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Our Relatives’ Things

Above photo: Memorial to those who were massacred at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation (prisoner of war camp).

On Dec. 29, 1890, in a small valley near Wounded Knee Creek, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, shooting Gatling guns from the surrounding hills, killed more than 300 mostly elderly men, women and children. The victims who were not shot were chased down by soldiers on horseback and either shot with pistols or stabbed to death with long swords, especially the children and babies. This occurred after the soldiers had gone through the camp collecting the few rifles used for hunting by the last remaining adult men.

The victims were the people from part of the Minnecoujou band of the Tituwan subnation of the larger Oceti Sakowin called the Great Sioux Nation by the soldiers. They were trying to reach Pine Ridge village and were asking for protection under Red Cloud. One of the survivors said that the massacre was a cover-up of the assassination of Big Foot, the leader of the

The survivor saw a soldier go into Big Foot’s tent then heard a shot ring out after which the soldiers opened fire from the surrounding hills.

The author’s great-great grandmother was there and although she survived, her name, White Face, is on the obelisk and marked as killed.

The other day, one of my granddaughters called and said, “Grandma, did you hear? They’re returning articles from a museum in Barre, Vermont, that belonged to our relatives that were massacred at Wounded Knee.”

“What?” I said. “What kind of things?”

She said, “Things they were wearing or had when they were murdered at Wounded Knee in 1890. There are even baby moccasins, and little kids’ moccasins in there. The soldiers took them off the bodies and they kept them in a museum all these years. Now they’re giving them back.”

As descendants of survivors of Wounded Knee, it is our relatives’ things that we are talking about so it hit home really hard.

What was in there that might have belonged to our relatives? Moccasins? A shirt? A shawl?

Then she asked, “What do you think should happen to these things?”

“That’s easy,” I said. “When our relatives die, we burn their things. That is our old way. There should be a sacred fire built at Wounded Knee and all those things reverently put in that fire. Then Pet, the Spirit of Fire, can instantly return the things back to our relatives.”

But,” she added, “the Oglala Tribal government wants to build a museum and put them all in there at Wounded Knee.”

“On no,” I said. “Those things are being moved from a wasicu (white man) museum in Vermont, then our own people are going to put them in a museum at Wounded Knee? That’s not our way. Where is the respect?” I asked. “Where is the spirituality? Putting them in a museum is wasicu thinking.”

“Yes,” she said, “and it all has to do with money. Money to build the museum. Money to hire the workers to work at the museum. Money to attract tourists to come to look at our relatives’ things that were stripped from them during the massacre. It’s so gross!”

“It makes me so sad,” I said, “that our own people have lost the respect that used to be shown to the dead. How would they like it if someone came into their house, killed their mom, or grandma, or child, then stole their shoes and clothes and put them in a museum. It doesn’t matter if it happened a hundred years ago or yesterday. Those are our relatives’ things. We still have to show respect.

“It makes me even more sad to realize that the colonization is still at work dividing us even as we want to show respect to our own relatives. No, my girl,” I said, “we’ll just have to keep praying for all of our relatives’ good health, even those that want to act like the wasicu and make money off of our relatives’ things. It’s kind of like grave robbing to me.”

Twenty (20) United States Medals of Honor were given to the soldiers who participated in the Massacre of Wounded Knee.

Charmaine White Face, or Zumila Wobaga, (75) is an Oglala Tituwan Oceti Sakowin elder, teacher, writer.

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