Pictured: Pope Francis speaks to an audience alongside Indigenous leaders on July 25th, 2022 near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Image credits to AP/Gregoria Borgia.
In late July, Pope Francis met with government and tribal leaders in Canada to apologize for the role of members of the Catholic Church in the abuse committed against Indigenous children within the Canadian residential school system.
Amongst those gathered near Edmonton to hear the Pope’s words were residential school survivors, representing some of the over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children who were taken from their homes between the late 18th century and the 1970s and placed into assimilationist government and church-run schools. Severe abuse was rampant in the schools, as were policies deliberately aimed at wiping out Indigenous languages and traditional ways.
Reactions to the apology amongst Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors were mixed: While some described the apology as an important and necessary step in the healing journey for survivors of residential school abuse, others noted the absence of concrete steps being taken by the Catholic Church to unseal documents related to this history and to invest in forming relationships with Native communities in Canada.
Pictured: An Inuk child at a residential school in Iqaluit, Northwest Territories in 1958. Pope Francis visited Iqaluit as part of his papal journey to Canada. Image credits to Ted Grant / National Film Board of Canada and the Phototheque Collection / Library and Archives Canada.
Many also emphasized the failure of the papal apology to specifically name the Catholic Church as a perpetrator of residential school abuse and criticized the Pontiff for not taking the opportunity to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, a concept established by the Catholic Church shortly after Columbus’ arrival to the Western hemisphere that was subsequently used to justify the widespread seizure of Indigenous lands.
The Doctrine, born out of several papal bulls issued by Pope Alexander VI in the late 15th century, is a legal principle under which European conquerors claimed a right to annex land on the basis of discovery. The principle was even applied to the “discovery” of territories already inhabited by other nations - so long as the inhabitants were not Christian. Within a few years of the Doctrine’s establishment and the arrival of Europeans to the Western Hemisphere, 50% of the Native population of the Americas had died due to violence and disease. And in the five centuries since, Indigenous peoples have been subject to ongoing loss of land and culture stemming from the legal invocation of the Doctrine of Discovery across their traditional territories.
In addition to its role in a staggering loss of Indigenous lands, what the Doctrine did more indirectly was to feed into a grim narrative that conquerors - not the original peoples of a given land - somehow have a monopoly on culture, civilization and the authority to govern. As the Doctrine of Discovery was compounded by continued imperialism over Native peoples in the Americas, this mode of conceptualizing and actualizing the new society that began to take shape in the Western Hemisphere created an environment in which Native cultural lifeways and traditions were devalued in favor of European ideals - setting the gruesome stage for the establishment of residential schools and the suffering inflicted on the Indigenous children forced to attend them.
Several Christian denominations have formally denounced the Doctrine of Discovery in recent years, and in the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada, Indigenous leaders are calling on the Pope to officially rescind the Doctrine himself. Activists are hoping that deeper efforts towards justice for residential school survivors on behalf of the Catholic Church will continue to take shape.
Additional resources on this topic listed below.
On Pope Francis’ official apology and his visit with Indigenous leaders in Canada:
Full text of Pope Francis’ July 25th apology to residential school survivors:
“Papal Visit: Apology at Last in Canada” from Indian Country Today:
“Pope Francis takes leave of Canada in Nunavut amid criticism” from The Washington Post:
On the history of Residential Schools in Canada and the United States:
Information on Residential School History from the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation: https://nctr.ca/education/teaching-resources/residential-school-history/
Parts 1 & 2 of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the history of the nation’s residential schools:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
“Death by Civilization” by Mary Annette Pember for the Atlantic:
On the Doctrine of Discovery and its Troubling Legacy:
The Doctrine of Discovery as explained by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University:
“This 500-year-old Catholic decree encouraged colonization. Will the pope revoke it?” from National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/doctrine-of-discovery-how-the-centuries-old-catholic-decree-encouraged-colonization
“Pope faces calls to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery at the heart of colonialism” from CBC Canada: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-the-tuesday-edition-1.6532503/pope-faces-calls-to-renounce-the-doctrine-of-discovery-at-the-heart-of-colonialism-1.6532787
This blog post is a part of our Reconciliation through Education series. To learn more about this and other issues related to the Tipi Raisers mission, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for our newsletter.
Sources include: Coverage of this topic from Indian Country Today, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell, NPR, National Geographic Magazine, The Associated Press, NBC, CNN, the Washington Post, The Conversation, and the National Post.
A few weeks ago, riders, speakers, visitors and families from Pine Ridge, Wind River, Dine/Navajo, Arapaho, Shoshone, Florida, Houston, Puerto Rico and Denver gathered for four days in Sedalia, CO. A camp was set up, riders on horseback rode in each day from the four directions and lessons were learned . . . . . as they always are when we come together in this way.
Lesson #1: We all are better when there is diversity in our camp/gatherings/communities – diverse in ages, genders, backgrounds, races, cultural and religious traditions.
Lesson #2: There is wisdom from all directions. No one owns the Sacred. Possesses the feather. The drumbeat. The horse. Indigenous wisdom is rooted in lessons from elders (and youth) from tribes, clans, traditions, religions, and cultures from all over the world. We are stronger as a human species when wisdom, traditions and culture from all directions is shared, welcomed and embraced.
Lesson #4: Iktomi (the spider), the Coyote and the Trickster are often present in camp amidst these sorts of gatherings. They usually make an appearance and often times interact with those already teetering on the edge. The dance with the Trickster is one of opportunity, but also danger.
Lesson #5: Trauma is also very often present in these sorts of camps and gatherings. Of course, it is -- given our shared history and humanity. Iktomi and coyote are drawn to those carrying the trauma most intensely and so, one need not look far to see, hear and feel the injury of the past gather around the fire.
Lesson #6: This is generational work: Alleviating poverty. Reconciliation. Indigenous wisdom. It’s complicated; the way forward riddled with mistrust, trauma, pain and complexity. It requires careful thought, intention, persistence and resilience.
Lesson #7: True reconciliation of harm done requires careful, deliberate and persistent effort. And the ability to forgive . . . . Basil Brave Heart teaches us that forgiveness is only possible by looking at the Divinity within. It's also true that efforts to help cannot be fueled by guilt, pity or a "feeling sorry for."
And so, we live in daily gratitude for those who walk and ride with us. Who travel, stay and visit with us at these sorts of gatherings. And for those who have supported this work for so many years.
This is the finale of a four-part email series reflecting on each day of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride, which took place from July 16th-19th in Colorado. Check out our reflections from Days 1, 2, and 3 HERE and read on for more!
Rhyia JoyHeart, Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, dances the Jingle Dress Dance on the last night of the 2022 Indigenous Wisdom Summit.
When jingle dress dancer Rhyia JoyHeart stepped into our camp in her handmade regalia on the final evening of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride, a look of admiration and awe spread across the faces of the two young Native girls seated nearby.
Rhyia, a proud Eastern Shoshone & Northern Arapaho young woman, carries herself with a power and presence that demonstrates what it means to stand tall in one’s heritage. As she entered the circle, she spoke of the history of her people and the legacy of her family: “We as Native People introduce not only ourselves and our tribe, but also our relatives, because it’s important to know who you come from and where you come from,” she stated as the silver cones of her dress rang out their gentle song into the wind.
Rhyia also shared the deeply sacred teachings surrounding the Jingle Dress Dance, a healing dance with Ojibwe origins that she began to study after suffering a family loss. Before dancing the Jingle Dress Dance for Summit & Ride attendees, she expressed her desire for the dance to be healing for those present in the circle, for Indigenous communities, and for the world:
“We dance for the people.” - Rhyia JoyHeart
Hohóu and aishen to Rhyia for the knowledge, grace, and sacred dancing she brings to our circle each time she joins us!
This is part three of a four-part series reflecting on each day of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride, which took place from July 16th-19th in Colorado. The series will conclude next week. Check out our reflections from Days 1 & 2 HERE and stay tuned for more!
Pictured: Darryl Slim speaks to our circle on Monday, July 18th at the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride.
Day 3 of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride was marked by smooth afternoon horseback rides, cross-cultural community building, and an enlightening evening presentation by Navajo wellness educator Darryl Slim.
Darryl - a soft-spoken and deeply spiritual Diné man who is almost never found without a peaceful smile across his face, two neat braids running down his back and a floral hairband that honors the traditional dress of Navajo women - entered our camp carrying an aura of gentleness that was immediately palpable. As teachings around mindfulness stemming from the traditional upbringing he received from his grandparents poured forth into our circle, one could feel the laser-focus with which each attendee was attuned to his words. He taught of the interconnectedness of plants, animals, humans, air and water and the need to tend to each element of life. Throughout the presentation, he encouraged participants to pay attention to the silent stillness “beneath the sound.".
When we tend to the elements of life, he explained, we return to wholeness and thus begin to heal. This type of mindfulness, embodied in protection songs he sang in his Diné language, helps us to “...really get to know who you are really not.” Getting to know who we are really not then opens the way for us to tune into the silent stillness all around: “The more you get to know the silent, the more you get to know yourself.” In this way, we may more fully come into who we truly are and may connect with all things, making our own unique mark on the world in harmony with all other beings. As Darryl’s grandfather taught him, “Everyone should sprout up like a flower, and have their own pollen.”
A'he'hee to Darryl for the sacred teachings he shares and the wonderful presence he brings to each Tipi Raisers event he travels to! We are immensely grateful.
Pictured: Darryl oversees the lifting of a tipi at our camp in Sedalia, CO for the Summit & Ride. Darryl is skilled in tipi construction and often leads our group as we raise tipis at various events!
This is part two of a four-part email series reflecting on each day of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride, which took place from July 16th-19th in Colorado. The series will continue to unfold over the coming weeks. Check out our reflections from Day 1 HERE and stay tuned for more!
Pictured: Joseph Medicine Robe prepares to play the flute as attendees look on at Day 2 of the recent Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride.
After the arrival of our Four Directions Riders and an honoring ceremony for several Tipi Raisers community members on Day 2 of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride, Joseph Medicine Robe (Lakota) engaged attendees with flute & drum performances and a powerful talk centered on Indigenous spirituality.
“Come to the center.” Joseph invited the group to ponder this phrase as he began to share Lakota prayer songs and teachings. “Come to the center of your family, of your community. Come to the center of Turtle Island and the Galaxy.” As the sound of the flute and, later, the beat of Joseph’s drum echoed through the trees that shaded us, one could begin to imagine the days when Spirit, land, animal and human were so connected that they seemed to be synchronized to the same heartbeat.
While it may often feel out of reach amidst the challenges of modern life, that connection, Joseph teaches, can be tapped into through prayer. He explained that the Lakota word Wocekiya, often translated simply as “prayer,” can more accurately be interpreted as “establishing the Sacred Connection.” When we engage in Wocekiya, when we come to our center, the center of an emotion, the center of all things, we establish the ever-present Sacred Connection from which the world often distracts us. In this way, he expressed through a prayer song, we can show up with compassion and respect for all nations and all things. “How powerful it would be if we saw the sacred in one another.” - Joseph Medicine Robe
Wopila to Joseph for sharing such transformative teachings with us at the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride and for his willingness to sing and drum for our horses, riders, and attendees throughout the event! And thank you to Marty Chase Alone for sharing your prayers and your presence with our group!
Pictured: Joseph Medicine Robe and Charles Red Cloud drum and sing a wopila song as guests shake hands and offer gratitude to honorees from the Tipi Raisers community.
This is part two of a four-part series reflecting on each day of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride, which took place from July 16th-19th in Colorado. The series will continue to unfold over the coming weeks. Stay tuned here on our blog and on our email channels for more!
Pictured: The Sacred Hoop collection of constellations, as depicted on the cover of "Lakota Star Knowledge" by Ronald Goodman, a book cited during Saturday's presentation at the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, CO by Dr. John Stocke.
The first day of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride took us to the Black Hills by way of a virtual experience at the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, CO. As we gazed up at the galaxy from our seats, this journey across the stars took us to Mato Tipila (the Bear’s Lodge/Bear Butte), the site of the most sacred of ceremonies for the Lakota people - the Sundance. And for thousands of years, long before colonization and the arrival of the Gregorian calendar, the Lakota tribe has made its way across the Black Hills to Bear Butte at just the right time of year to engage in this sacred rite. The ceremony was timed according to the movement of the stars, with the tribe’s Star Keepers carefully studying the path of the Sacred Hoop collection of constellations - a celestial mirror that forms the shape of the Black Hills themselves and the geographic features therewithin.
The amazement and awe in the eyes of the Lakota elders in attendance - fluent speakers of their language who have known of these deeply spiritual teachings their whole lives, and who were seeing their spirituality affirmed by astronomical science demonstrated on the dome above them - is an image that will stay with us for a long time.
It was an honor to learn of this Lakota Star Knowledge from Dr. John Stocke and the Lakota researchers he cited, including Charlotte Black Elk. Our deepest gratitude to Dr. Stocke and the Fiske Planetarium for generously hosting us at their facility and for sharing such sacred knowledge!
Pictured: Tribal members and other Tipi Raisers community members sit under a vista of the sacred Black Hills at the Fiske Planetarium on Saturday, July 16th ahead of Dr. John Stocke's presentation on Lakota Star Knowledge as part of the Indigenous Wisdom Summit & Four Directions Ride.
Pictured: Tribal leaders and US officials, including General William Tecumseh Sherman, gather at Fort Laramie, Wyoming in 1868 for treaty negotiations. Image credits to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
On April 29th, 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty was signed. We acknowledge that this treaty (which recognized the Black Hills as part of the "Great Sioux Reservation" and intended for the exclusive use of the Lakota People) was later broken by the US Government.
Forged in the wake of massacres conducted by the US Army against Indigenous peoples, increased movement of settlers along the Bozeman Trail, and successful Native resistance during Red Cloud's War, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 defined land boundaries for the Oceti Sakowin (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota) as well as the Crow, Northern Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne, protecting the tribes' sovereignty over much of their traditional lands. However, the treaty also instituted several assimilationist policies on behalf of the US government - policies which contributed to a loss of cultural lifeways that continues to impact Native communities up to the present day. Several Lakota leaders of the time, including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, opposed the treaty for its establishment of these policies and for its restriction of hunting lands.
Pictured: Page 1 of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Image credits to the National Archives collection.
Turmoil drawing forth from this forced assimilation brewed on the Plains, and the arrival of prospectors and US Army officials in search of gold brought these tensions to a head in the mid-1870s. Lakota and Cheyenne warriors launched attacks on settlers flooding into treaty lands to seek their fortune, leading to an 1875 federal decree which forced the tribes onto small reservations.
The following year, General Custer and the US Seventh Cavalry were routed by Lakota, Dakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn - known as Peji Sla/the Battle of the Greasy Grass in Lakota. In 1877, an act of Congress redrew the lines of tribal territories, permanently confined tribes to reservations, seized the Black Hills for the United States, and allowed the federal government to build roads through treaty lands. In less than ten years, the United States had reneged in multiple ways on the Fort Laramie Treaty - a document which, by the US constitution’s own definition, was intended to be respected as the supreme law of the land.
In response to this violation of treaty terms, the tribes of the Oceti Sakowin entered into legal proceedings against the federal government in the early 20th century. The case culminated in a 1980 decision by the Supreme Court declaring the US seizure of the Black Hills illegal and offering tribes $100 million for the land. The tribes of the Oceti Sakowin have continually rejected this offer and have asserted that the sacred lands were never for sale.
Despite federal abrogation of the agreement, the articles of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 have been cited throughout the 20th and 21st centuries: activists laid claim to Alcatraz Island in 1969, citing a treaty stipulation which promised unused federal land to tribes, called the Treaty to mind during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and most recently presented an eviction notice to the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, SD which cited tribal rights to prevent settler encroachment on treaty lands. Organizers continue to push the federal government to honor the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and all treaties between tribal nations and the United States.
Additional resources on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 listed below.
On the Treaty and its surrounding history:
Full text of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie from the National Museum of the American Indian:
“In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice” from Smithsonian Magazine:
“Fort Laramie Treaty: Case Study” an interactive online exhibit from the National Museum of the American Indian: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/plains-treaties-fort-laramie/
“The Fort Laramie National Historic Site and 150th Anniversary of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie,” a documentary special from Wyoming PBS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Bf83JLfmZU
On the legal battle to honor the Treaty:
A Summary of the 1980 Supreme Court decision in the case ‘ United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians’:
“Sioux Win $105 Million” from The Washington Post:
“Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion” from PBS NewsHour:
On the document’s continued significance from the 1960s to the present-day:
“The Native Occupation of Alcatraz—Looking Back 50 Years Later” from the Pima County Public Library:
“Broken Promises: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Cites History of Government Betrayal in Pipeline Fight” from ABC News https://abcnews.go.com/US/broken-promises-standing-rock-sioux-tribe-cites-history/story?id=43698346
“Tribal Leaders of the Oceti Sakowin Deliver Notice of Trespass and Eviction Notice to Grand Gateway Hotel” from NDN Collective: https://ndncollective.org/tribal-leaders-of-the-oceti-sakowin-deliver-notice-of-trespass-and-eviction-notice-to-grand-gateway-hotel/?fbclid=IwAR29n6ZUfO3jOFW1fFECSfoe_6ogImtyfKMbn2E0IsHRlilXv-wiIg9YDhE
This blog post is a part of our Reconciliation through Education series. To learn more about this and other issues related to the Tipi Raisers mission, please email email@example.com to sign up for our newsletter.
Sources include: Resources from the National Museum of the American Indian, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine, & Wyoming PBS
The inaugural Indigenous Wisdom Summit/Four Directions Ride will make its debut in 2022. The LakotaRide (which has been retired for practical and philosophical reasons, explained below) was the predecessor to this event.
The LakotaRide began in Breckenridge, Colorado in 2014 with just two riders going up and over the 14,000 foot Continental Divide and ending in Boulder a week later. It was initially conceived of in order to bring awareness and raise funds to bring building materials salvaged from the original Breckenridge Nordic Lodge to address substandard housing issues on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
For the five years following this epic launch of the LakotaRide, it gained momentum, riders, supporters and miles and became our signature event! Each of those five years, the LakotaRide moved across the heavily populated front range of Colorado and crossed over into the wide open spaces of Wyoming and Nebraska before ending, twenty two days and over 400 miles later, on Pine Ridge. The friendships forged, selfless generosity exhibited and depth of community established on these LakotaRides will forever be a gift in the lives of those involved.
In 2020 we commemorated the previous rides and riders through our virtual event - The Spirit of the LakotaRide. Both 2020 and 2021 Rides were cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.
In those years, we have had time to look back and to look forward. As the small nonprofit has developed, we now envision an evolved signature event with lessons learned from past LakotaRides.
Practically speaking, we know what goes into these multi-state, multi-week rides and quite simply, our Ride team is not getting any younger. The sheer miles on horseback and the physicality involved to execute an event such as this takes a tremendous toll over time.
And from a philosophical standpoint, we have been approached more and more from other Tribes in the region - all of whom we're eager to partner with. And we understand that they, like the Lakota, have a rich culture and history that we can all learn from. Thus, the Indigenous Wisdom Summit with the ceremonial Four Directions Ride was born!
In the spring of 1864, thousands of Navajo People were removed from their homelands and forced onto The Long Walk. The four-year internment they would face at the conclusion of the walk marked the darkest period of Navajo history and the beginning of a generational trauma that echoes into the present-day.
Pictured above: Diné women and children gathered at Bosque Redondo 1864-1868. Photograph from the Collection of John Gaw Meem. Credits to the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian.
While the decade preceding the 1860s had been characterized by war in the Southwest between encroaching US forces and Navajo (Diné) warriors, military incursions into Navajo lands increased amidst the Civil War. In 1863, then-territorial governor of New Mexico General James H. Carleton ordered a military campaign to drive the Navajo out of their traditional lands. Overseeing this campaign was Colonel Kit Carson and his 1st New Mexico Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, who invaded the Canyon de Chelly in Diné lands on January 12th, 1864. The troops set fire to hundreds of acres of trees, crops, and hogans (traditional Navajo dwellings), slaughtered livestock, poisoned water wells, and killed Diné men, women, and children as they swept through the Canyon.
With little choice, thousands of Navajo living in the region were forced to surrender to Carson and his regiment and walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, located hundreds of miles away in New Mexico. Throughout the spring of 1864, large groups of Navajo continued to be sent against their will to Bosque Redondo, referred to in the Navajo language as Hwéeldi. Hundreds died of exposure, murder by US forces, and other causes during the journey, which came to be known as the Long Walk of the Navajo.
Pictured: A US Army guard stands armed over a group of Navajo imprisoned at Bosque Redondo, 1864-1868. Photo credits to the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
Those who had been forced onto the Long Walk were held at a prison camp on the Bosque Redondo Reservation from 1864 to 1868 by US soldiers. Conditions on the reservation were dire for the Diné and the hundreds of Mescalero Apache whom had also been forced into the camp- almost a third of the over 8,000 Navajo held there had died before the tribe was able to return to their homelands in 1868. According to Navajo oral tradition, it was the Diné women at Bosque Redondo who were able to convince camp commissioners to allow their people to return home.
Pictured: The Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The architecture of the building was inspired by Apache tipis and Navajo hogans. Photo credits to Friends of the Bosque Redondo Memorial.
Though 158 years have passed since the start of the Long Walk, its impact persists for Navajo people. Researchers have explained that the challenges of poverty, addiction, and mental health crises faced by Diné communities today are rooted in the generational trauma of the Long Walk. But in spite of these challenges and the painful memory of the Bosque Redondo era, the legacy of the Long Walk also calls to mind the resilience of the Navajo people as they stood strong against the attempted eradication of their land, their culture, and their lives.
Additional resources on the Long Walk of the Navajo, the Bosque Redondo era, and the modern-day impact of the Long Walk listed below.
On the history of the wars leading up to the removal of the Navajo from their traditional lands, the Long Walk, and the Bosque Redondo era:
A brief history of the Long Walk from Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA):
“Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo” a documentary from PBS Utah and the Bosque Redondo Memorial:
Virtual exhibits from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the Long Walk and the Bosque Redondo Reservation: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/navajo/long-walk/long-walk.cshtml
“The Navajo Nation's Own Trail Of Tears” from NPR:
On the legacy of the Long Walk and the resilience of the Navajo Nation today:
“Impact of the Long Walk Still Felt 150 Years Later” from Arizona Public Radio:
“150 Years After the Long Walk” from New Mexico Magazine:
“The Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868 Lives On at the American Indian Museum” from Smithsonian Magazine:
“Hwéeldi at 150” from the Navajo Times: https://navajotimes.com/reznews/hweeldi-150/
This blog post is a part of our Reconciliation through Education series. To learn more about this and other issues related to the Tipi Raisers mission, email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for our newsletter.
Sources for this blog post include: Resources on this topic from the National Museum of the American Indian, Indian Country Today, NPR, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), Arizona Public Radio, Smithsonian Magazine, New Mexico Magazine, the Navajo Times, and the Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes, 1850-1890 by Gregory Michno.
44 years ago this month, Indigenous activists began a cross-country journey on foot to defend treaty rights.
In the wake of the federal crackdown on Indigenous activism that characterized the late 1960s and early 1970s, eleven bills which sought to restrict the rights guaranteed to tribes and tribal members in treaties were introduced in Congress. In response, Native leaders mobilized activists to set out on The Longest Walk - a nearly-3,000 mile journey of nonviolent resistance to threats against tribal sovereignty. Symbolizing the forced removal of Indigenous Peoples from their traditional lands throughout history, the Walk began on February 11th, 1978 with the aim of calling attention to the proposed bills and the ongoing injustices faced by Native communities.
Thousands of Indigenous people and supporters participated in the five-month walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C. Along the way, organizers engaged in teach-ins in towns across the country to raise public awareness around Indigenous cultures, broken treaties, and the continued persecution of Native peoples. Upon the Walk's arrival to the nation's Capital on July 15th, 1978, tribal elders and movement leaders met with government officials to discuss the proposed legislation. All eleven bills which the Walk had protested were subsequently defeated in Congress. While The Longest Walk was the final major event of the American Indian Movement (AIM), its legacy continues to inspire Native advocacy today.
Pictured: A tipi sits opposite the White House as some 30,000 demonstrators gather in the Capital at the close of The Longest Walk. Photo credits to Daniel Luna, Roots Of Plenty and Plenty International.
The Longest Walk is not the only major AIM demonstration with a February anniversary- Sunday, February 27th marks 49 years since the occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement.
Often referred to as Wounded Knee II, the occupation began after the failed impeachment of then-chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Richard “Dick” Wilson. Wilson's leadership was divisive on the reservation, stoking tensions between mixed-heritage, culturally-assimilated Oglalas such as himself and more traditional Oglala people living on Pine Ridge. These tensions, combined with conditions of poverty and racism faced by tribal members and the ongoing failure of the US Government to honor treaties, came to a head as 200 American Indian Movement members and Oglala Lakota activists entered and occupied a trading post in Wounded Knee on the evening of February 27th. After news of the occupation reached authorities, federal marshals and FBI agents began to surround the area. The ensuing armed conflict between protestors and federal forces would last 71 days.
Demonstrators and federal agents alike sustained injuries amidst regular exchanges of gunfire, and two Native activists were killed over the course of the conflict, which came to an end on May 8th, 1973. Dick Wilson remained in power as tribal chairman until 1976, and the years following the occupation, referred to by some as the "Reign of Terror," were characterized by retaliation from Wilson and his private police force against those connected to the American Indian Movement and the siege at Wounded Knee. Dozens of murders from this era remain unsolved today.
Pictured: An armed protester guards a checkpoint at Wounded Knee during the 1973 occupation. Photo credits to NPR and the Associated Press
Pansy Weasel Bear, treasured friend and partner of the Tipi Raisers, suffered the loss of her brother during this period of violence. We recently spoke with Pansy about what life on Pine Ridge was like at the time of the occupation and the years that followed:
"I would go with my older sister to AIM gatherings, rallies. I used to think it was fun; I didn't realize it was dangerous." Pansy was around 12 years old at the time of the occupation of Wounded Knee. Her parents, she explained, used to cook meals for AIM supporters late at night during the occupation. AIM members would quietly enter their home, retrieve the food, and carry it back to Wounded Knee to feed the activists, whose access to food was limited due to the federal blockade surrounding them. Following the murder of her brother, she recalls pleading with her father to let she and her siblings attend the funeral. Her father had believed it would be too dangerous for them to accompany him due to the tense atmosphere amidst the conflict between AIM supporters and Wilson's private police, but ultimately allowed them to go.
When her family returned from the funeral the next evening, her father noticed blood stains across the door knob and doorway of their home; a woman had been murdered nearby, and her killer must have attempted to enter the home while escaping. In another incident, Pansy's father was accosted at work by supporters of Wilson: "They broke three of his fingers and said 'let that be a reminder that you don’t support the American Indian Movement. We know where you live, we know you’re supporting AIM, and we’ll come get you.'"
In order to keep his family safe, Pansy’s father trained her and her siblings to handle rifles and had the children practice an emergency escape plan, should they be attacked at home in the midst of the turmoil on the reservation. On one particular evening, the plan which they had repeatedly rehearsed had to be rapidly put into action. "One night cars were flying toward our house and that was different. [...] I told my sister, 'it's time to go!'" Pansy, still a young child at the time, followed the escape plan down to the letter, retrieving the rifle and ammunition her father had carefully trained her to use, escorting her siblings to the bunker near their home, and firing into the sky to scare away the people who had begun breaking into the house.
It was a time of extreme turmoil and loss for tribal members on Pine Ridge, but the legacy of the Wounded Knee Occupation and the American Indian Movement lives on today. The siege at Wounded Knee had opened the eyes of the world to broken treaties, the continued oppression of Indigenous Peoples, and the resilience of Native communities. On the lasting impact of AIM and the activists at Wounded Knee, Pansy expressed: "They fought for our rights to be recognized and to be treated as people.”
We are immensely grateful for Pansy and her willingness to share these powerful stories. It is a privilege to be able to hear and learn from firsthand accounts of this deeply important history.
Pictured: Tipi Raisers’ Tokala Society volunteer and dear friend, Pansy Weasel Bear.
Additional resources on the American Indian Movement, the Longest Walk, and the Occupation of Wounded Knee listed below.
On the American Indian Movement:
“The radical history of the Red Power movement's fight for Native American sovereignty” from National Geographic:
A comprehensive digital exhibit on the American Indian Movement from the Libraries at the University of Georgia:
A collection of primary sources on the American Indian Movement from Christopher Newport University:
On The Longest Walk:
“Native Americans walk from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. for U.S. civil rights, 1978” a case study of The Longest Walk from the Global Nonviolent Action Database:
“The Longest Walk 1978” from Roots of Plenty: https://rootsofplenty.org/stories/the-longest-walk-1978/
“Longest Walk II reaches Washington” from Indian Country Today:
On the Occupation of Wounded Knee:
Episode 5: Wounded Knee of We Shall Remain | American Experience from PBS:
“Native History: AIM Occupation of Wounded Knee Begins” from Indian Country Today:
“Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement” from The Atlantic:
Sources for this blog post include: Resources on these topics from Indian Country Today, the National Library of Medicine's Native Voices Initiative, Histories of the National Mall, Plenty International, the Global Nonviolent Action Database, the Willson Center Digital Humanities Lab, PBS, NPR, the Atlantic, the Zinn Education Project, and MPR News.
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