Free Leonard Peltier!

"Not in My World!":
Resistance Stories of Lakota People

By Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #1031, November 21, 1999

This month, Native people have traveled to Washington, DC from the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota people--to demand that political prisoner Leonard Peltier be freed from prison. They wanted to stand with Leonard Peltier as he has stood with them.

After rallying in front of the White House, I had long talks with many of the people from Pine Ridge in the evenings. For hours they opened their hearts about how this system has brutalized and suppressed their people.

They told the stories passed down from those who came before. They talked of how the U.S. government systematically massacred the Native people and wiped out the buffalo. They told proudly of those who defeated General Custer in the great war to defend He Sapa--the Black Hills of the Lakota people. And they told of the bitter struggle to defend and pass on the culture, spiritual beliefs and historical experience of the Lakota (who are known, in English, as the Sioux). Among themselves, several proudly spoke the Lakota language--which has been so violently suppressed by missionaries, school authorities and government agents.

Here are some of the stories people told me about their own lives and experiences.

Punished for Being Lakota

Russell Loud Hawk, from the town of Oglala on the Pine Ridge reservation: "The people lived their own way... They were a nation at that time back in Crazy Horse days and Sitting Bull days. But the United States they got us like, `You do this and this.' That's why the Lakota, they've got seven Indian reservations. They're concentration camps to me. I went to the Second World War. I know what a concentration camp is."

Ellen Moves Camp has spent all of her 69 years on the reservation: "My grandma used to pray with the pipe every morning and she was teaching us that. But I didn't know what a sweat was until I was married. But my grandmas all talked Indian. They never did talk English. We went to school at Holy Rosary and all those places. You had to speak English. So a lot of the times when I went to school at Holy Rosary, the kids that couldn't talk English, I used to sit with them and teach them how to talk English cause I could talk Indian and English. So I would help them. Sometimes I got punished. When I was in the ninth grade I walked out of there and I never did go back."

Rosaline Jumping Bull, 67 years old and a lifelong resident of Pine Ridge, tells about the assault on Lakota culture: "My dad always said, `If you do something wrong they're going to put you away for a long time--so you do what the teacher tells you.' Sometimes teachers would punish us and hit us and stuff like that. I never did fight back. I learned how to take it when things like that happened to me. I never did hardly speak wasichu [the language of white people] when I first started school. I'd get punished every day for that. But I don't know how to speak. So I had a rough time. And then to make it worse my dad said when you come back from school, when you come into this house don't you speak that language. Use your Lakota language. My folks didn't like what they were teaching us. At the same time they're the biggest Christians. They joined the Episcopal church and we have to go to church. That's how I grew up, all mixed up, you know? I didn't know which way to go."

Edgar Poor Bear said: "I grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation witnessing ethnic conflict within our own society--Lakotas against Lakotas. And it was primarily dark skinned hublas versus light-skinned `half breeds.' I have lived in a community where we've had our own tribal members who were ashamed of being who the Great Spirit made them to be, ashamed of being dark-skinned...This is all because of the U.S. colonial process of indoctrination and assimilation and acculturation of Western thought and this has had adverse effects. We've experienced a time in our lives when because of the U.S. oppression against indigenous people we have witnessed a decline in people fully practicing the Lakota ways, not because they wanted to, because they were forced to."

They'd kill us, you know?

Rosaline Jumping Bull told me what happened to her grandfather: "He went to a town called Hot Springs. And by that time they just had wagon roads. Nobody didn't hardly have cars. They were coming back and here this rancher said, `You're crossing my land.' And that was in the reservation, you know? And this old man can't speak English too good. So he didn't answer. And they started shooting at him and his family. He had a gun, so he took that and he shot that rancher. They all came after him and they took him to Deadwood and chopped his head off. So that's the kind of punishment we got from the beginning. If we tried and fight back we'd get punished. They'd kill us, you know?

"And I always remembered that. If I saw a white person I'd rather hide than to talk to that person cause I might make a mistake and hurt that person and go to jail. `Cause they tell us, even our grandmothers, `Don't you fight a white man. Don't you hit one cause you're gonna go to jail for that.' Cause they grew up like that, being punished all the time. You can't fight back cause you'll get punished. And that's how it was. So we never fought back. And pretty soon the mixed bloods came along and they were pushing us around, took over all the jobs and we'd try to work and we just couldn't. And they make fun of us--how we dress, cause we're hard up and we're poor. And the white people would take up for the mixed bloods and if we fought back we'd get punished right away."

Arlette Loud Hawk is from Oglala. Her grandmother was a survivor of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. Her aunt was a medicine woman. Like the other Lakota I met, she has a fierce pride in her people. Arlette told me what it was like growing up in the 1960s and 1970s: "My parents lived through a time when there was so much discrimination and prejudice that if we went into cafes, even down to your unskilled worker, they wouldn't even serve us just because we was an Indian. And then my mom and dad, they were just like so passive. They just wanted to get along. When those waitresses wouldn't serve us, they'd just get up and go to another cafe. And when I was a child I just always thought, 'Not in my world!' Not in my world am I going to get treated like this and just humbly walk away. I just got tired of seeing my family having to do that all the time. There was no unified effort. There was no group of people calling for human rights and civil rights. To me the spirit of the Lakota was very much dwindling away, just fading away."

Arlette told me that two of her cousins were murdered by white people outside the reservation: "I grew up learning firsthand what racism is, what is discrimination, prejudice. Then when my cousins got killed it was like my mom would say, `There's no justice for the Indian.' It's all right if you kill that Indian. But it's not so all right if you kill a white man. There was this Indian man--I think his name was White Hawk--that killed this businessman. The state of South Dakota was willing to put him to the electric chair for killing a white man. In those days it was just like it's OK if you kill an Indian. But if an Indian killed a white man then you were going to die by this justice system."

Defending the Land

In the '60s and early '70s a great movement of resistance rose up among the Native peoples in the U.S. The American Indian Movement demanded an end to the murder of Indian people--and they demanded that the U.S. government honor treaties it had signed. AIM began to have influence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This threatened the U.S. government's plans to steal the rich coal and uranium deposits from the land of the Lakota people. A build-up of federal agents started on the Pine Ridge Reservation. A vicious anti-AIM tribal chairman, Dick Wilson, formed so-called GOON* squads with the backing of the U.S. government. The GOONs and the FBI together launched a reign of terror against resistance on the reservation.

Ellen Moves Camp described the scene in 1972: "Dick Wilson and the GOONs was something else. They were really bad. But before that even happened, there was U.S. marshals in Pine Ridge. They were all staying at the Billy Mills hall with guns and everything. Before the American Indian Movement even came, there they were with guns. When we seen all those marshals we said let's go find out who sent for these people and what's going on. So we went into the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent's office. And he said, `You'd better talk to Dick Wilson.' And he got Dick Wilson on the mike and Dick Wilson said, "You tell them yourself. You're the one done that."'

Arlette Loud Hawk remembered: "Dick Wilson went as far as to prohibit powwows, any type of gathering, prohibit ceremonies from going on. He was clearly bought by the government. He created a riot squad that he called the GOONS. Whenever I went to Pine Ridge there was these army guys with tripods up on top of the BIA building with sand bags ready to shoot at anybody, ready to shoot the Indian when he came to town. So if you wanted to go to Pine Ridge, you had to go in a group to be safe and to ensure that you come back alive. So we knew in order to survive we needed to be in groups. We couldn't be alone. Because if they got somebody alone, they killed them. And there's people that are not found because they killed them and did away with their bodies. This is no story, this is nothing that nobody imagined and fantasized about. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation people were getting killed every week and it seemed that nobody even cared. You can't call the police because they're a part of that whole group that's killing the Indians. Things just got so much violent and so much worse. It was a sad time to be in those times.

"What they want is our land. Before they wanted our gold--so they took the Black Hills away. They're still trying to take our reservation away because there's water. Under the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation they have the biggest water formation, the Oglala Aquifer, the Madison River. That is why the government's trying to take our water rights away, trying to take our land away. And it's the land that holds the people together. Today this American society, they look at land as in money. But whenever we talk about land it's about having respect for the grandmothers and the ultimate grandmother of all grandmothers is the Earth."

On February 27, 1973, AIM activists and supporters occupied Wounded Knee--in the heart of the Pine Ridge reservation. Hundreds of people came to take a stand during that two-month siege--to take up arms and face the soldiers and police of this system.

In Washington, DC, I met Carter Camp, who led the armed detachment that secured Wounded Knee. He talked about what the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee meant:

"Wounded Knee has a special place in the hearts of Indian people, no matter what tribe we are. They told us that the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 was the end of the Indian wars. They massacred Chief Bigfoot, Yellow Bird and all their people that was there at that place. Our people all around this Turtle Island, they saw what happened to those warriors, the people there, women, children. It took the heart out of our people in many places....But now, in 1973, Wounded Knee became a powerful symbol to Indian people and it changed Indian Country. There was a wildfire across Indian people. Indian people started standing up for themselves all over during Wounded Knee, during those 73 days."

* Guardians of the Oglala Nation, armed and financed by the FBI.

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