What Wounded Knee Means to Me

Most of the time I don’t say, “Hi my name is Lindsey, and I’m an Indian.” I  would feel false, insincere and presumptuous. That is why I identify as  mixed-blood and qualify my Navajo with an Irish. But today is different. On this  day in 1890 three hundred and fifty men, women and children were killed at  Wounded Knee after being completely unarmed by American troops looking to  capture the sickly Chief Big Foot as he lay on his death bed.

It was not the first time Indians were massacred and it wasn’t the last.  Today the battle continues, sometimes bloody sometimes not. For a long time I  didn’t even recognize myself as a part of that battle. I was in a state of  surrender. But not today.

Hi my name is Lindsey, and I am an Indian.

They* have tried to make me deny that. They have tried to silence my  heritage. They have tried to take the land from my tribe and  take my tribe  from me. They have tried to kill off the Indian inside for something more  suitable. But not today.

I may be Indian, but I am not Sioux. I’ve never been to Pine Ridge. I’ve  never seen a plain. I don’t know how to ride a horse, in fact they kind of scare  me. But on this day I stand with the Sioux as a comrade and a relative.

I don’t know the day or the place but I can always remember the thought, in  fact the series of thoughts, that secured my Native identity. I remember  traversing the past, tracing back the lines of my family and fully realizing for  the first time that I had ancestors who had lived for generations on this  continent before any settlers. I then began to walk back to the present day. I  knew that more painfully than I would ever experience my people witnessed the  theft of land, language, clan members, tribal members, everything they held  dear. I used to think of all this pain, all this loss as a sort of curse, the  curse of a colonized people. Performing this act of time travel today, I know in  a different context, it could just as easily have been my ancestors shot down,  slaughtered and mutilated by the 7th cavalry regiment without warning or  reason. Indeed, every tribe, every Native person, has their Wounded Knee moment,  the time when they told you you were dead or tried to make it so.

As a non-traditional mixed-blood who grew up in the suburbs, I often feel  guilty, even ashamed, that I can’t live up physically or culturally to the model  of an ideal Indian. I know in my mind that it’s not my fault. I didn’t give up  my culture, my language, my people. They were taken from me. It  may be my duty to struggle to regain these things but it is not my duty to feel  bad that I was not born with the a legible and uncomplicated identity. Over the  years I have accepted myself not as a traditional Indian, no, but as an Indian  whose identity is founded in the struggle of all indigenous people for what is  rightly theirs: their lands and lives.

Unfortunately when Wounded Knee is mentioned, in fact when Indians are  thought of at all, the predominant theme is one of death and defeat. But there  is another story of Wounded Knee, a story of resistance, hope and pan-Indian  solidarity. On February 17, 1973 members of the American Indian Movement seized and occupied the town of  Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where the massacre had occurred less than one  hundred years past. They held the town for seventy-one days and light a fire in  the hearts of Indians across the country, many of whom came to join in the  occupation. The re-occupation, or de-colonization, of Wounded Knee was a moment  where the possibility of standing up to the colonial government and corrupt tribal governments became startlingly clear. It is true the  occupation did not end as a total victory. Two of the occupiers had been killed  and Leonard Peltier would be sent to prison for the rest of his life for a crime  he did not commit. Regardless, it was a proud moment for a people so often made  to feel hopeless. It was a moment when people who had been beaten down by history stood up and refused to pass away. Today, when we  think of Wounded Knee, we need not only think of tragedy, we can also think of  the resistance of a proud people.

Many lives were taken at Wounded Knee and many lives continue to be taken in  prisons, reservations and more subtly in the melting pot. You don’t have to let  them take yours. You can be a part of the resistance, not the tragedy. Today,  whether full-blood, half-blood or mixed-blood, we can all stand as an Indian. We  can all stand with the Sioux. Together we can say “We are here and we shall  overcome!”

*”They” in this essay refers to the colonial actors and forces in Occupied  America.

Originally published at Indian Country Today.




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4 responses to “What Wounded Knee Means to Me

  1. rachel

    Your writing is very inspiring, but particularily when you talk about your native ancestry.

  2. My Hat is off to you Lindsey, this is a very well written and eloquent piece. I can relate to your story here, as I am also of mixed blood, Scots-Irish, German and Cherokee. And as you *they made me feel ashamed, and defeated, I was taught that I had to hid my heritage to be accepted. I am here today saying that I as you, do stand with the Sioux, and with all other Indian peoples in saying that I AM AN INDIAN, AND PROUD OF IT!!!. Take care my sister (If I may call you so) and May The Rainbow Always Touch Your Shoulder.

  3. Excellent essay, Lindsey. I enjoyed it very much. Cliff Harrison

  4. Good piece, Lindsey, with 1 exception. This is not “occupied America”; it is “occupied Turtle Island”. “America” is a rename tag hung on our land by a self-promoting Italian mapmaker who wanted to immortalize himself – Amerigo Vespucci. I am an IndigenUs Turtle Islander, not a “Native American”, an “American” Indn, etc. They* have tried to beat the Indn heart out of me since a few days before I was 3 & they*re still trying to. Many times I’ve heard, “If you would just give up this Traditionalism & Treaty Rights stuff, we would make you so successful here!” I respond, “If it’s so important to you that I give up Traditionalism & Treaty Rights, then it is even more important to The People that I not.” And I’m successful ‘anyway’, despite their efforts to burn me out & starve me out by a variety of means, economic & not. I’m a great-grandmother & still going strong. Not necessarily fast, but strong. I can not longer kick as high as I used to, but I kick just as hard. Stick to your guns. Or bows & arrows. Remember “the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune” & make them YOURS. Mitakuye oiasin – All, my relatives. That means ‘not merely humans’.

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