Sitting Bull is Alive after 121 years
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can build for our children –Sitting Bull
Today, December 15, 2011, marks the 121st memorial/anniversary of the murder of Chief Sitting Bull; the Hunkpapa Lakota (Great Sioux Nation) chief was gunned down by his own people on this day in 1890. It has only been 4-5 generations since the death of Sitting Bull and the unimaginable difficulties faced by our ancestors continue to strengthen our resolve to survive as a people.
My 8 year old daughter asked me about the circumstances surrounding Sitting Bull’s murder. I told her how Sitting Bull was one of our people that made the conscious decision to hold on to our ways of life when our world of 120 years ago was falling apart at its very foundations. I told her how her grandfathers had signed treaties with the United States that were soon ignored by them and upheld by us; I told her how the buffalo had been nearly slaughtered to extinction by the U.S. so we could not feed ourselves and that were forced to rely on the U.S., which deliberately confined us and controlled our existence, attempting to crush our dignity by trying to kill the language and ceremonies. But, I told her, our people who wanted to protect the ceremonies, like Sitting Bull, kept our ceremonies secret, like the sundance, inipi and others. I also explained that our people were given special treatment if they would forget about being Indian or Lakota and start living like the white man wanted us to; that it was not always seen as a good thing to care about being Indian/Lakota. I told her how the U.S. agents had become nervous about the ghost dance and had ordered the Lakota police at that time to arrest Sitting Bull and that our own people had killed one of the world’s greatest leaders who did nothing but love and defend his children, lands and ways of life. My daughter is still coming to grips with this as are all of our children who are taught in this manner.
I told her that not many were like Sitting Bull in choosing to hold fast to the instructions passed down for thousands of years. I told her that many of us were given hard choices; that to many of us our world was, quite literally, ending. She was astounded that our people could give up on our ways, learn English, and seemingly abandon who we are. I tried to explain to her that most of us were forced to give up or we did not have much of a choice and that it is not all bad that some of us chose to give up our arms and hang around the agencies as opposed to fighting to the death; there were no easy choices so we can’t judge them for those choices over 100 years ago.
Well, my daughter asks “do all the Lakotas sundance now? Do we speak our language?” Instead of trying to talk about colonization and other systemic, institutional reasons why we are having such a hard time, I simply told her that there are enough people that care about these ceremonies and our language so that we can keep them alive for her generation and those to come. We are finding creative ways of seeing what life we can build for our children.
A striking example of Sitting Bull living today is the recently created Sitting Bull Youth Culture Camp. This four day and night camp is held every summer at the site of his last residence and fateful murder on the Standing Rock Nation. This camp is absolutely necessary because it gives youth the courage and opportunity to be happy about being Lakota or Indian. Youth from the region, including youth from other-than-Sioux peoples, are free to ask each other and invited speakers about Indian identity, history, stories, ceremonies, and modern teen life; all the youth, who are intentionally surrounded by the Lakota language and encouraged to use it, participate in the construction of the tipis in which they sleep –the building of which is loaded with necessary star knowledge directly related to earthly conduct.
The Sitting Bull Youth Culture camp was started by friends on a volunteer basis. I had the privilege of helping and speaking to the youth each summer since 2008. This place is where the Grand River cuts through the wooded valley surrounded by the mighty, unforgiving plains –we call this place “many caches” for its historic abundance of food storage pits. This is where Sitting Bull was born. This country of the 1868 Treaty territory is where Sitting Bull still lives; remnants of his log cabin are still standing. Prayers are carried strong by those holding ceremonies in Sitting Bull’s land every year for the survival of the universe.
Every year at the close of the camp there is not a kid that leaves unaffected. Surveys of the kids show that 100% of them felt “better about being Lakota.” And, there is no denying that feeling better about who we really are is the only way to a sustained, positive esteem. Each of us with experience relating to life on the reservation knows that camps such as these provide a vital safe place where a kid can just be a kid. My daughter knows and appreciates people like Wastewin Young and Danielle Ewenin that started the Sitting Bull Youth Culture Camp from scratch; there are people like Tipiziwin Young and A.J. Agard who each year dedicate their full time to the camp at no cost, which is no easy task.
Today, we honor Sitting Bull and pray for the strength and safety of all the horseback riders beginning their 300 mile, two-week journey in the cold of winter on this day of Sitting Bull’s passing; horses and riders whose journey follows Chief Big Foot’s (Spotted Elk) route in 1890 on which our people fled toward the Oglalas seeking refuge from the deadly, unpredictable atmosphere following the murder of Sitting Bull. The horses and riders will end their journey on December 29, 2011 at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation (Oglala Lakota Nation) on the day of the 121st anniversary of the Wounded Knee massacre of December 29, 1890.
So, when my precious little girl asks difficult questions of my generation -questions relating to whether or not we genuinely care about being realindians, I teach her, using Sitting Bull’s words, “If a man loses anything and goes back and looks carefully for it, he will find it.” More than any time since Sitting Bull’s physical death, we are realizing that we lost something, we are going back to look for it and we are, by the grace of Creator, finding it. Sitting Bull is very much alive.
Hecegla (that is enough)
Chase Iron Eyes
If you or someone you know is interested in funding the Sitting Bull Youth Culture Camp at any level, we could always use more resources, email me at email@example.com