Millions of acres of American Indian ancestral land (in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida) was stolen by the Federal Government. The reason? So that white settlers could move in and use the land for their advantage in such endeavors as growing cotton.
The removal of native people from their lands and homes of many generations began in the early 1830s, when nearly 125,000 Native Americans began their tragic journey known as the Trail of Tears. They were sent to live in Indian Territory what eventually would become the state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma meaning: “red people”. The translation is from the Choctaw Indian words okla and humma.
The author, Mary Ellen Moore-Richard, died on Febuary 14th at the age of 58. She wrote the memoir Lakota Woman, which was published in 1990. Her life began on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The reservation was, and still is, where the Sicangu Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Lakota nation, live.
When Mary Ellen was young, in the 1950s and 60s, life on the reservation was not easy. There was much poverty. Even today the same dire living conditions she had to endure remain unchanged, as reported in a CNN article:
“Nearly half of the people in Todd County live under the federal poverty line, making it the second-poorest county in the nation. The Department of Interior produces another gut-punching statistic: unemployment among the Rosebud Sioux tribe is over 80%.”
Mary Ellen was only one of several names she was known by; two others being Mary Brave Bird and Mary Crow Dog. The various identities represent the complex heritage she grew up in with both American Indian and white ancestry. Kids were cruel sometimes calling her iyeska, meaning half-breed, when she was a child.
In her memoir she wrote, ““The little settlements we lived in — He Dog, Upper Cut Meat, Parmelee, St. Francis, Belvidere — were places without hope where bodies and souls were being destroyed bit by bit.”
During the later teen years, she joined the American Indian Movement and married one of the leaders,Leonard Crow Dog, giving birth to their child during the infamous occupation of Wounded Knee. Read more about the American Indian Movement and the historic event at Wounded Knee in 1973.
Her funeral service was held at Rooks Funeral Chapel in Mission, S.D.
In the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877, one battle stands out in history; the battle of Little Bighorn in June of 1876 that resulted in the deaths of over 260 soldiers and scouts including General George Armstrong Custer.
The U.S.government had promised in the Treaty of 1868 to set aside the Black Hills of Dakota for the Sioux people, but later after the discovery of gold in the area, the treaty was dishonored. Custer lead an army detachment in the encounter of the Sioux and Cheyenne encampment at the Bighorn River and as a consequence they were annihilated.
From The Killing of Crazy Horse
By THOMAS POWERS
[This] is what rode south toward the Rosebud on the night of June 16–17, 1876: thunder dreamers, storm splitters, men who could turn aside bullets, men on horses that flew like hawks or darted like dragonflies. They came with power as real as a whirlwind, as if the whole natural world—the bears and the buffalo, the storm clouds and the lightning—were moving in tandem with the Indians, protecting them and making them strong.
The government then took further action until in 1877 they succeeded in taking away the land promised to the tribes and also took the life of Chief Crazy Horse.
On Sept. 5, 1877 the Chief was jailed and stabbed. He died from a soldier officer’s bayonet in his back. According to Power’s award winning book, The Killing of Chief Crazy Horse, one witness named He Dog said that the guard “lunged twice with his bayonet.”
One of the leaders, Russell C. Means, of the AIM (American Indian Movement) died on Monday, October 22. At the time of his death, being an Oglala Sioux, he was living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at his ranch in the town of Porcupine, S.D.. He was 72 years old.
The nation first came to know of Mr. Means on February 27, 1973 as he helped lead 200 Oglala Lakota (Sioux) activists and members of AIM in the occupation of Wounded Knee.
Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a very small town where it is told that the Sioux chief Crazy Horse’s heart and bones were buried along the Wounded Knee Creek, was taken hostage by the activists. The occupation was an effort to force the U.S. government to honor promises made in treaties from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was the start of what became a 71-Day Siege.
The U.S. Marshals Service, FBI and National Guard besieged the town in response to the take over. A member of the AIM later described in an interview that it was like living in a war zone. Two Oglala Lakota were shot and killed and an FBI agent became paralyzed by a gun shot wound.
The death of tribe member Buddy Lamont resulted in the Oglala Lakota’s move towards a resolution. Their surrender to law enforcement occurred on May 8th.
Means and his followers did bring awareness to the ill treatment of the indigenous people in the U.S., but unfortunately their civil rights movement saw little to no success. Today, the Pine Ridge Reservation suffers from extreme poverty and between 70 and 80 percent unemployment.