I am a white woman, and I was in Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee. The atrocities that were committed were perpetuated by the FBI and the GOONs. I am a lawyer's daughter, and that same lawyer was a Special Agent for J. Edgar Hoover, and served his country as a paratrooper in Korea. I understand the workings of law. Civil injustice is civil injustice. Please pardon Peltier. Let there be SOME justice in this land.
I was there. Rosebud, South Dakota, Summer 1974. There were rumblings all around. Some like the buzzing of the bee, not intimidating. Others were loud, evil grumblings; sounds like the ones attributed to angry buffalo protecting their young. I was completely out of place - blonde, blue-eyed, seventeen, and fresh from the small town world of North Carolina.
I wasn't a country bumpkin, though. I had been well educated by my better-educated father. He saw to it that I looked at the world through unjudging eyes. I knew that what I heard and saw was unjust and unfair. I had known it since I was a small child and had seen most Americans 19th Century heroes depicted on the television engaged in atrocities against our Native brethren. It was appalling to me that Whites felt it necessary to engage in that vehement type of discrimination - against any other people. I just wasn't brought up to believe that I was superior to anyone of any race. It was a sign of the times, I suppose. My parents had never taught me to think the way others around me thought. I went into this new adventure with open eyes and an open mind.
I hadn't aimed for South Dakota, at all. I had been in California visiting some friends, and was returning to my home. I saw a nerdy guy on the highway hitch hiking, and picked him up. He was going to South Dakota - to the first official Sun Dance since the occupation of this country by outsiders. He was a student at UC Berkley, working on his Master's thesis in Sociology. It sounded good to me, so I took him. I went through beautiful countrysides and long well built highways - to a point. The highways ended at the reservation border. There were broken-down trailers and cabins, homes built out of road signs and debris. The conditions of living were hard to accept, for this middle-class southern girl. But, what I found when I arrived at Crow Dog's Paradise changed the way I looked at the world forever.
It had nothing to do with the outside toilets - my grandmother had an outhouse for most of her life. It had nothing to do with the carrying of water from a distant well. It had to do with the spirit and pride of those around me, and a culture that was not going to be rubbed out because other people could not accept it. The People were close to Nature, as man was intended to be. They strove to live with it, encourage it, be part of it, in a way I had never encountered. I knew the woods, the ways of animals and plants. My grandmother had also been close to the Earth, and took the time to tell me of the old-fashioned Appalachian ways that lived through her. The People were a bit different in their approach, but the result was the same. Learn how Mother Earth operates, and help to take care of her, and she will provide. Simple idea.
I was privileged beyond belief. I was taken under the wing of a tall, well-made, proud man. He was Henry Crow Dog. I had startled him by following him into the woods late at night. He said he had never been followed into the woods by a white woman. He hadn't heard me behind him. I didn't know whether he had taken to me because of my gift for woodsiness, or just out of fear of whites. He did start to tell me about when he was a boy, and there were no whites. I had always had the utmost respect for older people, and found him to be most gracious. He took me through the woods to meet people and talked to them about the affairs going on around us. Some were a little concerned that I was white, and would speak in Lakota, knowing I would not understand. With a little assurance, they spoke fearfully of law-enforcement 'officials' and other who had no business being on sovereign ground. I was taken to a place where there were tanks tracks on the ground. I saw the bloodstains where people had fallen when murdered. I was allowed to participate in the sweat lodge, and other components of the religious ceremonies taking place.
Crow Dog's wife, Mary Gertrude, also took me under her wing. I was told about the expectations of a girl's place in the village, and her duties to her community. I helped with the meals, the children and the Medic. I earned the right to be a part of the community and was given a lawful place within it and a Lakota name. Grandpa arranged for me to be formally adopted when the Medicine men were there. I met Russell Means, Leonard Crow Dog, Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks and several others. I learned that Ron Rosen, the Medic, was here to go on his first vision quest, a right he had earned by his contributions to this wonderful community. I was taught to make tobacco ties for him and others for their quest. I learned to find and pick the finest wild sage. I bathed in the clearest lakes with the other girls my age. This was all fascinating to me.
The longer I stayed, the more I learned. I heard talk of the GOONs in Pine Ridge. I heard talk of the FBI's incarceration of people who just wanted to be heard, and their culture appreciated for its simple beauty. I heard talk of the National Guard's tanks invading Indian land, where they had no right to be. Then, one day, it was no longer talk. I saw the body of a man who had been shot in Pine Ridge by a Native police officer. He had done nothing, was not even armed at the time. I was appalled by the nonchalant attitude of those designated as 'officers' at their murder of an unarmed citizen. Yes, I said Citizen. He had not been treated as one. I saw the remains of a building that had been the subject of a bombing late one night. All of the people inside had been killed, children included. My views were permanently stained.
I went home to North Carolina in the fall. I had sold my car to someone who needed it far more than I did. I had learned to birth babies, sew gunshot and knife wounds, and to be a part of something worthwhile. I learned to distrust law-enforcement officials-people I had grown up with. After all, my father was an attorney, an ex-FBI agent. Labels that had taken on a completely different meaning for me. I had learned skepticism, and distrust of what I knew to be true. I understood the meaning of friendship and family, though, in an entirely new light.
Fortunately, my newfound friend Ron Rosen kept in touch with me by mail and phone for years after that summer. He married and became a doctor in Denver. He told me about some of the further atrocities going on in Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee and Rosebud, as well as other places. I also heard from my friend Barbara Eagle on occasion for some time. She and I had experienced a lot of growing and learning together.
I still felt disconnected to the world I had come back to, long after my oldest daughter was born. She was raised differently from me. When she was killed in 1993, she had achieved a sense of self and pride most people never attain. I had instilled the belief that we are all equals in an unequal world in her. It can happen, I had discovered through her.I can not change the way the world works. I still don't know why people can not accept that others are different from themselves, and appreciate the differences for what they are. I try to instill that appreciation in my children and grand child. I wish that Henry Crow Dog was still alive to introduce them to. I have spent most of my adult life trying to shape the way the children I have contact with think of people different from them selves. For, they can change the world.