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Little Big Horn Memorial dedication

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LITTLE BIGHORN NATIONAL MONUMENT, Mont. - George Amiot, an Oglala Sioux of the Crazy Horse Society, arrived shortly after sunrise to pray at the Memorial while the morning was still. Dressed in buckskins, as the Sioux warriors of 1876 were dressed, he also wore numerous medals earned during duty with the Marine Corps in Vietnam, including four Purple Hearts. Later, now surrounded by a crowd, he stated, "it's a very special day to us. Today is a beautiful day to be alive."

On a knoll to the north, a large contingent of Sioux warriors, circled the hill on horseback while to the south, a column of Crows advanced along Battle Ridge. Mixed in with the Crows were riders representing the 7th Cavalry plus the all-black Buffalo Soldiers who served in Montana after the Little Bighorn Battle.

Official ceremonies began about 10:30 led by Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne. "Peace through Unity" was the theme of the day and Venne urged those in attendance to take that thought to heart and to settle differences amicably. A parade of speakers followed Venne including Montana governor Judy Martz who spoke to the theme by saying "this long overdue memorial can only help to further our efforts to bring us even closer together and to further demonstrate our commitment to achieve unity for the benefit of all Montanans and all peoples in this great country."

Governor Martz also introduced the family of Lori Piestewa who were invited to be special guests at the dedication.

Interior Secretary Gayle Norton spoke on behalf of President Bush. It was President Bush Sr. who signed into law the appropriation bill that made funding for this memorial possible. Secretary Norton said, "since 1881 there has been a monument to General Custer and his soldiers. Consecrated in this same ground is the blood of Native Americans - the great Sioux Nation, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho and the scouting tribes: the Crow and the Arikara. Yet for 127 years no monument or obelisk marked their loss of life. We are here today to change that. We join together to seek peace through unity."

Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, brought cheers from the crowd when he said "we believe a little differently than anthropologists believe about Indian people. We don't think we came across any Aleutian Straits or immigrated from anywhere. We believe the Creator put us here and put us here for a reason. Today brings just one part to a close of what Indian people face."

The Senator said that many newcomers may not get the feelings that Indian people feel at this site because of the large crowd on this day and he encouraged newcomers "to come back sometime early in the morning after a rain when the fog is laying in the valleys and things are quiet and the moon is waning and perhaps all you can hear is the sounds of nature. If you're here by yourself during that time, I know you'll feel like Indian people feel when they're here."

Russell Means, former leader of the American Indian Movement, took the mic during a break in the schedule. He explained how the location of the Indian Memorial was selected, saying that it was downhill from the 7th Cavalry memorial because visitors would likely visit that site first, then come downhill to the Indian Memorial. That would be the last thing they would see and most strongly remember when they left. And, that the Indians put up a monument to peace, not war. He added that a problem in this country is that its people put ethnicity first whereas all races should put America first.

Three buffalo were slaughtered to provide lunch for about 2,500 people. A crowd estimated at 4,000 attended the dedication ceremonies.

Speeches continued after lunch in the amphitheater with speakers representing the various tribes involved in the battle in 1876. The Indian Memorial welcomed any speakers who were interested. Many took that opportunity, often reiterating the feelings that the memorial was too long in coming but were happy with the result. Antoinette Red Woman, a member of the Cheyenne tribe, phrased it very simply by saying "I love the memorial - it's quiet - it's a gate to the Spirit World."

A pair of Black Hawk helicopters made a fly-over during the afternoon. It was a tribute to honor veterans of all wars.

The memorial itself is circular in design with earthen embankments reaching to the top of the 8-foot walls around two-thirds of the circle. The final side is open to the north and contains steel artwork crafted in the form of three Indian horses and riders. Beyond the artwork, scattered blooms of yucca projected above the grass on this June day. Rolling hills of green grass, greasy grass, wind down to the Little Bighorn River.

Walkways lead into the sunken interior from the west, south, and east. The "weeping wall" is part of the southern walkway, symbolizing the tears and suffering of the Indian people. It provides a view to the 7th Cavalry Memorial atop Last Stand Hill, a way of joining the combatants now in peace through unity. The walls are covered with granite, etched with drawings and quotes and honoring the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Arikara and Crow tribes. The Crow Chief, Plenty Coups, was quoted in 1876 saying, "This is a fight for future peace." A quote not unlike the theme for this memorial dedication.