Justin, an Oglala youth who spent many months last year at Standing Rock organizing donations for the resistance camps, is pictured here sitting by the window of the Wounded Knee museum, dedicated to the 1973 occupation of the village, the historic site of the massacre of Chief Big Foot’s band by the 7th Cavalry in 1890. "This is my playground," said Justin. These hills, the 36 bunkers, the burned out churches – I’m glad we burned them down. We need to think for ourselves. My people have been here for more than a hundred years. We survived the massacre. We survived the occupation. We survived the civil war on Pine Ridge. We are still here."

But with that, I am now going to pack up my dusty bicycle and catch a very large Greyhound home.
Someone stole my bicycle shoes last night … a fitting Rapid City end to a very educational, inspirational tour of Native America over 7 weeks, 2500 miles, and eight states.
Any road you take from any coast to the Black Hills, the heart of Turtle Island would reveal similar stories of US treachery and oppression, land grabbing and double dealing with the Native People of this land. I happened to take this road, and these are some of the people I met, and my life is infinitely enriched from having met them and heard their stories.



Cicely EngelhartCommunications Director at Thunder Valley CDC gives the power salute standing in front of the Chicken Palace, which is built to house 600 chicks, for starters, as one piece of the program for food self sufficiency on Pine Ridge that Thunder Valley is building.

Nick Tilsen

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation

Nick Tilsen is the 34 year old founder and executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, an oasis of positive change just off BIA Route 27 in Sharps Corners, SD – on a particularly bleak stretch of the Pine Ridge Oglala Nation.

Tilsen, whose parents met during the occupation at Wounded Knee in 1973, has spent the last 10 years working with the community to come up with a comprehensive vision for systemic change on Pine Ridge, one of the most economically deprived areas on the continent.

Working closely with the Obama Administration and major foundations, Tilsen has secured millions in grants to begin building 21 units of owner occupied, sweat equity, sustainable energy homes at Thunder Valley, to begin to put a dent in Pine Ridge’s 4,000 unit housing deficit.

That is just one of the many aspects to Thunder Valley’s work.

When I visited on Wednesday, I helped apply joint compound to new sheetrock walls on what Cicely Engelhart, Thunder Valley Director of Communications, ( Ihanktonwan Dakota, and a recent graduate of University of South Dakota who studied "food colonization" of Native Nations at university) called the "chicken palace." This glorified chicken coop now houses 600 chicks, one part of a program to increase food self sufficiency on Pine Ridge.

Thunder Valley’s Nick Alvarez, another of the 55 full time and roughly 50 stipended youth employees at CDC – which is a very youth driven organization, fully independent of the Pine Ridge IRA tribal government – said the current statistics show that Pine Ridge imports about 95% of its food from outside – and that food is too often high sugar, low nutrient convenience store fare . "With these gardens, the geothermal greenhouse, the chickens, we hope to begin to reverse those statistics," said Alvarez. The CDC plans to open a grocery store featuring Native grown foods, to compete with the nearby convenience store just down the road in Sharps Corners. "We got them to start stocking a few vegetables in the back recently," noted Alvarez. But Thunder Valley plans to do better.

Among the other programs Engelhart said the organization is working with community support to develop are a Lakota Immersion Day Care, Lakota language grade school instruction at a nearby elementary school (with English as a second language classes offered), a youth shelter, and artist live work studio space. There will be space for outdoor concerts (indeed, Thunder Valley just celebrated a big 10th anniversary last weekend, with a roster of Native bands headlined by Indigenous!) and other events that can help bring the broader Oglala community together on Pine Ridge .

Tilsen said among his next efforts is a plan to reach out to other Native Nations across the continent to tell the story of what Thunder Valley has been able to accomplish, and to seek foundation backing to help other Native territories develop similar community development initiatives.

He is also working locally to bring back buffalo herds, a better source of protein and more suitable link in a sustainable local food chain than the calf – to – cow, ship to slaughter ranching that dominates the area. "That model really does nothing to contribute to a local food economy," Tilsen noted.

Changing the way of thinking about an endemic pattern of poverty and dependency at Pine Ridge that has been a characteristic of Oglala life for more than a century, since the federal government forced a free and nomadic and prosperous people onto an arid "prisoner of war" camp, (as many Lakota I talked to refer to the "reservations,") – that is Tilsen’s larger goal.

"How long are you going to let other people dictate your children’s future?" he asks.

Thunder Valley is working with qualified Oglala families to build and own new homes at a much faster clip than the tribal government itself. And they are building more than homes at Thunder Valley. They are building hope.

Calvin Jumping Bull

Named after his grandfather, who passed on in 2005, a teacher of Lakota at Oglala Lakota College on Pine Ridge, and greatly respected elder of his people. His parents invited AIM to the Jumping Bull Ranch for protection from the reign of terror on Pine Ridge in those years,
when the murder rate was 20 times the national average, the highest in the United States (so- called) and more murders were committed on Pine Ridge ( pop 12,000) than in the entire state of South Dakota.
Read the news today. Drug cartels murdering young people on the Rez a commonplace crime – and another young girl committed suicide last week.
Calvin Jumping Bull, the young man in the Oglala General Store in the photo above said, “We pray for Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s time he comes home to his people. We need him.”

Jumping Bull Ranch

In Oglala, SD, on June 26th, 1975, at this ranch, where traditional Lakota People had invited a small group of American Indian Movement warriors along with their wives and children, 30 in all, to protect them from the reign of terror being directed at traditional Lakota by the Indian Reorganization Act tribal chairman of that time Richard Wilson, and his GOONS (Guardians of the Oglala Nation/tribal policemen) along with the FBI who had an active presence on Pine Ridge in the years following the Occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 – during which time more than three score unsolved murders took place, often of Traditional Lakota who differed with the tribal chairman, a shootout took place involving hundreds of law enforcement agents and AIM warriors defending the camp and the women and children on it. One AIM warrior, Joe Stuntz, was killed in the shootout, as were two FBI agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Color, first badly wounded after arriving and driving into the ranch in unmarked cars, then killed at point blank range. AIM warriors were able to successfully guide the women and children out of the camp to safety despite the huge law enforcement cordon and ongoing gunfire.
Leonard Peltier had been serving a life sentence for the murder of the FBI agents for the last 41 years.
Amnesty International had cited numerous constitutional violations in his extradition from Canada, where he fled, his trial, and conviction.
People around the world consider Peltier to be America’s foremost political prisoner, America’s Nelson Mandela. Still serving time for a crime the federal prosecutor subsequently testified that the government did not know and could not prove that Peltier committed. Two codefendents who were here with Peltier on that fateful day in 1975 were tried separately and set free on grounds of self defense. Peltier remains in jail at age 72. Help set him free!
Go to: WhoisLeonardpeltier.info
Write to him in jail.
Do not give up hope for his freedom.

17 August, 2017 00:40

The grave of Lawrence “Buddy” LaMonte, shot through the heart on April 27th, 1973 during the three month occupation of the village of Wounded Knee by traditional Ogalala Lakota with the support of American Indian Movement.
A Vietnam veteran, LaMonte fought for the US government, and they killed him for defending his people.
He is buried just to the south of Chief Bigfoot’s mass grave, overlooking the village of Wounded Knee. His stone reads in part:
“Though he went traveling alone, We’ll meet one day at our final home.” And, referring to Feds and Aim occupiers:”
“2000 and 500 came to Wounded Knee.
One still remains.
Lawrence “Buddy” LaMonte.
I stayed with his niece in Minneapolis; he was 32 years old when he was killed.

On this Site on Dec 29th, 1890

Chief Bigfoot, having already surrendered to the 7th Cavalry under Major Samuel Whitside the day before, was taken under military escort five miles to Wounded Knee Creek with his starving band of approximately 100 (poorly armed or) unarmed warriors (about 40 from Sitting Bull’s band, who left from Standing Rock after his murder to seek shelter on Pine Ridge with Red Cloud, joined by a slightly larger number of Minneconjou) along with at least 200 women and children were massacred by Hotchkiss Guns mounted on a hillside a quarter of a mile away.
Troops had been sent into the camp to “disarm” the warriors, who were carrying mainly knives and hatchets. 38 rifles were turned in.
One elderly man, deaf, named Black Coyote allegedly failed to understand the order or protested giving up his rifle because it had cost him a lot of money. A struggle ensued, a shot was fired, then firing became indiscriminate.
The soldier firing Hotchkiss guns from the nearby hill slaughtered their own men along with women and children in the camp.
Bigfoot, given medical aid the night before for pneumonia, was shot down too, with all his band – all buried together in a mass grave.

15 August, 2017 21:03

Mitakuye OyasinAll My Relatives Statue
6th and Omaha; Rapid City, South Dakota

I have lingered far too long in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the storm clouds and rain have lingered too.
Yesterdays late afternoon downpour pushed Rapid Creek out of its banks, and made me realize how easy it would be for this city at the base of the Black Hills to flood again, as it did, disastrously, in June of 1972, when 238 people drowned when the Creek flooded after heavy rain. But now the rain is dissipating and I am going to head on down the road to Wounded Knee.

Before I go, I wanted to add one thing to the remarks I posted yesterday about the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. Not only did the federal government use this Act as a means of declaring un-allocated Native land as surplus, open to white homesteaders. But also the land allotted to individual Native Americans was then subject to taxation, and also subject to predatory lending by financiers, who took advantage of the Native’s lack of cash to establish farmsteads or ranches of their own by lending them money at usurious rates, then claiming the land when the loans were not repayed on time. Individual allotments could also be bought by white ranchers and settlers, which communal Native land held in trust by the federal government could not be. By these methods, Native "reservations" were divided up into small parcels, bought up, and more than half of the lands remaining in Native hands in 1887 transferred to white ownership by the time Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, canceling out the disastrous Dawes Act policy of allotting Native communally held lands ( but giving rise to a host of other problems still plaguing Native Nations today in terms of majority rule IRA governments and traditional Native ways).

With the Black Hills in view, it seems appropriate to quote once more (while I still have access to a library computer I can use both hands and all ten digits on) from Vine DeLoria Jr. (whose book Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties – 1974 – I have been reading between thunderstorms this entire trip – almost finished now). I had the good fortune to meet his grandson, Manape LaMere, at Green Grass recently. Manape is more than conversant with the legal themes his grandfather articulated; he has been issuing passports for the sovereign Great Sioux Nation, and can quote Supreme Court decisions chapter and verse from memory.

Here is his grandfather again:

"The story of Indian claims against the United States goes back almost to the beginning of the republic. The ink was hardly dry on the treaties before white settlers began their trek overland into Indian country, breaching the solemn promises of the United States. When the executive branch of government refused to use the army to enforce the provisions of the Indian treaties, the tribes had but two recourses: war or relief through the United States court system. When they were pushed to the limit of their patience by the advancing tide of settlement, many tribes fought for their lands. But several times before a crisis occurred, tribes had attempted to use the federal courts for redress. The sad story of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia indicates the dead end which the tribes found in the legal processes of the United States. A year following the Cherokee Nation case Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokees, appealed what was basically the same case as Cherokee Nation to the Supreme Court in Worcester v. Georgia. The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Cherokee treaties and held against enforcing the laws of the State of Georgia which had been passed to harass the Cherokees. When President Andrew Jackson learned of the Supreme Court decision he is said to have remarked, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."
Following the two Cherokee cases, the tribes knew better than ask a federal court to enforce their treaty rights through injunctions. The executive branch was determined to disqualify Indian treaties as the law of the land, and the refusal of respective Presidents to give credence to the treaty provisions was something over which the Indians had no control. While a President might promise the tribes that no whites would be allowed in their land, as was done by President Grant in the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, whenever the settlers illegally moved into Indian country, the first response of the executive branch was to make another treaty with the tribe concerned in order to somehow give legality to acts that were already illegal."

At the base of the sculpture on 6th and Omaha, the plaque reads:
"This sculpture represents hope for reconciliation, dignity, and respect for all the human race. The earth itself is in the shape of a hoop or circle of life. The crossed pipes represent world peace. The eagle represents all flying creatures, and communication with Tunka Sila. Wisdom and the healing arts are represented by the grizzly bear, and long and productive life is symbolized by the turtle. The bison reminds us of our ancestors’ healthy lifestyles, free from famine, and also of the White Buffalo Calf Woman who brought us the pipe."

Reunion of Warriors from the Battle of Little Big Horn; December 2nd, 1948.

In the lobby of the Rapid City, SD Library.
Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who led a two week expedition into the Black Hills in 1874, during which gold was discovered, did not survive the Battle of Little Big Horn two years later, on June 25th, 1876. Neither did the 200 men of the 7th Cavalry under his command.
But the Lakota’s claim to the Black Hills – Paha Sapa – their most sacred site – guaranteed by the Ft. Laramie Treaties in clear and simple language: “…no persons except those designated herein ( the Great Sioux Indian Nation ) … shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article” did not survive Custer’s brief midsummer visit of 1874, once gold was discovered along French Creek.
Gold rush fever struck – white prospectors came pouring into the Black Hills, and Congress soon passed an Act illegally taking the land they had promised to the Lakota in perpetuity. The gold rush soon ended when the claims played out, but the settlers stayed.
Court battles to the Supreme Court confirmed in 1980 that the Black Hills had been egregiously stolen. The Lakota have rejected monetary compensation ( a fund to settle the case has been earning interest since 1980 and is now worth more than $1.3 billion, but the Lakota want the Black Hills back.
Obama almost gave them the federal property in the Black Hills – the majority of the land on question – but he caved to pressure and failed to deliver. Will the Lakota see justice from the current administration or Congress. You tell me.

The Black Hills

I am taking shelter from torrential rain in Rapid City Library after much needed bike repairs!
The foothills of the Black Hills, held sacred by the Lakota, and never ceded by them, are just outside of town – and the town itself (67,000) is very multicultural to say the least.