The anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee is a sober reminder of our nation’s bloody past.
On Dec. 29, 1890, the U.S. government finally laid total claim to all lands
west of the Mississippi with a show of horrific firepower against a band of
Lakota Indians along the banks of a creek known as Wounded Knee.
The subduing of the Indian resisters at Wounded Knee was like target
practice. When a Lakota man refused to give up his arms after a shot was fired, U.S.
soldiers began to gun down more than 150 Lakota women and children as they
attempted to flee the camp.
Wounded Knee became a celebrated victory across the rest of the nation.
Twenty-five soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their part
in it. By all accounts, it was clear that the “Indian problem” was finally
solved. The West was truly won.
For American Indians, however, that snowy South Dakota morning proved to be
one of the most significant days in their history. The deadly events at
Wounded Knee brought to an end what was once known as the Indian Wars Period, in
which Indian tribes resisted efforts by the U.S. military to force their people
into prison-like land parcels in order to clear the way for white settlers.
Wounded Knee also brought an end to a proud era in which great warriors such
as Geronimo, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull fought to defend their lands and to
protect their women and children.
Today, the massacre at Wounded Knee is mythologized and memorialized as just
one of a number of tragic, ugly stories of how this country was formed. But
for generations of American Indians, Wounded Knee has meant more than mere
The massacre has passed down scars of suspicion and badges of bitterness
toward the white man.
In 1973, a band of Indian activists seized the site of Wounded Knee in order
to call attention to continued racist federal policies against Indian people
— policies that fueled poverty and the alienating reality that goes with it.
One hundred and fifteen years after the massacre of Lakota women and children
by the hands of the U.S. Cavalry, the spirit of Wounded Knee has lived on.
Perhaps it is a source of strength.
For more than a century, the will to survive, to hold on to a sense of
history and identity, has remained strong among Indian people.
That is one legacy of Wounded Knee that no one can take away from us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mark Anthony Rolo is a member of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe. The writer
wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on
domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive
magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East
Main Street, Madison, WI 53703; e-mail: ; Web site: