December 29, 2010 -- Rustbelt Radical -- Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890 is full of meaning. Not just for the Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota who were victims and perished in their hundreds, but for the course of imperial America. Its violence an echo of the violence that was the settlement of this country.
The expropriation of the land from Native Americans necessarily involved a genocidal struggle, something evident very early in the history of Europeans on this continent. That genocidal struggle was also bound up with an economy based on private property and at irreconcilable odds with the economy of native peoples which recognised no such form of property. The Dawes Act of 1887 makes perfectly clear that the struggle against native peoples was also a struggle against native collective property notions. And look how the land itself reels from that war!
Fly over the country today and you’ll see division imposed upon the land; plots neatly parceled (and at odds with their terrain, with nature) in the interest of sale and of tax. This pattern emerged 100 years before the Dawes Act in the Northwest Ordinance’s township and range system. The way even the land was surveyed being determined by the dictates of private property. The American revolution meant the expansion of settlement, first into the Ohio River Valley and expansion meant the commodification of land; speculation in becoming the source of great fortunes in the early "Republic". For the gentleman farmers of Thomas Jefferson’s generation native land use was simply a waste of resources, the exploitation of which they hungered for themselves. From the air private property is clearly visible, from the ground fences frame the story.
The settlement of the Americas was accomplished with as much racism as the slave trade, indeed it can be said to be a source of modern racism. The history of capitalism is entwined with racism and none were the greater recipients of its poison than Native Americans. Yet, it would not be the first time that a race war was waged over property, nor the last. It is necessary to dehumanise those you would do to the likes of which you would never tolerate being done to.
"Primitive accumulations" are an ongoing, not historical, mode of capitalist appropriation. They didn’t end at Wounded Knee. It happens now in India, in Indonesia and in Ecuador to name but a few. It was seen in the conversion of the formerly state properties of the East into private hands. It can be found even in the most developed of capitalist economies today; anywhere where sovereignty over land, labour and resources is wrenched from one group or class to another. Where economies are brought forcefully into the market. The closing of the west made gorily real on this day 120 years ago by that bitterly cold Dakota creek signaled the entrance of the United States into international struggle for markets and influence. It is a bloody marker denoting the birth of an empire.
The Seventh Cavalry responsible for the massacre was Custer’s old troop, formed in 1866 with the expressed purpose of pacifying native resistance in the west. A few short years after Wounded Knee, where 17 men were awarded the Medal of Honor, would see the Seventh in the Philippines putting down a different native rebellion, accompanied by more Medals of Honor. The great wealth amassed from a continental appropriation would now be exported, in the name of democracy, in a manner as rapacious as the violation of the Americas, also under the name of democracy. Today, the whole world lives in the shadow of Wounded Knee.
I have been to the mass grave on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the coloured ribbons tied to the surrounding fence snapping in the wind coming off the plains. It is a terribly sad place, a place befitting the terribleness it holds. In my mind the site is the United States’ most important monument. The grave holds not just the remains of the dead, but the reality, the horrible reality of the meaning of North America; its birth, its growth, its present.
What would justice, genuine justice, be to the native peoples of this continent? From my perspective as the descendant of some of those settlers and citizen of the state that now strides this land, the only justice possible is a death sentence on the Empire, whose epitaph will surely contain the words "Wounded Knee", and a restoration of collective ownership. An irrevocable removal of those fences, those divisions that the geometry of capitalist expansion knifed into a blood-stained earth.
Wounded Knee: Never Forget, Never Forgive.
[This article first appeared at Rustbelt Radical. It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.
Support ‘Wounded Knee Medals of Dishonor’ Petition
- Log in to post comments
- Log in to post comments
- Log in to post comments
Many of the soldiers who survived (some 31 were killed, mostly by friendly fire) were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their supposed heroism in the butchering of mostly unarmed people in the service of colonial expansion. We can never forget the people who died that day, and we can honour them in part by keeping alive our true history, and by removing the Medal of Honor from those pigs. The following post details the efforts to do just that.
In June of 2008, Wanbli Tate initiated an online petition entitled “Wounded knee Medals of Dishonor.” By May 3rd, the day of the incident where three Blackhawk helicopters attempted to land at the Wounded Knee Memorial site, but were prevented by Lakota women, children and men. They had not been notified earlier that they were coming and felt that landing at the site by the military was an insult and desecration of their ancestors grave site. The people who defended Wounded Knee said they would have welcome the military coming to hear their story, but don’t bring their weapons of war to their sacred grounds.
This incident prompted Theresa Two Bulls, the Pine Ridge President to call a press conference on Monday morning to offer her apologies. Leonard Little Finger commended the people who kept the helicopters from landing. Two Bulls said she would be contacting the other reservations to have talks on what they can do in the future to have better communication and understanding in how to deal with this. Later that day, the Pine Ridge Tribal Council passed a resolution, that stated in part:
Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the Oglala Sioux Tribe will take every action to see that the United States Reclaims the Twenty Medals of Honor from the 7th Calvary for their role in the Massacre at Wounded Knee, to remove any recognition the US Military bestows to its entities for the Massacre at Wounded Knee, and to obtain the return of personal items taken from Lakota people at the 1890 Massacre.
Therefore Be It Further Resolved, that the Oglala Sioux Tribe, its members, any entity, organization, or resident on the Pine Ridge Reservation will not allow the United States Military from this time forward to come anywhere near the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Mass Grave in order to demonstrate Honor and Respect for the Lakota people buried there, and to ensure a peaceful, nonviolent, weapon-free zone for the Mass Gravesite area.
The petition started by Wanbli began to gather momentum and signatures have been added daily since this incident. He would like to have 10,000 signatures so that he can approach the Senate Armed Forces to rescind the medals of honor awarded to “Twenty-three soldiers from the Seventh Calvary were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the slaughter of defenseless Indians at Wounded Knee.”
The petition goes on to say, “We are asking that these Medals of DIS Honor awarded to the members of the 7th Calvary of the United States Army for the murder of innocent women children and men on that terrible December morning be rescinded. And that the Battle Pennant on the Flag of the United States Army be removed and destroyed.”
The purpose of the visit according to Two Bulls from her communications with the military was that they wanted to learn from the lessons of the past. The military source said it was a breakdown in leadership that caused the massacre. In a recent Denver post article on the May 3rd incident, Capt. Michael Odgers, a spokesman for the Colorado Army National Guard, said, “While the Battle of Wounded Knee is a dark chapter in the history of the Army, without learning from the mistakes of our past we are doomed to repeat them.”
To learn more about this petition, or sign it, go to: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/12-20-1890