I ask you all to take a few moments this Memorial Day and watch the video embedded above, in which photographer Aaron Huey asks us to give recognition to the blood of Native soldiers and civilians spilled in the creation of the United States. Memorial Day often sees tribute paid to the American soldiers who have died in service of the U.S. government, yet little attention is given to the soldiers whose lives were lost in battles for survival against U.S. soldiers.
In his memoir, Black Elk reflects on the Wounded Knee Massacre, the turning point in Native history, which saw the transformation of all Native people into prisoners of war:
…it was all over.Some further memories of the Wounded Knee Massacre are remembered in Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee:
I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.
And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth,- you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead (207).
We tried to run, but they shot us like we were a buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot children and women. Indian soldiers would not do that to white children (444).
-Louise Weasel Bear
I was running away from the place and followed those who were running away. My grandfather and grandmother and brother were killed as we crossed the ravine, and then I was shot on the right hip clear through and on my wrist where I did not go any further as I was not able to walk, and after the soldier picked me up where a little girl came to me and crawled into the blanket (444).I also ask that you consider the plight of the Nez Perce, who, after choosing to flee their land in hopes of escaping the brutal attacks and repeated broken treaties of the U.S. government, were pursued and systematically slaughtered while trying to escape to Canada. The path that these exiles traveled has become known as the Nez Perce Trail. The efforts of Chief Joseph and the remaining 431 Nez Perce were ended in 1877 at the Battle of the Bear Paw, in which an armed civilian makeshift militia fought and lost against U.S. army soldiers. The battle took place just 40 miles from the Canadian border.
This short video offers a brief history of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce:
I will conclude with Chief Joseph’s speech of surrender to General Howard, words which I hope express the importance of remembering the legacy of Native soldiers:
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Tu-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.
Black Elk, Nicholas. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Ed. John G. Neihardt. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1979.
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Owl Books, 1970.
Chief Joseph. “Surrender at the Battle of Bear Paw.” Chinook, Montana. 5 Oct. 1877.