I was touched while reading a recent op-ed by Chief Joseph Brings Plenty, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux and a teacher of Lakota culture, in the New York Times about Wounded Knee, the site where maybe as many as 300 people were massacred by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry in 1890, possibly facing a developer’s bulldozers. The native inhabitants of that site, like so many people at so many sites, were pushed away, and the land became the private property of private owners. Now, the current private owner of Wounded Knee wants to sell the site for $3.9 million.
Chief Brings Plenty explains the power of that site and what’s at stake if developers are able to buy and build on it:
The massacre site has great meaning not just for the Lakota but for all First Nations — and every American. Wounded Knee should remain a sacred site where the voices of the Ghost Dancers, who more than a century ago danced for the return of our old way of life, still echo among the pines, where the spirits of our elders still walk the hills.
He urges action from the President:
The federal government should buy this land and President Obama should then preserve it as a national monument — just as he did last month at five federally owned sites around the country, including one in Maryland honoring Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
When I was in college, I had a professor who had done some work related to the dams on the Colorado River, and that professor told a story about an American Indian leader he met who explained the pain felt by his people because of the development on the river. He pointed out that the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon are sacred to the local Indian populations, and he told my professor that seeing people raft down the river was the equivalent of someone riding a dirt bike inside a church, leaving tracks to the altar and spewing exhaust among the pews.
Now, I’ve come across some churches that might have tried and enjoyed some stunt like that with a dirt bike. I don’t think most congregations would appreciate it, though, and I don’t know anyone who would want a McDonald’s on Grandma’s grave.
And so I wonder, “how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”