Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Wounded Knee

David and I are well ensconced in the bar at the Hilton Garden Inn here in Rapid City. We each have a beer. We have each ordered some dinner. He is happily tagging away on his iPhone while I write this blog on what has become our shared laptop for this trip. It wasn't the plan; it just worked out that way.

It's been a long and interesting day today with a couple of really fun stops, and one stop which reminds me once again of the unfairness of history and life. The weather is getting to us today as well. Yesterday, in Grand Island, Nebraska, we finished our day with temperatures reminiscent of summer; warm, soft, somewhere near 70F. This morning when we awoke, our day started with cool temperatures approaching 60F. Yet my phone dinged with a snowstorm warning for western Nebraska, South Dakota and Eastern Wyoming. Tonight, when David shivered outside unloading the truck, temperatures were near freezing. Tomorrow's forecast calls for a high of 28F. We've gone from summer to winter in a single day's drive.

Both of our fun stops today involved cars. In Grand Island, David found a body shop with all kinds of cars and odd characters mounted on poles in his shop yard, all of them displaying the shop's skill with body work and paint. These whimsical installations used characters from cartoons and movies, all presented in the most humourous way. The other stop was at Carhenge, a now famous installation of cars in the Nebraska farm town of Alliance made to look like Stonehenge in England. There is no reason for this display. Someone just woke up one day with an idea and it took off from there. It's now internationally famous.

The saddest part of our day came near the end with a visit to Wounded Knee, South Dakota. This small town, the epicenter of the American Indian Movement of the 1970's, was host to both the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973, where Native Americans where compelled to occupy their own land to gain public and government attention to their well-founded grievances, but it is also the site of the last great battle of the Indian wars, where the American government simply slaughtered Native Americans in order to take their land. This last battle, the Massacre at Wounded Knee, happened in 1890. It was to be the Sioux Last Stand, the last of the Lakota tribes to defy the white man.

This village is in the midst of the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest places in America. There are poverty stricken towns in the deep south of the USA who fare better than this forgotten place. Here, where there were once proud warriors of great tribes, there now stand beaten mobile homes, garbage strews about in the streets, abandoned homes, wrecked cars.

I am not one for "white man guilt". I will not rend my shirt over misdeeds of the past. My ancestors suffered roughly at the hands of conquerors too. All of us have evils done in our past. Those of the Native Americans are the most recent. Yet we do, as a society, have a responsibility to ensure that all of our populations have opportunity, have a chance at the front row, rather than perpetually being left behind in the back of the bus, forever disadvantaged by race and colour. Wounded Knee is a reminder of this inequity, both in 1890 and in 1973.

1 comment:

  1. The world has become a smaller place, both for the indigenous population and the settled. We must all move on as one. It would now be considered racist not to accept new immigrants....