Kindred’s Special: Dangerous “Ghost Dance”– an early media frenzy

Received a letter from Oglala Lakota College president Thomas ShortBull who is serving his 17th year in that capacity. Not only does he conduct his duties as president but also to relate the true account of a horrifying murder by members of the US 7th Cavalry.

What brought such shame on the United States? The culprit in all this was not the US military force of 500 troopers but what set the stage for such ill feelings due to greed and ignorance.  Grandpa ShortBull, a spiritual leader, was involved in the Spirit or Medicine Dance that got mistranslated and called the “Ghost Dance” by newspaper reporters who deliberately sensationalized a sacred Lakota ceremony to increase newspaper circulation across the country to increase revenues.

The Lakota were mourning the deaths of their children, mothers, fathers and grandparents who had been killed in battles with soldiers. They were living on a reservation with little food and no place to hunt.  False descriptions of the so called “dangerous Ghost Dance” appeared in newspapers telling about hundreds of armed Indians dancing, although no weapons or anything metal was allowed in the Medicine Dance. In less than a month, military officials called in the largest military troop deployment since the Civil War. Thousands of soldiers converged on the small village of Pine Ridge in the middle of winter.

“Follow the money”–where did I say that before? The careless behavior of the news media of that 1890 period seems like the news media of 2009, doesn’t it.  One wonders how misinformation, lies, distorted facts can turn deadly in a matter of moments is easy to explain. People who have hate and fear in their hearts do savage things.  The Indians have been called “savages” from time beginning by ignorant white folks. The term ‘savage’ is often abused.

Military officials were drinking and celebrating the capture of Chief Spotted Elk aka Chief Big Foot and his band of Minneconjou, plus over 30 members of Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa. Called to the Pine Ridge Agency, they were sent to Pine Ridge. Chief Spotted Elk had pneumonia and so the trek was slow. When they got below Porcupine Bluff, they spotted a military camp and  Lakota riders went to talk with them. The soldiers instructed them to pitch camp on the west side of Wounded Knee Creek.  And little did they know that it was to be their last night.

December 7th 1941 is a date that lives in infamy, just as September 11th lives in infamy.  But maybe our earliest date of infamy was for the Lakota people December 29th 1890. The slaughter took place after the soldiers began to confiscate the Indian arms and someone fired a shot (much like at the start of the Revolutionary War) and the massacre began. The soldiers stripped their bodies of clothing and moccasins to sell for souvenirs.

The story of Oglala Lakota College achievement given the adversity of reservation existence  is one of courage, perseverance and success.  It is accessible to isolated communities with nine centers across the 7000 mile reservation and one in the Lakota sacred Black Hills.

It makes one wonder why the numerous tribes across the west suffer enormously from both environmental and physical neglect. I understand that the government has cut back on assistance to the various tribes. These tribes once roamed and occupied the enormous stretches of territory.  They were called savages because of the ignorance of settlers, the government, and with a history of cheating them by the so-called Indian Affairs agency set up by government to administer their economic needs, etc. How odd it is that we as a Nation can offer help and assistance to foreign lands while ignoring the plight of our original peoples that occupied North America from shore to shining shore.  Is there any wonder why so many of the older Indians suffer alcohol and other ailments.  Their history since the white settlers came has not been a happy picture. Thankfully the young peoples’ spirits include one of hope.

Some years ago I gave an Indian School the address of the Chess Trust hopeful that it might encourage the young people to learn the game with its many benefits.

America learned much from the wisdom of the Indians and I celebrate their continued existence and goodness as a people having the true spirit of America.

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