On Sunday morning, I turned on the tube, and there on CNN, splayed across the screen like an epitaph, were the typed words, “WORST MASS SHOOTING IN U.S. HISTORY.”
Just hours earlier, 49 people of the LGBT community had been shot and killed, and another 53 were wounded, after a gunman, later identified as Omar Mateen, opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Throughout the day, CNN, NBC, other news outlets, even President Barack Obama, were referring to the massacre as “the most deadliest shooting in American history.”
By midday, I had endeavored to learn why mass media and the Obama Administration were so quick to discount massacres involving Native American victims.
For the purposes of this article, I will particularly call upon the events and motives of the Wounded Knee Massacre, which was, by definition, a mass shooting that falls within the category of U.S. history.
How do I know this? Well, the FBI defines a mass shooting as an incident where three or more people are killed. By its own definition, then, Wounded Knee was, indeed, a mass shooting, since an estimated 300 were shot and killed.
An 1876 Gatling gun housed at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site. The Gatling gun was used by the U.S. 7th Cavalry during the Wounded Knee Massacre. Courtesy wikipedia.org
Now, could the attack at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, also be considered a form of ‘domestic terrorism’? Once again, according to the FBI, yes, it can, according to the following criteria:
Was the Wounded Knee Massacre, as the FBI writes on its website about terrorism, “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population?”
Yes. Although Native Americans were not considered American citizens until the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, the 200 women and children who were shot and killed by the U.S. 7th Cavalry during Wounded Knee could not, in any sense, be defined as soldiers. They were, instead, civilians.
Was Wounded Knee executed “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion?”
Was Wounded Knee executed “to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping?”
Once again, yes.
Did the Wounded Knee Massacre “occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”?
Yes. By the time Native American prison camps (known commonly today as ‘reservations’) were instituted, the United States had claimed Indian territory as its own, because, according to U.S. Indian Law, Native Americans were “wards of the state” – that is Native Americans were considered no more than children dependent on its parent, the U.S. According to the framers, Native Americans had no right to their ancestral lands.
It is important to note that U.S. Indian Law is based on papal bulls like the Inter Caetera that said indigenous peoples had no inherent claim to their homelands. Such papal bulls were motivated by a want to rid the Plains of its inhabitants, and justified by Christian religious fanaticism.
There we have it, then. The Wounded Knee Massacre was, based on evidence, a mass shooting and terrorist attack motivated by Christian extremism.
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Even still, Wounded Knee is widely considered a military operation – even a battle, not a massacre.
“When we talk about mass killing, we talk about it as criminal homicide,” James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, told Matt Vasilogambros of The Atlantic. “And, generally, killing related to military operations, wartime, etc., is not criminal homicide. It’s homicide, but not criminal homicide.”
I beg to differ.
When the victims are persecuted defenseless women and children, and when the massacre takes place in the continental United States, that is, indeed, criminal homicide whether or not the law is on the side of the murdered.
Take Kent State for example. In 1970, four Kent State students were shot and killed by soldiers of the U.S. National Guard. Nine others were wounded.
Was that not a military operation? Yes, it most certainly was, but it doesn’t make the incident any less of a mass shooting.
Here’s a hypothetical question: Were there to be a police brutality or military brutality incident where police or soldiers of the National Guard, for example, shoot and kill 100 college students here in the U.S., would that not also be a mass shooting, even though it was government sanctioned?
Yes, of course it would be. Why? Because the FBI’s own definition of mass shooting does not describe the motives of the shooter, only the number shot.
Were more than three people shot at Kent State? Yes. Four of them died. Did the shooting happen in the U.S.? Yes. The killing at Kent State, then, would most definitely qualify as a mass shooting even though it was government sanctioned.
I understand that time and proximity limits the American scope to such massacres as Wounded Knee or Sand Creek, even Kent State, but to consistently omit facts pushes us farther away from truth and deeper into the abyss of ignorance and repetition.
Yes, we must always be respectful to the victims and their families. We, fellow journalists, must also report the facts.
And that’s the point: good journalism is reporting the facts and correcting errors. Bad journalism is reporting inaccuracies and not making the corrections.
It is incumbent on Native American media and Native American reporters to make the corrections that mainstream media refuses to or neglects to. It is our responsibility to dislodge inaccuracies before they become etched in stone. This is not oppression olympics. This is recalling U.S. history as it was sans the myth-made narrative.
I am a reporter. My job is to report the facts, and the fact is there have been mass killings in the U.S. for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Yes, Wounded Knee was a mass shooting.
Yes, it was a massacre.
Yes, it was a terrorist attack.
That's U.S. history.
Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is the Culture Editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @simonmoyasmith.