May 19, 2009

Spinning in Wounded Knee

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

In First Look at We Shall Remain, I commented on the Wounded Knee episode, saying:I didn't sense any criticism of AIM or the Wounded Knee occupation. It looks as though Dennis Banks, Russell Means, John Trudell et al. are spinning this incident as a grand gesture of Native power and independence.In response, Mark Anquoe of AIM West wrote:I would argue that incidents like Wounded Knee, the Alcatraz occupation, the Mount Rushmore occupation, and the BIA office takeover were grand gestures of Native power and independence. That is certainly not meant to imply that the actions of AIM, UNA or IOAT were beyond reproach in any way. Many mistakes and missteps were made by many people, both leaders and followers. That however, does not change the fact that these events are now symbols of Native power and independence. If one cares to look deeper into any historical incident or figure, it always becomes quickly apparent that real life events are more complex than the historical symbols they become, and real life human beings are more fallible than the leaders into which they morph in a community's retrospective consciousness.

As such, I think its unfair of you to imply that Wounded Knee could only be a symbol of Native power and independence by way of the deceitful tactics of a spin doctoring.
First of all, I believe "spinning" is a shortened form of "putting a positive spin" on something. FDR was spinning the Great Depression when he said, "The only thing we have to fear but fear itself." Bush was spinning his invasion of Iraq when he stood before the "Mission Accomplished" sign.

You could say both were trying to rally Americans to the cause. Or you could say both were trying minimize (cover up) the disheartening news. But I don't think they were literally trying to deceive the public. They were trying to shade the truth--to sugar-coat it.

If you ask me, a liar is someone who says black is white. In contrast, a spin doctor says gray is really off-off white. I'd say there's a difference.

In short, I don't think spinning is always negative. I definitely don't think it's always deceitful.

On to Wounded Knee

I agree with you that Wounded Knee II, Alcatraz, etc. were grand gestures and symbols of Native power and independence. I didn't mean to say they weren't.

Perhaps I should've said, "Dennis Banks, Russell Means, John Trudell et al. are spinning this incident as a grand gesture of Native power and independence and nothing else." In other words, they're saying Wounded Knee II was a positive event with no negative repercussions--no downside.

Having watched the episode, I'd say my impression was right. The AIM leaders did spin Wounded Knee as a grand gesture of Native power and independence and nothing else. They didn't say one word about the lives lost, the property destroyed, or AIM's implosion as a political force. The narrator hinted at a few negatives, but they didn't.

I understand what they were doing; it's probably not wise to admit malfeasance on camera. And I agree about Wounded Knee's symbolic importance. But I still say their comments were spinning. A more honest appraisal would've gone something like this:We did a lot of stupid things. Things I regret and would make amends for if I could. It's no excuse, but we were young and feeling our oats. It was our first taste of political power.

But still, it was a grand gesture of Native power and independence. Wounded Knee saw a group of Indians with hunting rifles standing up against the mechanized armed forces of the United States. The spirit of those Indians is what we value, regardless of the controversial circumstances that brought them there.
If my position still isn't clear, compare your comments to theirs. Although you were a bit vague, you noted the problems at Wounded Knee. They didn't.

I'd say you put a positive spin on Wounded Knee. They put a much more positive spin on it. The critics put a wholly negative spin on it. I, of course, have presented both sides fairly and impartially. <g>

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

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