and in a relatively short period of time, we have managed to bring the earth to a crisis.
"The past has its own terrible inevitability."
"But it is never too late to change the future."
Dr. Richardson. Your two best and most valuable sentences yet (for me anyway). Wrapped around a tragic story for impact.
Thank you. Brilliant writing.
Oh my god. This is your absolutely most powerful essay. You nailed it. How thoroughly motivational. "It is never too late to change the fulture." Wow!!! It so mirrors one of my favorite quotes, this from Robert Kennedy: "The future is not a gift. It is an achievement." Love and infinities of blessings to you for your wisdom and your ability to inspire.
I grew up with stories of the Trail of Tears, the Wounded Knee Massacre, and so many others. As a child to now I’ve traveled extensively through our nation - one that is born out of a terrible history of overtaking and senseless death. I’m humbled with visiting monuments or places and spaces of our history, many places we hold sacred and dear to learn and preserve.
Recently someone said to me “don’t be afraid to read the next chapter, you know the author.” It seems to me that that saying, mixed with the one of our nation needing to hold a mirror to itself is so vital in these times. Thank you for your voice - we all learn so much
You've capured just how I feel: on the cliff-edge of a New Year that could end in historical tragedy, and make me a refugee. But doesn't have to! My New Year's resolution: not to let our democracy die.
It is never too late to change the future. We need to always keep that in mind.
I’ve been a semi-regular reader but this letter prompted me to finally subscribe. It is so very hard to have hope in these dismal times, but the note you sound is so true. It’s never too late to change the future, but we have to have the will to do it and the wisdom to see where and how. Your writing helps so much-thank you.
Though we don’t know the next chapters that are going to be written in our story, still, “it is never too late to change the future.”
My thoughts tonight are with the just deceased Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who, despite being very ill towards the end, still, as late as October of this year, was appearing on Cable News programs. I recall Senator Reid speaking during the Trump Presidency about the tensions and turmoil in this country that could break the entire political and constitutional system. He clearly was thinking ahead to what the next few years could bring if we didn’t start trying to figure out how to deal with these deepening divisions. I imagine many of us thought that January 6th would be a moment of restitution, and, when we heard from Republicans initially, it did seem like an instant of restoration and renewal, and then they all went back to Trump, presumably because they saw he still owned the base.
When Senator Reid appeared on the ReidOut this past October, he said something to the effect that the fight of our lives right now has to be to secure voter protections and the peaceful transfer of power. Though activists in the Democratic Party share this view, we haven’t, as of this writing, heard the same level of urgency from Democratic leaders in Washington. Hence, when Congress re-convenes in January, and the country writes the next chapter of its story, let’s prevail upon Congress to be mindful of the Senate’s former leader, who these past few years has tried to create momentum both to fortify sorely tested, fragile institutions and restore trust in government, and let’s demand that leadership makes voter protection legislation the central issue of this time.
Thank you, Heather, for this vivid but horribly sad storytelling that nevertheless ends on a note of hope and a reminder that it is we who make our future.
How important all this content and context is to our understanding of the American Experiment that you give us nightly. To learn, yet again, of the catastrophic choices by the US Government that led to the heartbreaking tragedies that led to the deaths of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee that leads us today to weep for what we lost in our insatiable pursuit of happiness in this land of opportunity. Can we ever build back better our humanity?