EXTRAORDINARY VALOR

Abandoned homeless encampment in a park in Greenfield

On July 18 we’ll begin the 5thannual retreat with Native American elders in Lakota country. We’ll be in the Black Hills and the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Yesterday, two of the elders, Manny and Renee Iron Hawk, were in Washington, D.C., along with other descendants of the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, to urge Congress to rescind the 20 Congressional Medals of Honor, the highest military honor in this country, that were given to soldiers of the 7thcavalry who implemented the Wounded Knee Massacre.

To see their testimony, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fourdirections/videos/2295789657303145/.

Some 300 Lakota were killed; it’s estimated that two-thirds were women and children. Some 25 cavalry soldiers were killed as well, mostly by other soldiers, i.e., friendly fire (is there a more classic oxymoron than that?). The massacre took place during a disarming of the Lakota, so many of them could no longer defend themselves. The U.S. Cavalry was also aided by 4 big mountain guns that were aimed at the Indians below.

Marry Iron Hawk testified about hearing from his grandmother how she survived at the age of 12 when her grandmother took her by the hand when the shooting began and ran to the ravine to hide. There were other stories:

My grandfather was 13 and escaped by running down to the ravine.

My great-grandfather was killed at Wounded Knee, but his daughter escaped.

I thought of the years growing up when I heard stories from my mother related to the Holocaust: We hid in the cellar of this family for several months. There was so little room that once I had to go out to look for food, and my legs crumbled under me and I couldn’t stand.

I could hear the heavy boots of the German soldiers coming up the stairs towards where we lived, coming for us.

People say that we can’t really blame them, they thought they were being shot at. When people feel threatened, they shoot. But where’s the honor? I wonder how I would feel if the people who perpetrated what they did to my family in Europe received Germany’s greatest medal for courage.

I don’t live in Germany, I live in this country, with a tradition of virulent violence perpetrated on native peoples. And I think of what happens when realities don’t align, when you’re told that your family was massacred and that the killers were subsequently cited for extraordinary courage and valor beyond measure.

What world do I live in, I might ask myself. Who are these people? Who am I? I could even start wondering what’s real and what’s not, because after all, I experience things one way and others experience them completely differently. How come I’m so different from everyone else? What’s wrong with me?