As I write this it occurs to me that there is plenty of evidence to say something different, or that through a different perspective might lead someone to different conclusions, but this is the story of the Lakota of Pine Ridge as they perceive it to be. I want to take a moment and emphasize this fact because the truth of the matter is that our perspectives of ourselves, not the reality, is what most often shapes our reality regardless of its compatibility with Truth.
There is very little in the communal consciousness from before the Massacre at Wounded Knee. When pressed, or under the right circumstances some of those stories come out and an outsider might get a glimpse of the vast and marvelously detailed oral history of the people. But as an outsider it is more likely that you will reach no further than this wall.
While we were in Pine Ridge, we had the privilege of meeting one of the older men who held his history, culture, and heritage proudly. It was clear from the way he held himself and the pride with which he spoke of his regalia and the dances he had performed.
But we were outsiders.
We talked about how urban outreaches, even grassroots organizations had greater effect and apparently more interest in helping Hispanic communities than they did in helping the Lakota. We talked about poetry, music, and dance and after a while we got a few words about Leonard Peltier and the incident at Oglala. “Let’s forget about whether or not he’s guilty” this man said talking about Peltier, “the fact is that there were two FBI agents looking for a man accused of stealing a pair of cowboy boots. Then they got Peltier instead.”
We went through Wounded Knee II, the “sale” of the black hills to the US Government, and forced relocation. We even got within a hair’s breadth of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, but not quite. At that point the conversation turned back towards modern questions and problems such as the corruption of elected officials and the abuses of the GOON squad.
The extent is such that the communal identity, which was once of a warrior nation, has now been effectively degraded to that of a victim. And this man acknowledged it himself.
“We don’t like it, none of us who see it like it, but we’ve become victims. And most of us don’t know how to get out of it. So we drink. We accept it and live off welfare or government hand outs… in other words, we hurt.”