Decades of broken promises, stolen land and injustices culminated in the late 1880’s. Bison herds, a staple of Lakota survival, had been hunted to near extinction and the government refused to prevent poachers from entering Lakota lands to kill the few remaining animals. Many tribes were teetering on the edge of starvation. This led to mounting frustration, common to all Native Americans in the Plains and western mountains, producing a healthy environment for the teachings of Wovoka, a Paiute prophet and healer.
In early 1889, Wovoka claimed to have seen a vision of the Messiah foretelling the future restoration of the Native Americans and the
ejection of the European trespassers. As part of this vision, he relayed a dance, slow and somber to a single drum, called the Ghost Dance. Wovoka’s promise of restoration and redemption began to sweep the Plains and was quite unnerving, particularly the dancing, to the settlers pushing in from the east. It did not matter that Wovoka was teaching the tribes to walk at peace, cease lying and stealing, etc.
On December 15, 1889, in a heavy handed effort to quell this Messianic zeal, US Government officials decided to arrest Chief Sitting Bull and a dozen or more other chiefs. When they arrived at Sitting Bull’s residence with 40 Native American Police, a crowd quickly gathered to protest the action. A scuffle ensued and a few shots were exchanged killing Sitting Bull, eight supporters and six policemen.
Fearful that the situation would escalate into reprisals, 200 of Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa band fled to join Chief Spotted Elk at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Then, December 23, 1890, together with Spotted Elk, most decided to move on to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation under the protection of Chief Red Cloud. While on this move, elements of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment intercepted them and escorted them some five miles to Wounded Knee Creek where the band camped for the night. Under cover of darkness, the remainder of the 7th Regiment arrive and surrounded the camp with the intent of disarming the Native Americans at dawn.
Early on the morning of December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry Regiment moved in to disarm the band of Lakotas. A misunderstanding by a deaf Native American who did not want to give up his rifle led to a scuffle resulting in a stray shot ringing out. Immediately mayhem took over and the high charged environment exploded into a killing field as the 7th Cavalry
gunned down more than 150 Native Americans, including women and children. Some were pursued for up to two miles, shot and left to die. Others who were only wounded, were executed. This disaster came to be known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Besides the Native American deaths, approximately 25 soldiers were killed and the princely sum of $1950 was raised for a monument to their honor while the Native Americans were buried in a mass grave. To add insult to injury, more than 20 Medals of Honor, the highest military award given, were issued to 7th Cavalry soldiers for actions that day.
The attitude of that time period, an attitude that to some degree persists to this day, can be encapsulated in the words of young L. Frank Baum, the later author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum wrote,
The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.
Western culture has little understanding of shame and dishonor. Greek mindset allows us to have a dualistic thinking wherein we separate clearly associated things and bury the parts we don’t like, simply ignoring or forgetting them. Conversely, an Eastern mindset not only acknowledges but gravitates toward the inter-connectivity of all things. Scripture is very Eastern in its portrayal of the world and society. The Hebrews were and are Eastern thinkers.
Our Western mindset causes us to ignore the dishonor and shame that we should feel for the atrocities (Wounded Knee being just one of many glaring examples) committed against the Native Americans to whom God gave charge of this land. In our previous installment in this series, I began to explain the Scriptural basis for our need to repent of the sins of our fathers against the Native Americans. It is a huge blot of shame and dishonor on our hearts and faces before the Living God. According to His Word, He gave them this land and they are responsible physically and spiritually for it. We may have moved the physical boundaries by pressing the Native Americans onto reservations, but we have no ability to move the spiritual boundaries.
By stealing their land, our fathers became thieves and robbers; usurpers who sinned against God by violating His Word on multiple counts, and we dishonored our brothers, the Native Americans, by depriving them of their responsibility and right to care for this land. We further dishonored Native Americans by treating them as sub-human and intentionally reducing their numbers through substandard medical care, governmental bureaucracy, promotion of vices, etc. The Church, even, has always viewed and treated them as a mission with never the desire to partner with and learn their indigenous ways which lead to the Father.
We should feel shame and dishonor.
Last weekend, some dear friends spent a few days with us. They did not know what I had been reading and researching, but insisted that we needed to see this really good movie titled Hidalgo. Indeed, the film was very good and while may be more fiction than fact based on research into the life of Frank Hopkins, the main character of the story, the movie does portray well the Wounded Knee Massacre, shame, dishonor and the effects of Wounded Knee on many real life humans, whether of Native or European descent. For this reason, I recommend it.
Ponder shame and dishonor. Our next installment in this series will be Removing Shame and Restoring Honor. Coming soon.