Massacre or battle? It depends who’s telling the story.
While in South Dakota last week, I visited a history exhibition at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation that made this powerful point. Traditionally, US history told of the Battle at Wounded Knee. For the Lakota Indians brutally murdered there, it was Wounded Knee Massacre. The same goes for the Battle of Sand Creek here in Colorado, which Indians called the Sand Creek Massacre.
In both cases, massacre has since become the widely used term, but the point stands: as the saying goes, history is told by the victor.
Visiting Pine Ridge was a highlight because it provoked so much thought. Did white Americans perpetuate a genocide against Indians? Forced migration; forced settlement on reservations; the attempted extinction of a major food source for a people (bison); withholding of food rations if the nation does not comply with rules such as one forbidding them from speaking in their native language. It certainly made me wonder.
The repercussions of what the US government did to Indians continue. It was a community humiliated, made dependent on the government. Treaty after treaty was violated, and I can imagine that what’s been happening at Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline brings that all back.
While visiting Pine Ridge did not diminish my patriotism nor the sense of pride I felt at Mt. Rushmore, it provided another dimension and a much fuller and nuanced picture of some of the casualties of building our great nation. To be at Pine Ridge was humbling.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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