May 22, 2009

Connections in Wounded Knee

Continuing the discussion of Wounded Knee, the fifth episode of PBS's We Shall Remain series:

Here are a few random thoughts inspired by Wounded Knee.

  • Before turning to violence as a "last resort," the traditional Oglala Sioux exhausted their political and legal options. Here's how one woman described their everyday existence in 1973:We’ve always been peaceful, and pretty much mind our own business, making our living and raising our family, law-abiding.Don't these people belong to the "Fighting Sioux" culture? Aren't they proud of being warriors, of getting their way through violence?

  • Not this woman, apparently. Which goes to prove my point. Soldiers and football players may think of themselves as warriors, but housewives probably don't. The whole "fighting" bit is a stereotype, not an accurate reflection of modern Sioux culture.

    The occupation is the exception that proved the rule. Every Lakota Indian except the few hundred at Wounded Knee did not resort to fighting. They continued to seek solutions through the usual political and legal channels.

  • The White House didn't intervene because it was distracted by Watergate. Just a few years earlier, Richard Nixon signaled a new direction for Indian affairs. Eventually he signed several pieces of landmark legislation.

  • This contradicts Russell Means's assertion that Indians were facing cultural extinction in 1973. In 1953 or 1963, maybe, but not 1973.

    Whenever the low point was, Indians were past it by then. With the occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and Nixon's legislation, they were on the road to recovery. With or without Wounded Knee II, they would've continued revitalizing their cultures.

  • In the boarding-school segment, children sing the Ten Little Indians song over the photographs. I don't know if this was a recreation or an actual recording, but I presume Indian children were taught to sing the song.

  • In other words, they were forced to contribute to their own brainwashing. The song reinforced the idea that Indians were cute and childlike, not mature and sophisticated.

  • Sacheen Littlefeather gave her speech at the Oscars during the occupation. Although she talked about stereotypes in movies, Marlon Brando may have been reacting to the news. Backstage, Littlefeather (aka Maria Cruz) said Brando was heading to Wounded Knee, but he never got there.

  • For more on the subject, see Spinning in Wounded Knee and Review of Wounded Knee.

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