Sunday, February 15, 2009

Field trip

On Friday I had the afternoon free. I had lunch with Eva (one of the students I met here), and then decided to go on a field trip to Wounded Knee. As many times as I've been to South Dakota, and as many times as I've read about it, I hadn't seen it, and I felt like it was time.

Wounded Knee is on the Pine Ridge reservation, about 90 miles west & a little south from where I'm staying. It's the site of two hugely significant events in American Indian history in general, and Lakota history specifically. In 1890, the 7th cavalry killed about 250 men, women, and children who were encamped near Wounded Knee; the Lakota had been practicing the Ghost Dance religion, and their presence made the army nervous. In addition to reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee when I was a kid, more recently I taught Charles Eastman's autobiography, From the Deep Woods to Civilization, in which he describes the incident (he was a doctor on Pine Ridge at the time). If you want a quick link, go here.

What really sticks with me about the 1890 massacre are that the native people were at the end of their rope, given that the government, which was supposed to take care of them now, was infamous for not delivering enough food for people to survive. Moreover, they were practicing their religion; so religious suspicion and intolerance is laced through its history, for me.

Then there's the 1973 event, which was a mess. Once again, native people were pushed to their limits, and once again, the government came in heavily armed. For an eyewitness account (and an interesting autobiography), read Mary Crow Dog's Lakota Woman. I've mentioned this in an earlier post, so here's that link again for a quick history.

It's a hard place to visit, and the weather on Friday seemed to underscore that fact. I started out in Rosebud, where there wasn't even any snow on the ground, and ended up where there was snow and a COLD wind.

Here's an image of some pines along the way:

And the cold winter sky:

This is the gate to the cemetery that was built around the 1890 mass grave site:

And here is the monument to those who were buried in that mass grave:

You can see that there are prayer ties tied to the fence. They have a little bit of tobacco tied into them as an offering to the ancestors.

This view shows the gate from a distance; in front of it on the hill stood a church, one of the buildings that was occupied by AIM in 1973. It burned down some time ago.

While I was there, two young men (Raymond and Ben) from the town of Wounded Knee approached me & asked if I wanted to buy some crafts, and explained this is how most of the people around here make their money. (I think the county that Pine Ridge is in usually tops the list of poorest counties in the United States.) They were sort of my tour guides for a little bit, pointing out where the grocery store used to be that was occupied in 1973, where the bunkers were built back then, and the creek that people tried to escape to in 1890. They were kind; I bought a couple things, and then they were on their way to the town of Pine Ridge to try to catch people who might buy a couple things as they left work.

Once again, I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb--they knew I was NOT from around here just by seeing my car parked in the driveway of the site; it's such a small community, everybody knows everybody else's vehicles. I was both nervous about being by myself out there, and embarrassed that I was nervous.

So then it was back on the road again, pointing toward Rosebud, which feels now like a source of comfort, kind of home-ish... Strange how that's happened already.

Along the way I snapped a couple photos of some typical houses on the rez. My Mom asked what they were like; here are a couple:

I believe these are h.u.d. houses built in the 60s-ish. The reservation is filled with these and trailers. One thing that's surprising about the houses is their bright colors! There are purple houses here that are WAY brighter than our little lilac-colored house in Ohio...

Here are a couple wildlife photos for Dexter. I passed a big flock of Canada geese hanging out on some icy water; some were walking on the ice, some were floating on the water, and a few were flying around. It looked like they were getting ready for a big trip:

And finally: these guys were crossing the road. Everyone stopped to let them pass, and they bounded over the two-lane highway. One paused and gave me a studying look:

My field trip wasn't easy, though the travel was; it's making me think a lot, and feel.

More soon,

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