We Are Still Here :
Looking Through Indigenous Eyes
Do remember learning about the First Thanksgiving in school? What do you remember? Or, what do you know about the Trail of Tears and what created it? And, what precipitated the Great Indian Plains Wars of the 1800s? What other portrayals of Native People do you recall from your school days? In this class, we will be examining numerous events in Native American History, trying to discern what is fact and what is fiction. Each week we will examine events and try to reconcile them as they have been portrayed in the American mainstream media and history textbooks. Dust off your old schoolbooks, and let’s dig in!
The Course Plan by Week
1 The Wampanoag & the Pilgrims
2 Tecumseh & the Ohio Valley
3 The Trails of Tears & the Civilized Tribes
4 The Quest for the West 1845 to 1869 - Southern Plains
5 The Quest for the West 1869 to 1890 - Northern Plains
6 The Apache - Cochise & Geronimo
7 California & the Northwest - The Chumash & Modoc
8 Wounded Knee 1973 - Modern Day Warfare
Wounded Knee - Modern Day Warfare
For years, internal tribal tensions had been growing over the difficult conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which has been one of the poorest areas in the United States since it was set up in 1889. Many of the tribe believed that Wilson, elected tribal chairman in 1972, had rapidly become autocratic and corrupt, controlling too much of the employment and other limited opportunities on the reservation. They believed that Wilson favored his family and friends in patronage awards of the limited number of jobs and benefits. Some criticism addressed the mixed-race ancestry of Wilson and his favorites, and suggested they worked too closely with Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials who still had too much of a hand in reservation affairs. Officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, administrators and police still had much influence at Pine Ridge and other American Indian reservations, which many tribal members opposed. Some full-blood Oglala believed they were not getting fair opportunities. "Traditionals" (full bloods) had their own leaders and influence in a parallel stream to the elected government recognized by the United States. The Traditionals tended to be Oglala who held onto their language and customs and did not participate in federal programs administered by the tribal government.
Specifically, opponents of Wilson protested his sale of grazing rights on tribal lands to local white ranchers at too low a rate, reducing income to the tribe as a whole, whose members held the land communally. They also complained of his land-use decision to lease nearly one-eighth of the reservation's mineral-rich lands to private companies. Some full-blood Lakota complained of having been marginalized since the start of the reservation system. Most did not bother to participate in tribal elections, which led to tensions on all sides. There had been increasing violence on the reservation, which many attributed to Wilson's private militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), attacking political opponents to suppress opposition.
The traditional chiefs and American Indian Movement (AIM) leaders met with the community to discuss how to deal with the deteriorating situation on the reservation. Women elders urged the men to take action. They decided to make a stand at the hamlet of Wounded Knee, the renowned site of the last large-scale massacre of the American Indian Wars. They occupied the town and announced their demand for the removal of Wilson from office and for immediate revival of treaty talks with the U.S. government. Dennis Banks and Russell Means were prominent spokesmen during the occupation; they often addressed the press, knowing they were making their cause known directly to the American public. The brothers Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt were also AIM leaders at the time, who generally operated in Minneapolis. Public opinion polls revealed widespread sympathy for the Native Americans at Wounded Knee. They also received support from the Congressional Black Caucus as well as various actors, activists, and prominent public figures, including Marlon Brando, Johnny Cash, Angela Davis, Jane Fonda, William Kunstler, and Tom Wicker.