Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wounded Knee 2011

Wild roadside sunflower, Central South Dakota

My Blogger friend Christopher made a comment on a previous post of a poem, written by Stephan Benet', entitled "American Names". The famous line at the end of this poem, also quoted as the title of a book written by American author Dee Brown, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", might be one of the only references to this strange named place in the Southwestern corner of South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Note: It's a great book. I recommend it highly)

I've been to Wounded Knee several times in my life. In fact, I've ridden my motorcycle, driven my car and drove commercial trucks all over the state. Christopher claims to not know anyone that has ever been to South Dakota. Well, here you go my friend, pictures and everything you might need for a cyber visit to some very Sacred ground.

Recently, I've just returned from the 2011 Wounded Knee Memorial Motorcycle Run. It was a fun ride, a solemn spiritual ride and quality time spent with friends, both old and new. Just to briefly recap the ride itself, we started from Ft. Yates, North Dakota, and traveled South to Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The ride took two days with most of the actual miles being ridden on Saturday.

Rides like these let people know that there are those of us that remember what happened to them and their people. We acknowledge the atrocity and call attention to the event in hopes that something like this will never happen again. What looks like a bunch of hooligans ripping up pavement on iron horses is actually an honor guard carrying the spirits, survivors in our minds, of a significant event.

In 1890, the 7th Cavalry was dispatched to be on alert for a possible uprising of the people who were gathered to listen and learn about a vision brought East by a man named Wovoka. Wovoka, Jack Wilson, was a Northern Paiute leader from Nevada and had this dream about the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance was nothing more than a dream and hope for the people that they could return to the ways of being connected to the land as they were before the Europeans came. They envisioned rich soil covering the Sacred Earth Mother. They saw the buffalo back in numbers and the idea of seasonal hunting  for a larder of food for Winter a reality once again.

Our government, uneasy with things they didn't know about or understand, were on hand to make sure the Indians weren't going to do something illegal, like honor their spirituality and beliefs. There was also the revenge factor. You see, the 7th Cavalry was the same military unit that was defeated soundly at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, known as Custer's last stand.

Push came to shove and a shot was fired. The cavalry opened up and massacred over 150 people. Men, women, children and even some of their own were caught in the cross-fire. Unarmed people, for the most part, were chased into the surrounding hills and shot in the back. Women carrying children were shot and then the child was shot.

These stories have been carried and handed down. We're talking about an event that happened a little more than 100 years ago, so it wasn't that many generations removed from when the slaughter occurred. People gathered, the military sent to keep the peace killed them.

The My Lai Massacre in 1968 Vietnam did see the act of torture, rape and killing of innocent civilians repeated by members of the armed forces of the United States government, so the argument that Wounded Knee was a chance happening, an error if you will, doesn't hold water. War creates animals with animal instincts and animal minds. We must recall and remember, and hold the idea of man's inhumanity to man, in the front of our minds.

The Tribal flags for three Nations; Standing Rock, Cheyenne River and Oglala, imprinted on these memorial arm bands.

The motorcycle ride was to remember these people. Arm bands were handed out with the names of the people that were killed. I rode for two families. The family of Whirlwind Hawk, his wife, three daughters and two sons, and Red Eagle, his wife, Her Black Horses, and their three daughters.
The names of the families on the back.

I also made arm bands and flags to carry the name of a friend, Dave Wilson, who had battled Leukemia and lost just a short time ago. He was one of the motorcycle riders I had spent time with both on the road and in the Sweat Lodge. There is a sort of intimacy that is shared when you pray with someone in a Sweat Lodge. There were five others that knew Dave as well as I did. We all donned the flags and arm bands and carried his spirit to Wounded Knee with us.

I tied one of the black flags on the fence at the Wounded Knee cemetery. Allowing Dave's spirit to rest a while with the spirits there.
A flag for my friend hangs on the fence at Wounded Knee Cemetery along with other memorials that have been placed there over the years.

I can go on and on about this event and others like it from the history of our country. Repetitive, boring, mish mash, beating a dead horse. All these idiom are conjectured when we retell the same story and say the same things. We bow our heads because we know we should. I'll leave it there and move on.

South Dakota is a beautiful place. Years ago, while driving big rigs for a living, I would run end to end of the 400 plus miles across the plains with reckless abandon. I needed to get through South Dakota to travel West, and the quicker I did so, the quicker I got home and drew my pay. I never looked around. I never saw the sights I see today. I never savored the lush plains, the hills and valleys, the buttes and the mighty Missouri River.

SD Hwy 44 bridge across the Mighty Mo

From atop a motorcycle, out in the open air, with a full view of the earth and sky, and in these unusual weather conditions, all was a thing of beauty. Rains over the Summer had everything with a bright green hue. Usually, in August, you could expect brown wheat field stubble and low water levels on the mighty river. Dried up creek beds and hot dry weather. This year, it looked like Spring in August. The temperatures were warm, but not stifling hot, and the winds were light and variable.

We rode from place to place, stopping every so often for gas and a break from sitting in the motorcycle saddle. One of these stops was a place called Bridger. There, we had a small ceremony and an elder spoke to the group of riders before serving us a fantastic lunch in their community center. In Eagle Butte, the end of day one found us in their Pow Wow grounds for another brief presentation.

Rain was threatening, but we held fast. It seems the Seneca nation of New York was in possession of an American flag that was flying at the World Trade Center at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks. This flag was there at Eagle Butte this day. All the Veterans that were on the ride, including myself, were asked to assist with the unfurling of this gifted flag.

It was 12' by 20', the white was gray, the red a maroon, made this way from the smoke and soot of that fateful day. The Veterans lined up and we unfolded the flag. It was stretched out and held at attention as the drum group played a flag honor song in the lakota language. The flag was then folded by the Veterans in attendance.

The rains came, hard and fast. We barely made it into the community center where a dinner feast was served. It thundered, lightninged, rained and hailed all the while. When the meal was done, the rain had moved on. Our bikes were wet, but we never had to ride in treacherous conditions.

The landscape at Bridger, SD

We made Wounded Knee the next day and the story was told to us by an interpreter that stated very simply that the cultures had clashed and the end result that December day in 1890 was a death toll of over 150 Lakota people.

My Triumph Scrambler, although smaller and less powerful than my old Tiger, ran beautifully. I had no trouble keeping up with the pack. The bike was a comfort to ride. I had it packed for whatever I might run into, but through years of experience, I kept my load light.

A dry bag, used routinely for kayak travel, kept my things dry in any weather
I started for home right after a meal offered to us by our hosts at Wounded Knee. There was a Pow Wow celebration happening in Manderson, but I opted for Martin, SD and the comfort of a motel bed. Sunday and Monday were spent riding through South Dakota, Minnesota and into Wisconsin.

Missouri River

I reflected a lot on this ride. Remembered the Lakota. remembered my friend and remembered one of the reasons why I might be still walking this earth. The Creator has told me many things and given me many teachings. This experience was no exception in the opportunities to learn new things and see nature's beauty.

Next trip is to Milwaukee with Mrs. Spadoman, then to another camping trip to a motorcycle rally in Northeastern Wisconsin. I'll be staying busy.

Peace to all


Jeannie said...

We people are more frightened than we care to admit. We do not trust. The shooting in Norway shows how close to the surface our violent nature is. We feel threatened - we lash out. If we believe that our way is the right way and everyone should be the same, but they want to continue with their way - which they see as equally right - then we are in for some trouble. Muslims today are also repeating atrocities that Christians undertook in years past. Will they listen to the lessons of history? Probably not. They are on a mission for God and can not be wrong.
Underneath our civil exteriors we are all the Borg seeking to assimilate or destroy those around us.

Mel said...

Alas, I fear I will not be assimilated. I have no desire to be--I guess I chose the road less traveled for a reason, huh?

Gotta tell ya, I was getting choked up on the families you represented on the ride and then you mentioned the sharing of the 9/11 flag and the colors forever changed by the day's events. That kinda sealed it for me.
Fear--people do strange things out of fear and in the name of 'G-d' and even 'country'.
Makes me sad that 100 years later, we're still doing the knee jerk response and reacting in fear. We have more growing to do. *I* have more growing to do.
I suspect you get to be around, in part, to help those of us who still need stretched in some areas.

I'm glad for that.


And I'll note there was no medical update from the appointment.....not that it's my biz.... *ahem*

JUST me carin' about ya!

Christopher said...

This is great post, Joe. I wish I'd ridden pillion with you - although that would have slowed you down and you wouldn't have been able to keep up with what sounds to be a great bunch of committed guys. Especially, in your account, the friend you represented. Good for you. Peace.

Marilyn & Jeff said...

A great post about an event that I didn't know of, but sadly there have been and still are so many stories that are the same. What some people can do to others.
I must have a look at that book.
I wish you peace for all your road trips and always.

Barb Spado said...

I was taught a lot of things when I was young, some you took more as "suggestions" but some were absolute, one of those was "Thou shalt not Kill".

Isn't it amazing how the rains come in and do a cleansing?