Author Archive: Ahote Cooper

I am well into my adult years now, and there are times when my First Nation heritage is as mysterious to me as it was when I was a boy. Like many, I hail from a family who took little time to collect records or document the many branches in our family tree. As a result, I spent countless hours reaching further back in history than my ancestors.

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Cherokee Heritage Center’s Sevenstar Gala
By October 27, 2016 Read More →

Cherokee Heritage Center’s Sevenstar Gala

Honorees received a custom copper-plated gorget designed by Cherokee Nation metalsmith artist Toneh Chuleewah. The gorget featured the SevenStar emblem and their award name in Cherokee syllabary.

Custom copper-plated gorget designed by Toneh Chuleewah

The Cherokee Heritage Center hosted the Sevenstar Gala on October 22.  The event is held annually, representing an opportunity to recognize those who help to advance the Cherokee National Historical Society’s mandate to preserve, promote and teach the Cherokee nation’s history and culture. Sevenstar is the Center’s marquee fundraiser.

Three prestigious awards were given out: the Stalwart Award, the Tradition Bearer Award and the last Warrior Award. This year’s celebrants received a personalized copper-plated gorget fashioned by native Cherokee metalworking artist Toneh Chuleewah.

Cherokee Heritage Center Presents Distinguished Awards at Sevenstar Gala

Bank of Oklahoma received the annual Stalwart Award, reserved for a Cherokee Heritage Center supporter that has significantly contributed to the center’s success. The award was accepted by Molly A. Kerr, senior vice president for Bank of Oklahoma.

Shan Goshorn, of Tulsa, received this year’s award and has exhibited work professionally in galleries and museums for more than 35 years. She is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokees and a multimedia artist. A long-time human rights activist, her recent work consists of traditionally inspired political baskets that tie historical events to contemporary issues unique to Native people. Goshorn has work displayed in 17 permanent museum collections around the world.

The Warrior Award is reserved for a Cherokee citizen that has served our nation through uniform service. This service could be with the armed forces or through time spent as a first responder, such as a firefighter or emergency medical professional. Read more….

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day: Tribes Will Participate
By October 21, 2016 Read More →

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day: Tribes Will Participate

Law Enforcement administration officials for a number of Indian reservations have signed on to support National Drug Take-Back Day this Saturday, October 22. The Drug Enforcement Agency has been encouraging participation in the annual event for years in order to recover prescription drugs from medicine cabinets.

The Office of Justice Services in the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced its cooperation with the DEA in a statement by Deputy Secretary of Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts. The goal is to prevent drug abuse by having the public voluntarily turn in unused medications rather than have them be potentially found and misused by other household residents including young children.

“By working with the DEA and the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day initiative, we can help reduce the dangers in Indian Country from the misuse and abuse of expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs,” Roberts said.  “I want to thank the DEA for continuing with this important initiative and our tribal law enforcement partners for joining with us to protect lives.  I encourage all members of the tribal public to bring their expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs to their nearest participating Indian Country location and help prevent the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse in their communities.”

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History of the Indian Reorganization Act
By October 14, 2016 Read More →

History of the Indian Reorganization Act

The New Deal and American Indian Tribalism: The Administration of the Indian Reorganization Act

Recommended Reading

There was a serious attempt, in the 1930s, to make amends for the way the United States Government had historically treated the Native Americans. In the wake of the changes brought on by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, many of the same socioeconomic changes were attempted on Indian reservations.

This was, in many respects, a sincere effort to right the wrongs done to the Indians and to ensure their survival during a devastating economic period.

The Provisions of the 1934 Act

The federal Department of Indian Affairs, under the direction of its commissioner, John Collier, launched what was known at the time as Wheeler-Howard Act. We call it the Indian Reorganization Act today, and its purpose was to give the Indians additional land rights, involve them in future policy that would pertain to them, set up officially recognized governing bodies within the tribes and stop the forced assimilation of Indians into non-Indian society.

The act would reorganize the government within the Indian tribes, setting up a standardized constitutional governing structure very similar to what the U.S. Government already had in place. This was supposed to give them more autonomy. The Indian Reorganization Act would also produce some public works programs, such as building fences, digging wells, creating roads and establishing ranches.

Controversy Surrounding the Act

The noble goals of the act were met with some contention by Congress and various states. Some states resented that power was being taken away from them in what they considered to be an unconstitutional manner. Many in Congress were perfectly happy with how the Indians were being treated already and didn’t want to see anything change or they wanted to see things go in a different way.

The act was also met with some opposition by a number of Indian tribes as well. Most of them were upset that they had no say in actually putting together the act’s key provisions or informing its policy. Once again, they felt they had been relegated to the sidelines and helpless to influence how the U.S. Government would handle Native American policy. They wanted to have input in matters that directly affected them, and despite the promise of changing that for the future, it hadn’t been achieved during the birth of this legislation.

The act’s approval hinged on the Native American vote, and a number of the tribes were disturbed by the way the act sought to change the way they governed themselves. In some aspects, the U.S. would retain significant control over critical matters, and that didn’t sit well with many existing tribal governments.

There was also the matter of deciding how votes were to be cast within the new policy. The tribes had different ways of deciding votes, and the whole process was not as cut and dried as what the new legislation was designed for.

The Navajo and the Standing Rock Sioux both mistrusted the U.S. Government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They rejected much of the Indian Reorganization Act and refused to undergo reorganization under its stipulations. Later, they would take up a constitutional form of government.

The Act Gives Way to Changes

This legislation started a wave of economic changes to the reservations. One of the most notable ones was the construction of the Oahe Dam. This action was strongly opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux Council, but they were powerless to do anything about it, and their objection were ignored. As a result of the dam, many of the Sioux had to leave the area and relocate to somewhere safer. Many of their rangelands were flooded, and about a quarter of those living on the reservation had to move somewhere else as a result.

The act did change the authority over sales, and Indians were now allowed to make their own sales. Before, the Indian Affairs office governed most sales on Indian lands, and they tended to sell livestock and goods at below market prices, causing many Native Americans to lose money. With the advent of the new legislation, this was no longer an issue, and the Native Americans were free to sell their goods as they saw fit.

This brought on great economic prosperity to many people living on reservations. It allowed a number of Indian tribes to survive a harsh economic climate they otherwise probably would not have.

Over time, this law gave way to make room for new ones and the dispute arising from some of the Indian Reorganization Act’s more contentious elements actually paved the way for new legislation. A few new laws, such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act as well as Public Law 93-638 relegated the Bureau of Indian Affairs to what was essentially an advisory capacity. They no longer had direct jurisdiction in Indian matters, and more autonomy was given to the tribes. The tribes were now able to create and control programs that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had previously operated.

The Legacy of the Act

History views the Indian Reorganization Act as something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it did pave the way for some important changes and brought on some long overdue benefits for the Indian people. On the other hand, even though it was stated that the law was an attempt to end Indian assimilation and increase Indian autonomy, it stumbled on both of those promises. There was still the problem of too much control being held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The mastermind behind the act, Indian Affairs Commissioner Collier, was a contentious figure as well. To some Indian people he was a hero, but to others he was quite the opposite. He actually developed an antagonistic relationship with the Navajo people that cast a shadow over the intentions of the act and that hindered the ability of the U.S. Government and the Indian tribes to make the kinds of advances they should have been able to with this new legislation.

The law also lacked any Indian voices at all in its conception. It seems obvious in hindsight that it would have been more widely accepted among the tribes if it had benefited from some Indian input.

What Prompted Andrew Jackson to Push Through the Indian Removal Act?
By October 9, 2016 Read More →

What Prompted Andrew Jackson to Push Through the Indian Removal Act?

Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians (The Civilization of the American Indian Series)

Recommended Reading

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced countless Indians from their homes to reservations and government lands on the western side of the Mississippi River. It was this legislation that led to the tragic Trail of Tears.

The legislation was pushed through by then President Andrew Jackson, despite opposition from Congress. The act was supposed to provide voluntary relocation, complete with resources and government aid where necessary. That’s not how it played out, though; because Andrew Jackson was determined to remove the Indians from their land on his own terms. The Indian Removal Act only functioned as a smokescreen for his true intentions.

But what caused him to take such drastic action and push the legislation through? While the facts were not very clear at the time, thanks to government cover ups and a general media hush in many instances, the truth is much easier to see now.

Andrew Jackson’s History with the Native Americans

president andrew jackson

U.S. President Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson and his run-ins with the Indians didn’t start once he was president. He had battled against Indians briefly during the Revolutionary War, and then to a far greater extent in Florida in the First Seminole War. There he went far beyond his orders to protect the territory from Spanish control and brutally wiped out the villages of many Seminole tribes who were aiding the Spanish. He had a reputation as a man with a temper, and he grew up moving from one war to the next.

Andrew Jackson was a man of ambition, and he didn’t let anyone get in his way. He owned hundreds of slaves before rising through the political ranks, and he was known as a cutthroat statesman as he began to gain political power.

As a military commander, Jackson would be directly involved in Indian affairs. He often met with tribes in his area and told them they had no future as warriors and that they should give up their traditional ways to become hunters and gatherers. During his tenure as a military commander, Andrew Jackson convinced 11 different tribes to divest their lands and move to the West or to simply give up portions of their lands to white settlers and the U.S. government.

Jackson’s Presidential Policy

His handling of the Indian nations continued the same way it always had when he ascended to the highest office in the nation. He was a strong proponent of Indian removal, and he believed the Indians should be subject to the state laws. He did not see them as sovereign nations.

This was a point of contention since the very earliest dealings between the U.S. Government and the Indian nations. They wanted to retain their autonomy and govern themselves. They saw their own tribes as Indian nations living within the United States but not a part of it nor subject to it. The United States’ definition of the Indian people varied from one presidency to the next, but they were never treated with the respect and sovereignty that they desired to that point.

Jackson described the Indians as children that need a parent and who could not govern themselves. He saw them as his wards to a degree, and he treated them with the same disdain as one would an errant child, strictly punishing them when he thought they were getting out of line.

Such was the case with the Indian removal treaty, which, when several tribes resisted against its stipulations, he forced them to move to new lands on the other side of the Mississippi. For years before that, the Indians had been trying through legal means to regain their sovereignty and be officially recognized as sovereign powers by the U.S. Government. They lobbied and petitioned and attempted to get laws passed that would honor their traditions and ways of life, but they continuously ran up against people who treated them the same way Andrew Jackson did or even worse.

The Moment Everything Changed

The opposition to their sovereignty attempts was strong, and Andrew Jackson became tired of locking horns with them over the same issues again and again. Then, in 1930, Georgia brought complaints to the U.S. Government about its rights of governance over the Indians living within its borders. In particular, the state of Georgia wanted ownership of the Indian lands – to decide what was to be done with the lands and to determine whether the Indians were to stay or leave.

Georgia had been in talks with the government for years about these kinds of governing issues, and in 1930, they started to speed up the process of determining ownership and governance and tried to force their rule over the Indians and their lands into law.

President Andrew Jackson had tolerated enough of this battling between states and Indians, and he pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress. This law stipulated that any removal of the Indians would be voluntary and they would own specified lands on the western side of the Mississippi forever. Of course, we know how those promises were repeatedly broken.

There were those tribes who did sign the act voluntarily and then moved onto those western lands. But many more fought against it, refusing to sign and launching attacks against military targets close to their lands when they thought their sovereignty was being jeopardized.

The resistance to the act caused Andrew Jackson to react even more severely. He said the Indian nations could not survive without government oversight, and promptly forced thousands of Indians to move from their homes to the reservations on the other side of the Mississippi. Those that resisted were either jailed or executed and the voluntary nature of the act was almost completely ignored.

Had a different president been in power at the time or had Georgia not pushed for control of Indian lands, the Indian Removal Act might have been delayed a while longer, but it was an eventuality without widespread change coming first. That change came afterwards and certain reparations have been made to the Indians since then, but the tragedy had already occurred and there was no taking it back.

The Ugly Closing Act

As of 1838, only 2,000 or so Cherokee Indians had left Georgia and so then-President Martin Van Buren assigned responsibility to General Winfield Scott to accelerate the process. Scott took 7,000 troops into the Indian territories and rounded up more than 12,000 into stockades.  After a brief period of organization, those Cherokees were forced to march across the U.S. to reservation lands in Oklahoma.  It was a brutal trip during which some 5,000 Indians are believed to have died, and is now hauntingly call the Trail of Tears.

Coping With Life on Indian Reservations Today

Coping With Life on Indian Reservations Today

The modern Indian reservation is at once a far cry from what these set-apart lands were once intended to accomplish as well as an unfortunate continuation of decades of neglect toward the American Indian people by the U.S. Government. To hear the Bureau of Indian Affairs talk about ‘life on the rez’ today, conditions have vastly improved on these native lands.

But not everyone feels that way. Ask most tribal leaders and residents and they’ll tell you that the old problems still persist and years of nonchalance in regards to the welfare of those living on reservations has taken a considerable toll. There is a cycle of poverty that just will not end.


Right now, a little over a fifth of all Native Americans live on reservations. The living conditions of many of these areas has been compared to that of third world countries. There are far too few jobs, affordable housing is in short supply and essential resources are lacking. However, there are still many American Indians who call these places their homes and they are proud to at least live on their own lands – lands that are owned by the tribes and no one else.

But that pride is regularly compromised by pressure from the outside. Even now, the U.S. government is asserting eminent domain to force North Dakota Indians to sell their property to the principals who are building the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Eminent domain makes it legal for the government to move property owners around based on national priorities. And it’s clear to many that this pipeline project will line the pockets of big energy companies and, most likely, an untold number of politicians. Proponents of DAPL find it expedient to allow potentially dangerous oil transmission to put crops and water at risk in areas where containment of First Nations tribes has already left no margin for error.

What are the Economic Conditions on Native American Reservations?

reservation residents voice concerns over living conditionsMost of the available jobs on a reservation are available only through tribal government or the U.S. Government hiring. And neither of these two entities have the funding to create a large number of jobs. This leaves many American Indians living on reservations with no choice but to resort to traveling beyond the reservation for steady work. Accordingly, the reservation economy suffers.

Few resources are created on the reservation itself, and much of the work that the American Indian people perform benefits someone outside the reservation. This means that much of the resources used on the reservation have to be sourced from outside its boundaries. This is not cheap, by any means, and it drives up the price of necessary goods, such as clothing, food, electronic and many other items necessary for daily living.

Living Conditions

reservation children have very few job prospects to look forward toWhen the adults and teenagers go off the reservation to work, the grandparents are left to take care of the smaller children. They are responsible for most of the child-rearing on the tribal lands, as the older children and parents often have to travel great distances to and from work and school every day.

Most families live together in overcrowded houses, pooling their resources and working as a unit to share responsibilities, income and their meager possessions. Many times, the grandparents will live in their children’s homes with their grandchildren and other family members who are too poor to afford their own housing.

When one family struggles to pay for their own housing, they may leave their own home and move into the same house as other family members. The tight-knit family communities mean that no household is likely to deny the request of another household to come live with them, even if there are not enough resources to go around.

Almost half of the Indian population lives in substandard housing – home that are in serious need of repairs, and made from shoddy materials. These often fall well short of the standard of housing regulations outside the reservation. But with few resources at hand and most income going toward daily needs, there is nothing left over to put toward improving the housing. Most home improvements are made by the family members themselves.

In many Indian households, the utilities that most American families have taken for granted are simply unaffordable. Resources are prioritized toward food and transportation, with little left over to cover electricity, running water and indoor heating and cooling.

Health and Lifestyle

indian health services are resource constrainedThe life expectancy for the average Native American has certainly improved over the last few decades. However, it still lags behind that of the average American. While Indian Health Services provide affordable health care to many of the people living on reservations, this organization is underfunded, and is unable to meet the demands of the populace. Outside of hospitals, there are almost no doctor’s offices and pharmacies on most reservations.

Many native people have tried to adapt to a more American way of life, simply because they feel they have little choice due to the lack of resources on their own lands. This has led to the spread of tuberculosis, diabetes and cancer in massive numbers. They are suffering from all the diseases that plague their neighbors, but with few of the same resources to manage those health problems, their situation is much worse.

These problems are only exacerbated by the rampant poverty within American Indian reservations. There has been shown to be a direct link between heart disease and poverty, and that disease is the now the leading cause of death in Native American communities.

Hope for the Future

Amazingly, these awful conditions are miles ahead of what they once were. The five-year gap in average lifespans between Native Americans and non-native Americans is one that is much smaller than it has been in decades past.

As mentioned above, life expectancy has definitely improved among native peoples. However, there is still much work to be done. The living conditions in many of these communities are incredibly harsh and not sustainable over the long run.

Efforts from a variety of tribal, U.S. Government and charity organizations has brought improvements, but these have been slow to take effect, and many thousands of people are still suffering on reservations due to lack of proper healthcare and basic daily requirements.

The needs of the Native Americans are great, and only by making their voice heard and continuing to fight for what they need will they be able to survive. The work that has been done to improve life on the modern reservations cannot stop now. It must continue with sustained fervor if life on the reservations is ever going to be comparable to life beyond them.Many Native Americans remain hopeful that in their lifetime they will see significant improvements, but for many others, the damage has already been done, and they are suffering from a life of just scraping by, and their hope is that their children and grandchildren will have a better world to live in.

‘Protectors’ At Dakota Access Pipeline Disrupted by Police

‘Protectors’ At Dakota Access Pipeline Disrupted by Police

About 300 protectors from the Oceti Sakowin, Red Warrior, and Sacred Stone camps, along with other supporters from some surrounding camps, decided that strong prayers were needed at the site where construction continues on the Dakota Access Pipeline.


Prayers sung after corn is planted

Prayers sung after corn is planted

The group formed a car caravan and traveled to two construction sites along County Highways 6 and 134 near the unincorporated community of  St. Anthony in Morton County. They were met by more than 50 police from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota Highway Patrol and the National Guard with a military style vehicles. As a line of police officers moved toward the group, they maintained their space with signs and songs. Construction workers ran from their work sites when the throng arrived.

 Youth Council holding their banner in front of the pipeline

Youth Council holding their banner in front of the pipeline

This land and water they are fighting for is of the utmost spiritual, cultural, and environmental significance to local tribes. It represents the sacred burial grounds of ancestors, historic village grounds, and Sundance sites. The water of the Missouri River is essential to life itself, not only for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation but for the many other Native Nations upstream and downstream as well. To desecrate these sites without so much as an adequate consultation with indigenous nations or a full environmental impact assessment is a continuation of what is now centuries of disregard for Native American rights.  While the government’s use of its Eminent Domain powers is straightforward enough, the clear intent to minimize the dangers associated with the environmental impact is very distressing to tribal leaders who understand how vulnerable their people are because of reservation boundaries.

Photo taken from the frontlines today as law enforcement with shotguns and more. We come peaceful…yet they still bring guns. We are protectors.

On the other hand, law enforcement responded to the protests with specialized equipment and weapons, including armored vehicles. Protesters were arrested for allegedly resisting arrest, trespassing private property, and possession of stolen property.

“Officers are trained to respond to the threats they perceive and to take appropriate action. A charging horse combined with totality of the situation presented an imminent threat to the officer,”
said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, in the release.

In similar situations in the past, some Native Americans have said “charging” is the traditional Sioux way of introducing horses. Native American protesters — who call themselves protectors — have meanwhile maintained that demonstrations are peaceful.

So far, 95 people have been arrested for protest activities since the start of the Dakota Access pipeline protests, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion in 19th Century America
By September 23, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion in 19th Century America

Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right by Anders Stephanson


The title “Manifest Destiny” is a term created by newspaper editor to John O’Sullivan to describe a modus operandi of at least one significant segment of the U.S. Government and the American people during the 19th century. It describes the belief that the United States and its people had the God-given mandate to pursue westward expansion, suppressing opposition and taking ownership of the land all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

In some ways, the hubris of western expansion grew from the famous congressional address in 1823 of President James Monroe which became known as the Monroe Doctrine. It outlined the U.S. claim to the West, warning all European powers that no interference would be tolerated.

As early as the Monroe presidency, America had determined that first nations people were nothing more than an indigenous nuisance to be managed by edict. Anyone with a passing knowledge of U.S. history knows that this westward push forcibly relocated many Eastern Indian tribes across the Mississippi.

Policy decisions like the Indian Removal Act relegated them to swaths of land called reservations, where they were promised that they would live fairly independently and out of the way of the U.S. expansion (this was famously untrue). Of course, not every American Indian tribe moved peacefully to these lands, nor were many willing to simply get out of the way as the American settlers made their way west.

The Roots of Hatred

The Native Americans were seen by the white colonists as sinful savages, less than human and deserved to be treated as such. To the average white American, all the disparate tribes were as one people, unified by their wickedness and practices, which notably did not include worshiping the same God that many believed would bless western conquest.

Politically, they treated the tribes as independent nations, or more literally, foreign sovereign nations. All Indian policy was crafted as though Native Americans were foreigners trespassing on lands that belonged to the white colonists.

The United States as a nation saw itself as God’s own chosen people. They thought of themselves as the modern day Hebrews, doing the work of their God and fulfilling a sacred destiny by spreading their power throughout the continent. This meant that they had to move across the continent. Taking it over was their divine right, and no natives could stand in their way.

It was a blusterous and arrogant attitude, but one that a large number of Americans shared, though they certainly didn’t have a name for it at the time. They simply knew that they should be the ones to conquer and claim the continent, and this led to a marginalization of the native people.

Demonization and Lies

The notion of the Native Americans as somehow less worthy than the white settlers of inhabiting the continent led to a portrayal of them in popular culture of the time as literal demons. The dime store novels, the newspaper articles and the tall tales told in saloons and around campfires all painted the Indian as something not quite human, the same way the African descendant was portrayed as sub-human at the time.

This made it easy to justify subjugating and enslaving many native people as well as killing them outright. The U.S. Government has a long and bloody history of dealings with the Native Americans, often reneging on treaties simply because they did not agree with their idea of U.S. supremacy.

In one instance, Tecumseh led 400 warriors to meet General William Harrison in response to white settlers moving onto his people’s lands. He said that even though the U.S. Government had signed a treaty with another tribe in the area, that tribe did not and could not speak for all tribes.

The land that had been sold to the U.S. Government belonged to many tribes, and it was wrong to abide by the treaty. He urged the general to rescind the treaty and give the lands back to the native tribes.

The general refused, and a vicious battle broke out, becoming one of the sparks that started a series of hostilities between the U.S. Government and native tribes in the area. To General Harrison and many of Americans, it seemed a foreign and frankly wrong idea to give up what was supposedly their birthright. They always looked to move forward and claim more, often at the expense of the native people.

This mindset of U.S. superiority made it easy to spread lies about the Native Americans. Stories spread that they murdered countless settlers who passed close to their lands and that raiding parties often went out and murdered helpless women and children by the dozens.

This was a lie perpetuated throughout U.S. history and in popular culture. The brutal savagery of the American Indians was often a trope of the western movie genre, based on outright lies and stereotypes.

In actuality, of the 400,000 settlers that moved westward during the period where tensions ran high between Indians and white colonists, only about 400 settlers were killed by the natives. While occasional attacks did occur, they tended to come only after provocation and were certainly not a method of operation employed by most native tribes.

The Continuing Impact of Manifest Destiny

While no majority still believes in manifest destiny today, the effects of this mindset are still evident. Looking at the reservations where many Indians live, there is often widespread poverty, rampant disease, poor housing conditions and a lack of resources.

This is what decades of treating native people like second class humans has resulted in. They were often forgotten or brutally savaged over the years, robbed of resources and rights and often left to wither away on their own.

Looking back on history, it’s obvious that the U.S. Government was the aggressor and its soldiers perpetrated the most savage atrocities. It’s an inconvenient truth, setting things in perspective but not set them right. There is still a mass of perpetuated and harmful stereotypes of Native Americans that find their way into popular culture today.

The impact of manifest destiny is far more severe than some fictional characters, however. The Native American people have never fully recovered from the wrongdoings they suffered at the hands of the U.S. Government.

The Monroe Doctrine, and its related concept of manifest destiny, exacted a tremendous long-term cost. Westward expansion was achieved, but at the price of a great black mark upon the legacy of the United States and the lingering impoverished state of the American Indian. Homelands wrecked, burial grounds desecrated, sustained poverty, countless non-combatants killed… these represent the devastation wreaked upon those first nations inhabitants who had a rightful claim to much of what became the United States.

It is said that the amount of time a wrongdoing was committed requires just as much time, if not more, to set right. There are still many, many years to go to make right what was done wrong to the Native Americans through manifest destiny.

Indian Reservations: A Look Back at the Relocation of Native Americans
By September 16, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

Indian Reservations: A Look Back at the Relocation of Native Americans

westward expansion


There are about 310 individual reservations in the United States today, most of which are owned by Native Americans. These Indian reservations were established through different periods of colonial westward expansion, often starting off as large blocks and fragmenting or being forcibly moved from one location to another.

A look at the history of the American Indian people will show that the treaties that were drawn up to create these reservations were often ignored or broken to suit the whims of the U.S. government. Reservations have been used as a means to control Native Americans while at the same time offering them some semblance of respect to their sovereignty.

westward expansion means that indian lands are at risk

The Westward Expansion

As colonial Americans settled along the eastern half of the United States in the late 1700s, there was becoming less and less room available for the natives. Often, whenever white men would settle somewhere close to the natives, skirmishes would break out. These would be over land, possessions, hunting grounds and rights to gold. Essentially, it boiled down to the Native Americans wanting to keep what they had while the white settlers wanted what the natives had. Both sides believed they had a right to the land, and it became difficult for them to reconcile these beliefs.

The government stepped in from time to time and unswervingly settled matters on the side of the white settlers. This often forced the natives to move farther West, to get away from the encroaching settlers. Also, anytime gold was discovered, the U.S. Government was quick to step in and take over, ensuring that the Native Americans did not interfere with the collection of this valuable substance. Even on lands that had previously been assigned to the Native Americans to settle on, once gold was discovered there, it was quickly taken over by white settlers and appropriated by the U.S. Government. Repeated violations such as these over promises made and treaties signed caused greater and greater tensions between the two sides.
That often meant forcing the Indians to move, and at some point, the government decided that somewhere west of the Mississippi River would be a suitable new home.

The Indian Removal Act

In 1830, the forced relocation of American Indians became an official government edict. Under the Indian Removal Act, many tribes were made to move to the western half of the country. They weren’t always told exactly where to settle, and they certainly were not provided with ample resources to ensure their continued survival, but instead were pushed out of the way. Many times, this push was a violent one, and in the 1850s, the Trail of Tears saw the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans to appointed lands in Oklahoma. Countless numbers of American Indians died in this and other forced relocations, either from starvation, executions without fair trials, and a deprivation of resources.

This was where relations between the Native Americans and U.S. Government reached their breaking point. Both sides lashed out at one another, while some of the native tribes simply resigned themselves to living in a new place and making the best of it. Still, the tribes placed on government lands did not have much in the way of rights. They were seen as pariahs and second class citizens, if that. Something had to be done to establish their ability to self-govern themselves and to ensure that they would not be bothered by settlers or the government, so that they could propagate their culture and live in peace.

The First Reservations

Under the Dawes Act of 1887, Native Americans were to be allotted 154 million acres on the western side of the Mississippi. These were typically in areas of the country that were considered undesirable for white settlers, away from where gold was being discovered and far from major waterways, where industrial towns might be built later. Many of these reservations were established on the same lands that the Native Americans had been forcibly removed to. This granted the tribes more power and sovereignty, but it wasn’t to last.

With the allotted reservations, the Native Americans were also given a choice to become naturalized citizens by essentially giving up their heritage and being schooled at boarding facilities that would teach them the ways of the white men. The reservations and the promise of naturalization were all part of a greater goal to set the Native Americans who would not conform apart from the rest of the country and to turn those could be assimilated into something resembling white people. The creation of the reservations, which seemed like a concession to American Indian sovereignty, was being coupled with an outright attack on their culture.

The Changing Role of Reservations

At first, reservations were used as a way to give the Native Americans what they wanted without sacrificing what the U.S. Government wanted to hold onto for its own people. It was an imperfect resolution that would soon become an opportunity for government abuse of power.

In the following decades, the allotted land for reservations was cut nearly in half, as the U.S. Government reneged on its promises to the Indian tribes and attempted to force assimilation of their people. The sovereignty that was promised to them in these lands was something the U.S. Government went back and forth on. Because the government saw the native tribes as its wards, the government often went from protecting and providing to attempting to force a specific set of changes. At times, the government would work to reconcile with the tribes, while at others, it would be at odds with them and renege on as many of its promises as it could get away with.

Today, relations between the U.S. Government and Native Americans living on reservations has certainly improved. However, Indian reservations still stand as a reminder of both of the sovereignty of the Indian tribes as well as the terrible ordeals these people have undergone in their fight to be treated fairly.

The Past & Present of Native American Activist Leonard Peltier
By September 9, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

The Past & Present of Native American Activist Leonard Peltier

The case of Leonard Peltier is perhaps one of the most prominent modern examples of the continued wrongs wrought against the American Indians by the United States Government. He has been incarcerated since 1976 for the unconfirmed killing of two FBI agents.

The evidence against him, as you will see, is both circumstantial and supported by illegal terror tactics, yet somehow, his case has never been seriously revisited.

Peltier’s History with the American Indian Movement (AIM)

indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.comLeonard Peltier started working with Native American activist groups in Seattle Washington in 1965. Eventually, he joined AIM, which represents the many U.S. tribes and works to safeguard tribal spirituality while attempting to make the U.S. Government honor the promises made to the native peoples in treaties throughout the years.

A few years later, word reached Leonard about political and factional tensions that were boiling over in South Dakota, many of them centered at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The tribal chairman there, Richard Wilson, had created a militia of his own (infamously called GOON) to attack anyone who opposed him politically and to antagonize the American Indian Movement members who lived on the reservation.

The problem became so bad that federal forces besieged the area known as Wounded Knee for 71 days. Leonard spent much of that time in prison pending trial for the attempted murder of a police officer – a charge unrelated to the events simmering around South Dakota’s reservation lands and a crime for which he was later acquitted.

When he was released on bail, he was contacted by American Indians living at the Pine Ridge reservation who feared for their lives due to the violence that was breaking out between FBI agents and the AIM and GOON members. Despite the trouble he knew it would put him in, he traveled to the Pine Ridge reservation to help out the AIM activists in 1975.

What Happened in Pine Ridge, South Dakota?

scene from pine ridge indian reservation protestsFBI agents, AIM members and GOON militia were all warring with one another in and around the Pine Ridge reservation in June of 1975. Tensions were high, small skirmishes continued to breakout and one Native American, Jimmy Eagle, was suspected of assault and robbery. He was being pursued by two FBI agents – Ronald Williams and Jack Coler.

The agents chased Jimmy to a ranch, and engaged in a firefight with several Native Americans there, including Leonard Peltier. One Native American, Joseph Stuntz, was shot dead, but his death never received a formal investigation.

The FBI agents had called for backup, but by the time their reinforcements arrived, the initial two agents had been shot dead. Peltier fled to Canada to hide out while several of his friends were arrested and he was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

It seemed Leonard would be safe in Canada for a time, until a signed affidavit from someone claiming to be his girlfriend placed him at the scene of the shootout and directly implicated him in the two agents’ deaths. In light of the affidavit, the Canadian government handed Leonard over to the U.S. government. Leonard was subsequently arrested and scheduled for trial.

Later, the supposed girlfriend, Myrtle Poor Bear, recanted the statements of her affidavit, and it was discovered that she never knew Leonard and was not present at the shooting. These new facts were not admitted into the trial on the grounds that the judge decided she was mentally incompetent.

Leonard Peltier’s Murder Trial

The trial of Leonard Peltier has been called a farce by no less than Amnesty International, and an examination of the facts makes it obvious why that is.

The evidence against Leonard seed circumstantial at best. He was placed at the scene of the shooting, and he owned the type of firearm that was used to kill the agents. He also had a less than savory history with federal law enforcement. None of this was enough to convict him of murder, however, until witnesses were brought forth.

Several teenage Native American witnesses came forward against Leonard. Although none of them identified him as the person who shot the two agents at close range and killed them, they placed him at the scene at that time. Later, these same witnesses admitted that they had been forced by the FBI, after being tied to a chair and terrorized, to implicate Leonard in the crimes.

Left out of the evidence presented for the case was evidence that seemed to exonerate Leonard, including a ballistics test that proved the killing shots did not come from his weapon. Also left out of the case were the many reports of FBI violence against AIM activists in the area, illegal monitoring by the FBI in Pine Ridge and the fact that the FBI supplied GOON militia with weapons and information to help them launch attacks on AIM members.

What didn’t help Leonard was that his own accounts of what happened conflicted with one another and he told different officials different stories, even admitting later that he lied about his involvement. He declared his innocence in the killings though, and he retains that to this day.

Leonard Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in a trial that has all the earmarks of an unfair court case. He was incarcerated at U.S.P. Lewisburg.

The Movement to Free Leonard Peltier Continues Today

advocates push for peltier to be released

Still serving his sentence, with no hope for parole because he holds onto his plea of not guilty, Leonard has little hope for the future. He has attempted to appeal his case, as new evidence has been brought forward that casts doubt on the verdict he received. He was nearly pardoned under former U.S. President Bill Clinton, but that fell through due to a demonstration made by FBI agents in protest.

He hopes President Barack Obama will pardon him before he leaves office, but he is also realistic about his chances. While AIM and a variety of activist groups have worked to free him for years, their efforts have not made any difference in his sentencing. He has received numerous humanitarian awards and serves as an inspiration to many people who have been treated unfairly, but his case has never been brought back before the courts, and Leonard is not scheduled to be released until 2040. However, his health is in such dire shape that he is not expected to make it that long, and he will likely die in prison, wrongfully incarcerated.


Peltier pushes for amnesty from prison

A Letter From Leonard Peltier –

Sisters, brothers, friends and supporters: June 26 marks 41 years since the long summer day when three young men were killed at the home of the Jumping Bull family, near Oglala, during a firefight in which I and dozens of others participated.

I would guess that, like me, many of my brothers and sisters who were there that day wish that somehow they could have done something to change what happened and avoid the tragic outcome of the shootout. This is not something I have thought about casually and then moved on.


Do You Understand How Native American Team Names Became Popular in the World of U.S. Sports?
By September 9, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

Do You Understand How Native American Team Names Became Popular in the World of U.S. Sports?

As a lifelong fan of sports in America, I’m fascinated by the way we select team names. And as a Native American, I am particularly curious about the way organized sports references American Indian by name and mascot.

In fact, I played a number of sports at a high school whose team identity was the “Warriors” too, albeit with a very tasteful logo and mascot.

redskins logo on fedex field

WASHINGTON — Native American team names mean honor and respect. That’s what executives of pro sports clubs often say. History tells a different story.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE: The real history of Native American team names

Understanding the American Indian Movement: Past, Present & What’s Ahead
By September 5, 2016 0 Comments Read More →

Understanding the American Indian Movement: Past, Present & What’s Ahead

Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee

Recommended Reading

Back in 1968, the American Indian Movement, or AIM, was established by leaders of various Indian tribes as a way to campaign for their rights. It has often been seen as a parallel to the African American civil rights movements, but it has different goals entirely. While rights are important to the organization, they are more of a secondary benefit rather than a primary motivation.

The foremost goals of the American Indian Movement are three-fold:

  1. To ensure that the promises made to the American Indian peoples by the US Government are upheld.
  2. To retain and assure the sovereignty of the American Indian peoples.
  3. To preserve the spirituality of the American Indian peoples and to continuously strengthen it.

These goals go hand in hand, fortifying one another. The promises that have been made to the American Indians through treaties over the years would have ensured that the tribes retained their sovereignty. It would allow them to govern themselves autonomously, without oversight or control from US authorities. While it may seem to an outsider like this is the current state of affairs, not all native tribes enjoy the level of autonomy and sovereignty to which they were promised.

Furthermore, the current state of affairs for the American Indians is far better than it was when AIM was first established. That is primarily due to the focused and tireless work of the organization and the changes they have been able to effect.

What Does the Membership of AIM Look Like?

AIM is comprised of a number of spiritual leaders from various Native Tribes. The leaders have changed, of course, over the decades the movement has been working. However, the core tenants and goals remained the same, and the group has always been backed by the many native tribes scattered about the United States. Without the support of many Indian people, the organization could not have flourished and would not have been effective.

Time and time again, AIM has called many hundreds and thousands of native people together to present a case before the US Government or to stand up for their promised rights. AIM is as much a product of the people as it is of its leaders. It relies on the few leaders to drive its actions and efforts, but it would not be able to survive and carry out those actions without the support of many thousands of native people over the course of several decades. Generations have given their time, energy and finances to support AIM and to become a driving force for change in the American Indian community.

How It Differs from Other Civil Rights Movements

Drawing a comparison between AIM and various civil rights movements may seem obvious, but to do so would be to conflate ideas. The organization has never tried to end segregation of any kind, and in many ways, it has done quite the opposite, trying to separate the native tribes into their own independent nations that have the ability to rule over themselves, free of outside interference.

While AIM does work in some capacity to end racial discrimination and racism against native peoples, that has never been its primary focus. By ensuring the sovereignty of the native people and by receiving assurances that past treaties will be honored, the organization has been able to earn a level of respect that ensures people from all races are working together to fight for an end to racial discrimination for American Indians.

Who the American Indian Movement Helps

While the leaders of the tribe of AIM only hail from a few native tribes, they represent all American Indian people and work for the benefit and progress of all native tribes. AIM has worked to help achieve equality of sovereignty for all native tribes, even those who are not directly represented in the organizations members.

One of the main tenants of the organization has always been to ensure that all Indians be governed by treaties alone, without any US Government jurisdiction on Indian lands. The organization started with 20 simple tenants, all focused on restoring respect, spirituality and sovereignty to the American Indians. None of them were specific to any individual tribe, which allowed for all efforts to be aimed equally at all the varied tribes.

Whenever AIM has come before Congress to say its peace and present its case, they have always tried to bring representatives from as many different tribes as possible to ensure equality in representation. All their efforts have been focused on the Native Nations as a whole rather than to help one or a few separate nations. They work toward the benefit of all native people.

A History of AIM

While AIM as an organization was not established until the late ‘60s, they had been around in spirit for hundreds of years. In the centuries before their formation, native people sought for fair representation and for a fulfillment of the promises made to them in treaties. Their efforts and their spirits live on through AIM’s current leaders and goals.

When AIM was first established, it worked to combat police brutality against American Indians, but its focus has never been in one particular place, but rather for the greater holistic benefit of the Native Nations.

In the following year, the organization established a Health Board, created Indian broadcasts and worked to reclaim federal land for the Native Nations.

The next decade saw AIM provide legal representation for all American Indians who wanted it. They also established an education system and schools that taught Indian values and culture and took children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the next few decades, AIM helped to educate adult Indians, gave Indian youths easy access to employment and worked to achieve justice for countless Indians. On the last few years, the organization has been able to focus more on the spiritual and cultural aspects of its goals, holding annual meetings to highlight native accomplishments and to ensure the perpetuation of Indian ideals among the Native Nations.

American Indian History: Life of Sitting Bull

American Indian History: Life of Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull: The Life and Times of an American Patriot by Robert M. Utley

Highly Recommended

Sitting Bull is remembered as a Sioux leader who united his people against the oppression and injustice of the white men. He had a distrust of the white people around him and often tried to avoid confrontation with them rather than engage in outright acts of hostility.

The Tribal Leader’s Early Life

Born Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull became a warrior at the age of 14, joining a war party and earning a reputation for fearlessness. Shortly, he came to lead the Strong Heart division of the Sioux warriors. His Sioux tribe, the Teton Sioux had little to do with the white men while Sitting Bull was growing up, so his main focus was to expand the tribe’s hunting grounds into the west.

The Minnesota Massacre dragged Sitting Bull and the Teton Sioux into conflict with the white men, and they engaged in skirmishes with one another over the next few years. His first contact with the invading settlers and soldiers started what would become a deep distrust of them that ran through his entire life.

Sitting Bull Takes the Reins of the Sioux Nation

The Sioux warrior was more than just a courageous fighter. He was also deeply concerned about the welfare of his tribe, and he participated in the Silent Eaters group. Their goal was to work for the good of the entire tribe. Recognized for his leadership, compassion and courage, Sitting Bull was made the principal leader of those Sioux who hunted into the northern lands.

crazy horse served under famous chief sitting bull

Crazy Horse, second-in-command to Chief Sitting Bull

Crazy Horse, the Oglala Sioux leader, took up the second-in-command role under him. A year later, in 1867, Sitting Bull was made the principal chieftain for the entire Sioux Nation. The following year, he set up a reservation for his people by agreeing to The Second Treaty of Fort Laramie.

When gold was discovered on the lands, white settlers flooded the area and peace became difficult to maintain. The US government siding with the encroaching gold rushers, ordered the Sioux to the back of their reservation during a bitter winter. They only gave them a short window in which to move their people, and Sitting Bull knew it was impossible to obey their command.

General George Crook marched his men against Sitting Bull, who had gathered the forces of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho. The tribal leader forced Crook and his men to retreat, then moved his warriors to Little Bighorn River. There, he went into a deep trance and came out with a vision for his people. He prophesied that the bodies of white soldiers would fill his camp, and he was proven correct when he utterly annihilated General Armstrong Custer as the Battle of Little Bighorn.

chief sitting bull killed

The End of a Legend

While Sitting Bull had claimed that victory, he knew white sentiment would be against him and his people, so he took all he could with him across the border to Canada. The Canadian government simply tolerated the American Indians presence there. They didn’t have the resources to feed the natives who had come to their lands with nothing and were starving to death. At the brink of starvation, Sitting Bull finally surrendered and gave up his leadership position to live among the whites.

Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull

Promotional picture for the Western Show with Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull

For a while, he traveled with the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, but the disrespect he endured there made him realize he could not stay. While among the white people, he fought for American Indian rights, trying to keep his people from selling their lands.

He gained international attention while traveling with the western show, but he still yearned to be with his people and fight by their side. When the Ghost Dance religion made its way across the West, Sitting Bulls’ interest was piqued. The religion promoted peaceful coexistence, a giving up of the ways of the white man, and a constant ritual of praying and dancing.

Sitting Bull, with a small group of fellow natives, traveled to Pine Ridge, South Dakota to meet the progenitor of the Ghost Dance in person. He was stopped by a group of soldiers and police, who, in their attempt to arrest him, shot him and his men.

Sitting Bull was initially buried at Fort Yates, but his body was later exhumed and moved to his birthplace in South Dakota, where a memorial now stands to commemorate him. He is perhaps the best known leader of any American Indian people, and his leadership brought together not just the Sioux, but also many other tribal nations for a short period. He left behind a lasting legacy of the impact of one man committed to protecting his people.

Looking Back: The Battle of Wounded Knee

Looking Back: The Battle of Wounded Knee

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown


The slaughter of American Indians at Wounded Knee left such a cultural wound, that it is often used to describe any wrongs done to the natives by the white men. American Indians dispute the title of “battle” for the incident, and many prefer that it be called the Massacre at Wounded Knee. The U.S. government simply refers to it as Wounded Knee now, but when it occurred, it was viewed by many white people as a just outcome for tribal warfare.

The Ghost Dance

Following centuries of mistreatment by the white men, numerous native American people were looking for a solution to the encroachment of settlers upon their lands. In 1888, Wavaka, a Paiute holy man from Nevada traveled across the West teaching and preaching about an end to the white man problem. He talked of a Ghost Dance that, once complete, would sweep away the current world and replace it with one ruled by the American Indians.

Depiction of the Ghost Dance Movement

Depiction of the Ghost Dance Movement

He promoted praying and dancing and a forsaking of the white men’s ways, particularly drinking alcohol. He said that through this new lifestyle, the Ghost Dance religion would be fulfilled. Chiefs Short Bull and Kicking Bear came to hear about this new religion. While they started to practice some of its tenants, they did not believe that its approach of non-violence was a real solution for them. They believed that by practicing this religion on their own and wearing special Ghost Dance shirts, they would be protected from the white man’s bullets.

U.S. officials started to become worried that the Ghost Dance would lead to attacks on settlers, as they banned it on Lakota reservations. When their attempts to stop the growth of this religion proved unsuccessful, they called in the military to take over.

The Last Massacre of a Long War

Roadsign points to the Wounded Knee Massacre Site

Roadsign points to the Wounded Knee Massacre Site

When the U.S. 7th Cavalry showed up to force the natives onto reservations and stop them from practicing the Ghost Dance, Short Bull and Kicking Bear took their followers (men, women and children) to the edge of the Pine Ridge reservation. They sent word to Sitting Bull to join them, but he and his small party were intercepted by U.S. soldiers and gunned down.

The Cavalry then met up with the followers of Short Bull and Kicking Bear. They started to disarm them, but met with resistance. Before they had completely disarmed all of them, shots were fired. It is unclear whether the natives or the soldiers began firing, but the natives were outnumbered and outgunned.

The 7th Cavalry under Colonel James Forsyth slaughtered over 150 that day, including women and children. Another 50 were wounded, while the solders only suffered only 25 losses. In the chaos, each side ended up killing some of their own, and many were gunned down as they ran to escape the fighting.

This was the last decisive battle or massacre of the war between American Indians and the white men. Other skirmishes would follow, but nothing approaching this scale.

The Massacre’s Effect on History

7th Cavalry leader James Forsyth was exonerated of his guilt in the Wounded Knee aftermath

7th Cavalry leader James Forsyth was exonerated of his guilt in the Wounded Knee aftermath

Following Wounded Knee, Colonel Forsyth was charged with the slaughter of innocents, but was soon exonerated. Twenty of the U.S. soldiers in the battle were awarded the Medal of Honor, which the descendants of Wounded Knee are still trying to nullify to this day.

For many American whites, Wounded Knee was seen as an unprovoked attack on U.S. soldiers. The survivors were condemned for trying to incite violence and pushed further from their original lands. Some, like noted Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, called for the eradication of the American Indians, seeing this massacre as one of the final steps toward getting rid of the native problem.

The massacre at Wounded Knee was the last place of stanch resistance from the American Indians against the white man. For the next few decades, they suffered mostly in silence as they were all pushed onto reservations and forced to accept government assistance to survive.

Since 1986, the Big Foot Memorial Riders have commemorated those who died at Wounded Knee. The battlefield has also become a National Historic Landmark. While overlooked and swept under the carpet at the time, the tragedy is now commemorated for all time, and those who died there will not be forgotten.

The Wounded Knee FAQ

When and Where Did the Wounded Knee Massacre Take Place?

The horror unfolded on December 29, 1890 on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Pine Ridge is located in South Dakota.

How Many Lakota Indians Died at Wounded Knee?

A firm count is unavailable, and some historical accounts believe that the death toll may have been around 300. More official accounts, which might be tainted by revisionist historians, explain that 150 or so died, while another 50 or more were wounded. Among the dead and wounded were a substantial number of women and children.

What Caused the Wounded Knee Massacre to Occur?

The situation on many indian reservations was always tense, and a number of factors boiled over that day. The U.S. 7th Cavalry clearly showed up in an aggressive posture, and were met by a band of Lakota who were fed up with the tribe's mistreatment. Many promises were made to convince indian tribes to relocate to reservations peaceably, and those included dignity and reasonable ongoing support as compensaton for the displacement. By and large, the U.S. violated all those pledges, allowing poachers and gold speculators to co-opt land from what was granted to the tribes, take valuable resources etc. Support was often delayed, as well. Excuses for that were endless, but it left the tribal citizens dirt poor and generally near starvation to boot. The Lakota were adamant about having these violations heard by those responsible for honoring the treaties. The government, on the other hand, wanted the warriors disarmed as quickly as possible, and Indian refusal to hand over their weapons was the government's impetus to open fire on the Lakota camp with four powerful Hotchkiss machine guns.

What Happened in the Aftermath?

Three days after the massacre, the site was visited by General Nelson A. Miles, who recorded the horror of the scene. He noted roughly 300 bodies strewn about the scene and was further sickened to note the mothers carrying children appeared to have been chased nearly 2 miles only to be shot down by the cavalry. He immediately relieved commanding officer Forsyth and brought him up on charges before a military court of inquiry. Sadly, the court reinstated Forsyth, even while noting his many transgressions. Their decision was supported by the Secretary of War and served as a lasting sign that the government was not sincere in its treaty commitments.

Looking Back: Little Big Horn Dooms Custer

Looking Back: Little Big Horn Dooms Custer

The most profound military loss in US history also marked the height of Sioux power. The Battle of Little Big Horn, known as The Battle of the Greasy Grass (to the Lakota tribe) and Custer’s Last Stand, was a turning point for both the Sioux Nation and the relationship between the United States and American Indians.

Incited to Battle

From 1854 to 1890, the Northern Plains Indians fought with the US government in what was called the Sioux Wars. The American Indians were being forced into smaller and smaller reservations, out of the lands they once roamed freely. While many acquiesced and retreated to the reservations, a number of American Indians resisted, fighting the government in skirmishes that covered much of the Northwest.

The 7th Calvary attacked a village of innocent natives in Kansas on the Washita River, inciting the tribes of the area to fight back harder. Notable chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were leading attacks in the Northwest at this time, and they were amassing their troops for a great battle.

Spies from the Calvary reported their movements, and General Armstrong Custer gathered his troops to attack them on June 25th, 1876, near the Rosebud River.

The Last Stand

George Custer led 600 men at the time of the battle

George Custer led 600 men at the time of the battle

Custer led a group of close to 600 soldiers toward the encampment, then split his men into three groups. He had Captain Frederick Benteen guard the upper valley and prevent the natives from escaping. He sent Major Marcus Reno to the southern end of the encampment to provide a secondary attacking force to his own. Taking 210 men, Custer headed toward the gathered Sioux and Lakota warriors.

His information was spotty and erroneous, and he was going to meet a force that was three times bigger than he had anticipated. He had planned to fight along a river and on open grassland, but he didn’t know that between him and the American Indians was a series of ravines and bluffs. He would never be able to move his men across the terrain in an effective attacking formation or join the attack with his comrades at the right time.

Reno’s men were quickly routed in the South. They were forced to retreat before they could become trapped by the terrain and were chased uphill by overwhelming numbers of natives.

Tombstones mark the site of Custers famous Little Big Horn defeat

Tombstones mark the site of Custer’s famous Little Big Horn defeat

By the time Reno and his men had been routed, Custer’s group was starting to cross the river. The Sioux and Lakota turned from Reno’s fleeing men to Custer and his men and forced them back to a high ridge. Another group of Sioux moved in from a second direction and boxed Custer in. He had nowhere to run as the American Indians closed in. The general ordered his men to pile bodies of soldiers and horses into a high wall to provide some cover from the hail of bullets around them.

Custer and his men were wiped out in less than an hour in a decisive victory for the Sioux. Reno’s group began to reorganize with Benteen, but before they could get back to the encampment, the Native Americans had already left.

The Aftermath

This battle showed that the Native Americans, and particularly the Sioux, were not to be trifled with, that they could fight back as hard as any US army and that going up against them in battle was often a foolhardy tactic.

A memorial marks the field of battle that the Lakota call the Battle of the Greasy Grass

A memorial marks the field of battle that the Lakota call the Battle of the Greasy Grass

Relations between the Sioux and the US government took a drastic turn following the battle. When news of Custer’s defeat reached white settlers and the US capitol, retribution was demanded. The government acted quickly in redrawing the lines of the American Indian territory in the Black Hills, opening up the way for white settlers to take over the land. The Sioux nation was subsequently devastated by surging settlers and soldiers to the area. They were forced to give up their lands, and even lobbying for those lands back until the 1980s brought them no closer to reclaiming their property.

While General Custer was immediately branded as a hero following the battle and the Sioux as outlaws, the lasting effects would be quite the opposite. History has revealed Custer as a foolish leader and his actions as a byword to future military commanders. The Sioux, though all but wiped out after the battle, have been seen retrospectively as the heroes of the story, noble warriors defending their lands and unjustly punished by a spiteful government.