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Dwain Camp

Ponca elder

Wounded Knee, South Dakota was the site in 1890 of a massacre killing nearly 300 Native women and children by the United States military forces. Not a battle — as it has often been called — but a well-documented mass murder of unarmed civilians.

This atrocity receives scarcely a footnote, if that, in our children's history books. It deserves much more.

Wounded Knee, South Dakota was also the historically appropriate site, in 1973, of an occupation by Native warriors that also deserves never to be forgotten.

February 27th of this year marked the 47th year since the American Indian Movement made their stand for 71 days at this small village.

I was there.

As a Native man born during the depths of the Great Depression in an Indian Health Service hospital, I was raised on a federal reservation and educated at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school.

To add another dimension, immediately after leaving boarding school, I traveled, worked, married, and had children while living in the world of the dominant society thus having one foot firmly planted in our ancient culture and one foot firmly planted in the new millennium.

Through living my dual cultures, I had a bird’s eye view of a deeply ingrained racial inequity. Then, in 1973 I joined the New Warrior Society of Native People, the freedom fighters of the American Indian Movement (AIM) at the occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D. Many people often refer to it as WK73.

This life-changing experience began my 47-year journey down the red road of education and the associated struggles of Indigenous activism.

I stood with my brothers and sisters at WK73.

I fought from the bunkers beside my own brothers, Craig and Carter Camp. I came to understand that the United States was built on land stolen by force and by broken treaties. I learned that the European philosophical rationalism of "Doctrine of Discovery and "Manifest Destiny" simply means, "might makes right." I also learned that our Native nations, oppressed for 300 years, ravaged by new diseases to near or complete extinction, survived, as Native nations within the United States.

This progression from the subjugation of a disenfranchised people to today’s Native nations has been one of the most exciting and important chapters in recent history.

Indigenous people, against all odds, with diligence, intelligence, strength and courage, salvaged the remnants of a sovereignty denied for centuries and thus embarked upon the miraculous renaissance of a historically resilient people.

The Native people of our generation, coming of age in a country with rampant racism, when a President was assassinated and other great leaders murdered, were swept up in a turbulence that did not include easily won social changes.

It's been said that the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 was possibly the longest civil disorder with armed conflict in U.S. history since the Civil War.

Certainly, it brought national attention to the oppression of Indian people and it brought new energy and leadership into the Native sovereignty movement. The result has been broad changes in federal Indian policy. The enactment of the Indian Self-Determination Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Indian Freedom of Religion Act, the Indian Higher Education Act and later the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, became catalysts of change unimaginable before the unprecedented siege.

Legions of nameless, Native heroes and heroines died or went to prison during those formative years. Many more went on to work the rest of their days, with pride and dignity, for their reborn tribal nations, exercising newly restored treaty rights including self-governance.

Importantly, we elders must pass on this knowledge gained and time is not on our side. Our Earth Mother is sick. All mankind is threatened. Modern technology, plus man's avarice and greed, have caused an impending apocalypse.

We, who have always been here, whose bones of untold generations of our ancestors enrich the soil, are the stewards, the caretakers of this land. Joining hands with all kindred spirits, Native and non-Native, we can give future generations a place in the sun. Our children must learn how imperative is this truth as we teach continuity of culture, tradition, and our true history.

To help overcome five hundred years of generational trauma and historical trauma, we elders must impart these truths to our young ones. Giving them a positive ancestral foundation helps engender our children with a strong, positive self-image. Pride in themselves as Natives will help future generations be more capable of making good life decisions.

Brother Carter Camp, the founder of Oklahoma AIM, said. "As time has passed and I see so many of our young people taking part in a traditional way of living and believing, I know our fight was worth it, and those we lost died worthy deaths."

So we will continue to sing our ancient brave heart songs.

We will continue to give thanks to Wakonda.

We will heal with Mother Earth.

And our journey will continue. It always has. It always will.


Dwain Camp, Elder, Ponca Nation