Sitting Bull Russell Means
Our ideas will overcome your ideas. We are going to cut the country’s whole value system to shreds. It isn’t important that there are only 500,000 of us Indians….What is important is that we have a superior way of life. We Indians have a more human philosophy of life. We Indians will show this country how to act human. Someday this country will revise its constitution, its laws, in terms of human beings, instead of property. If Red Power is to be a power in this country it is because it is ideological….What is the ultimate value of a man’s life? That is the question.
Vine Deloria, Jr., In Touch the Earth, 159
It’s no wonder that the Indian cannot understand the white way or that native people have come to assume that whites are only capable of cultural theft of art, medicine, and ideas, of human labor and of land. Sitting Bull articulated the cultural clash of worldviews and the resulting tragedy for the Sioux nation which defended the Indian way:
What treaty that the whites have kept has the red man broken? Not one. What treaty that the white man ever made with us has the white man ever kept? Not one. When I was a boy the Sioux owned the world; the sun rose and set on their land, they sent ten thousand men to battle. Where are the warriors today? Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them? What white man can say I ever stole his land or a penny of his money? Yet they say I am a thief. What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me? Yet they say I am a bad Indian. What white man has ever seen me drunk? Who has ever come to me hungry and unfed? Who has ever seen me beat my wives or abuse my children? What law have I broken? Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Lakota, because I was born where my father died, because I would die for my people and country?
Quoted in Peter Matheissen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, 33
And now, five hundred years later, the colonizers still seek treasure. Today treasure is not gold, but uranium; Indians within the United States are not reduced to slaves, but leaders are criminalized and imprisoned. Law is able to accomplish what the whip and sword accomplished in the time of Columbus. Just as Chief Guaironex and Sitting Bull cherished the land, Lakota leader Russell Means fights for the Black Hills today:
Right now, today, we who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation are living in what white society has designated a National Sacrifice Area. What this means is that we have a lot of uranium deposits here, and white culture (not us) needs this uranium as energy production material. The cheapest and most efficient way for industry to extract and deal with the processing of this uranium is to dump the waste by-products right here at the digging sites. Right here where we live. This waste is radioactive and will make the entire region uninhabitable forever. This is considered by industry, and the white society that created th is industry, to be an “acceptable” price to pay for energy resource development. Along the way they also plan to drain the water table under this part of South Dakota as part of the industrial process, so the region becomes doubly uninhabitable. This same sort of thing is happening down in the land of the Navajo and the Hope, up in the northern Cheyenne and Crow, and elsewhere….
We are resisting being turned into a National Sacrifice Area. We are resisting being turned into a national sacrifice people. The costs of this industrial process are not acceptable to us. It is genocide to dig the uranium here and drain the water table, no more, no less.
Quoted in Peter Mattheissen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, 525
It’s sadly ironic that the clash between the red and white vision is symbolized today in the Black Hills, the sacred land of the Great Sioux nation. A legal fight rages over the 1868 Sioux claim to South Dakota lands, including seven and a half million acres of the Black Hills that were “lost” when Congress nullified the 1868 treaty following Custer’s defeat. In the 1980s when the Sioux appealed to the Supreme Court, the government’s “right” to the land was upheld. But the Sioux nation, faithful to tribal ethics and believing the earth is sacred and not for sale, refused the money.
The Black Hills is the land where the U.S. government chose to symbolize its democratic achievement. Chiseled into the stone hills of South Dakota are the faces of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. The government of the United States seeks to renovate the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota—“a shrine of democracy,” according to President Bush. The Sioux nation protests! “Not only did they desecrate our sacred land,” said Tim Giago, an Oglala Sioux who is editor of the Lakota Times, “they also memorialized four Presidents who committed acts of atrocity against our people…They want to spend $40 million to repair Mr. Rushmore and it’s 70 miles from the poorest country in American, where our people are destitute (Chu and Shaw, 69-70).
Destitute indeed! The annual income in the area is twenty-four hundred dollars, with an unemployment rate of eighty-five percent (Chu and Shaw, 70). Impoverished and defiant, the Sioux will not accept money for the sacred. Who is spiritually destitute, spiritually alive? If the lands of the Americas are to be saved from destruction, it is the Indians of America, who by their faithful reverence for the living world will save it. This sacred love of all beings is the profound spiritually that has enabled Indian people to continue to resist five hundred years of assault and degradation. Indian spirituality is the hidden cultural weapon that sustains resistance in the face of hardship and death. Penned in reservations, marginalized, made invisible, the red nations refuse to die.
Five hundred years after the conquest of the Americas, an environmental crisis confronts the world. Scientists predict that the destruction of the rainforest, industrial pollution, acid rain, nuclear radiation, and destruction of animal species has so altered the environment that the earth itself is in mortal danger. Some of the Indian medicine people echo the Indian prophecy which foretells apocalyptic destruction as a result of the whites’ failure to respect the mother, Earth. Lakota Wallace Black Elk articulates that vision:
The white people have to surrender their arms to the great Spirit.
This purification is coming real soon, and all the guns and gold will melt. The holy spirit, the atom, the power of god, will melt those guns and tanks and poison gasses they create….They will be standing by themselves….When the time comes there won’t be no amnesty.
We’re going back to the beginning of time…I have no fear, I have no slightest fear whatsoever. Even if I have to face death like Chief Big Foot, it’s very beautiful.
We hold the key to eternity, where it is beautiful and it is everlasting for everyone. That’s where we’re going. We’re going home. And finally we will be back in the Great Spirit’s hands again. Grandmother’s arms again. She’ll cradle us in her arms again.
Quoted in Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, 547
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a Micmac Indian, faced her own death with the same openness that Black Elk reveals. A mother and activist involved at Wounded Knee, she was mysteriously murdered and found frozen in the snow in a remote area of Pine Ridge reservation. Her hands were cut off and sent in a jar to the FBI in Washington for a fingerprint check. Her sister, Mary Lafford believes someone connected with the FBI killed her. AIM leader Dennis Banks said that her killer was not just the triggerman but the cultural triggerman of centuries. “She wasn’t killed by just one person. It was what she represented and what kin of person she was. What happens to people in four hundred years? Maybe that is the answer. Maybe four hundred years killed Anna Mae” (Matthiessen, 268).