Marie Fox Belly - 12/18/99
Q: What led up to the massacre at Wounded knee?
The massacre at wounded knee was occurring because the government wanted to put our people on reservations. By the year, I believe it was 1900 or about that time, they were all supposed to be on reservations. But they weren’t…some wanted their freedom and some loved the land, so you had people who had already settled on the reservations and you had those who wanted to be free…the hostiles and the friendlies. Of course, the Minneconju were hostiles, they wanted to be free and loved their land and never signed a treaty and in that way the government wanted to make sure they were all on reservations, so they chased them and finally caught up to them near porcupine hill and finally the killing at wounded knee.
Q: What did the massacre at wounded knee mean to the Indians?
It was in a way telling the Indian people that "if you don’t do what we tell you to do, this is what’s going to happen…you will be killed". The government and the soldiers did not want Wounded Knee or the Ghost Dance because at the Little Big Horn numbers, there were large numbers of Indian people that were gathered and so they thought with the Ghost Dance uprising and with um, the Bigfoot band coming to Pine Ridge, there was going to be another large gathering of Indians. That was an immediate threat to the government and they didn’t want another Little Bighorn.
Q: What did it mean to the soldiers?
The soldiers were young, some of them didn’t speak English, and they were foreigners who had just come into New York or into the United States, and they didn’t speak English. They were also drinking the night before. To them…one of the things, you have to remember that some of the old officers were at the Little Bighorn, so the old officers being there and the young soldiers, there was a certain uneasiness, and yet, there was this air of "We’re going to get even". After the massacre, they heard the soldiers saying "remember Custer, remember the Little Bighorn" and so it was revenge and the officers would of course instruct the younger soldiers and the ones who didn’t speak English about what happened at the Little Bighorn so it would be a total revenge and a total victory for the soldiers.
Q: Is that why it was such a massive killing? Was it a statement?
It could be that they were under command by the older officers, but the other thing to, is it was to teach a lesson to the Indians. "If you don’t listen, this is what’s going to happen to you. Another thing was, it was a revenge for the Little Bighorn and it was also to stop the Ghost dance. The Ghost dance was never a dance of death, it was a dance of life but to the Wachichu it was a threatening, very threatening dance.
Q Explain what the Ghost dance is?
The Ghost dance according to my great grandfather Dewey Beard, or Iron hail, and our family are ghost dancers, he said that it was going to bring everything back. It was going to, the wachichu were going to disappear into the ground and the buffalo was going to return. Our dead relatives were going to come back again and we were going to see them . That means that the onslaught, the coming of the whites would be stopped, that they would leave, the Buffalo would come back, meaning that our culture, our way of life, our land and our freedom would come back. Our dead relatives would come back meaning that our leaders would once more emerge. So in a way it was a return to the old ways and that was…to them it was good, that’s what we wanted.
Q: When you look at that picture of Leonard Colby holding that baby, what do you think of?
It makes me very emotional, it makes me angry in a way, it makes me feel like crying, because here I see an Indian child…the picture purity, of innocence, of trusting, of helplessness being close to a man who represents power, control, and he’s cold. And so there is a sharp contrast between the Indian child and Colby.
Q: Describe the problems lost bird faced
Physically, the way she was nourished when she was taken from Wounded Knee, from her dead mother’s body, from the grandmother’s arms at Pine Ridge, she was being breast fed. So now she was in a place where she was being given a bottle and cows milk, and see, a lot of native Americans have that lactose intolerance so she faced that. Spiritually, spiritually whatever was left, whatever she remembered was home and when she was placed in the arms of a stranger, Leonard Colby, and physically, she would have to live in a place where she couldn’t run, to be active like the Lakota children. She would have to sit still all the time someplace, so it was just like being placed in bondage. I don’t know how you would call it, but being put in a place where she couldn’t be doing as she would do as an Indian child.
Q: What was Lost Bird lacking?
As she was growing up she was lacking her family, her people and her land. She was lacking the love, the nourishment and the caring of her people and she was lacking the language, hearing the language and the songs and the stories and just being close to who she was. She lost herself, her identity.
Q: Describe some of the same things you’ve seen.
It’s classic, what I’ve described and what I know occurs in adopted children today. I’ve worked with a number of them and I’ve seen the same thing, the anger, and the feeling of not knowing who they are and the feeling of not being able to find their way back. Number one is they know they’re native American, but who do they belong to? So how do they find their way back? So they suffer in the way that they were taken at birth, that they had to find out who they are and they’re searching for their roots and returning, and that’s the hard part of it because there’s the reconnecting, the rebalancing, and the healing of the lost birds. But they all go through the same… I call it the Lost Bird syndrome.
Q: How do they typically deal with those kinds of feelings?
The kind of feelings of being away, first finding out who they are "did my family love me? Where are they? Who are they? And then uh, they find out who they are, and then they try to find their way back and a lot of times they’re successful and a lot of times they aren’t. The difficult part of that is reconnecting, because sometimes after being gone for so long , and not knowing their language and culture, they face rejection. By their natural parents or natural family.
Q: Is there a closure when they do reconnect?
When they finally reconnect there is the healing part of it and that is the part that is the hardest because that’s what takes the longest. There may be years and years of healing because of all the pain and all the suffering that they’ve gone through that they understand but the natural family does not understand so there’s a vast difference and it takes a lot of time.
Q: What drove Lost Bird to run away as a teenager?
She was running away because she didn’t know who she was, she was trying to find herself. And every child at some point in their life wants to know who they are, and even yourself, even myself, I know who I am and so I’m comfortable. But in the case of the adoptee, they find out that they’re different from their adopted parents and they want to know why. Why they’re different, it may be the color of their skin, it might be something that they do that’s different from the family because it’s inborn in the way they do things. When they do find that out, they try to get away from that and to find themselves and that’s why they leave a lot and go off by themselves, to find out who they are and their identity.
Q: What are they really searching for?
They’re searching for their roots. Who they are, they feel who they are, but they have to find their families, their identity, their spirituality, and just trying to find out that they really are, that they know they are. But people think that this is so and so it’s adopted child, but the person themselves know that they don’t belong 13:06 so they try to find that place where they belong.
Q: Describe why some are rejected when they come back.
The feel rejected because they look Indian, and yet they aren’t. They haven’t been taught the language, the culture, the songs, just being with their people and knowing how they are. There are things that we do that they don’t know about and that they haven’t been taught and so they look Indian but they aren’t, and so when they come home and they try act or behave like how they were taught, it doesn’t fit in with how they look. Again, they’ve lost a lot of time being away from their tribe, their homes, their families.
Q: How does the story of Lost Bird Symbolize the plight of these children?
It symbolizes what she went through as a child, being taken right after the massacre and after something really traumatic like that and the child being taken by the general to another place and raised differently. That’s what each adopted Indian child goes through each day and it’s really sad, they don’t come home the same. They have been damaged from the time that they have been taken from the arms of the mother, from the home, or the tribe, or the reservation. There’s the damage going on and on until you’re totally destroyed and that’s where they try to reconnect and rebalance and heal, but they do suffer the same things that Lost Bird did.
Q: What were the philosophies in the 1800’s among white people regarding Indian adoption?
I think that that mindset has never changed. It’s to take away the Indianness, to kill the Indianness and save the child, and whether you save the child by teaching it the English language, a second language or religion or for it to become a productive member of American society, I think that was the mindset then, but it still occurs today. because they’re trying to kill the real person, the Indian and make it become something that it isn’t. and it still goes on today, and the saddest part is that it’s being condoned by our own government. condoned by our own state of South Dakota, and laws that have been passed to protect Indian children have, in a way, been weakened. and so today, the children continue to be taken and continue to search for their roots, who they are…their identity.
Q: (Indian Child Welfare Act) - Are there enough Indian families out there who are willing to adopt children?
There are Indian families out there who are willing to take the children, but guidelines and the standards are according to each state and the social services. And the social services come out and they do an evaluation and they find out if, even in this time and date, we’re going into a new millennium, a new century, and it’s true, but our reservations, some of them don’t have running water. One of the stipulations is in order for your home to be a good place to place a child is that you have running water, but yet there could be the parents there and the grandparents who would love that child, just like it was their own child.
Q: Is that a white thing?
It’s a Wachichu standard and, that’s going according to their regulations. They don’t understand that the Lakota people are just as capable of loving and raising children as anybody else, whether they have running water or not. In all fairness to the children, the running water or not, if there’s love, there’s nourishment, nurturing, and care can be given to the Indian child by Indian families, then by all means, that child should be placed with an Indian family instead of taken away.
Q: How many children do you think this affects in a year?
Thousands. Thousands and you have to take into consideration that we have many tribes across the country and we have many mothers who have many children across the country and this has been going on since the Europeans came upon the shores of our continent. Children were taken, so if you go clear back to that time, you know that thousands and thousands of children were taken every year and placed in non-Indian homes and there the children suffered the physical, the social, and emotional abuse at the hands of those people that they trusted and they had to live with. And it continues, it’s going to continue if we don’t do anything about it if we don’t bring it to light. If we can speak to it, if we can speak about it and make people aware of it, it’s going to continue.
Q What would you say to a white couple trying to adopt an Indian baby?
First of all, I would let them know I’m not in favor of that because there are a lot of white children who need to be adopted in our country and they have to look. And one thing to I would tell them that this is an Indian child. And one thing that, in the future, one thing about an Indian child in the future when you’re raising it and it grows up and it’s starting to have problems academically and socially, and it’s not behaving, it’s not excelling at the rate that you expect it to, one thing I would tell them is that you’re going to turn around and blame the child because it’s Indian, for not living up to your expectations. So I would have them consider that, but first of all, I’m not in favor of those types of adoptions, because I know they’re not…maybe about 97% don’t work out, there’s a few that do that are favorable. There are a few of them.
Q: Are other tribes aware of these issues?
I call the taking of the children modern day baby snatching, that’s what it is, it’s genocide but some of the states and some of the tribes are aware they know that the children are being taken, but they don’t know that they can do something to stop it. That they don’t have to allow it to happen, so we have to create an awareness, let them know that you can keep you children, let them know that there are laws and you can keep the children within the families and the tribes.
Q: What is the Lost Bird Society about?
The Lost Bird society was founded in memory of Zintkala Nuni the original lost bird, and it’s in honor of those children who were taken in 1991, before then and today. It’s in their honor because there are children out there who were taken just like Lost Bird was taken and who suffered and who have died. And who are continuing the fight to come back, just like she was wanting to find her own people and to come home. So it’s to honor those that are trying to find their roots. It’s in honor of those who have made it home.
Q. How do you feel when you see someone come home?
I feel really, really good. I see them and, I hug them, and tell them I’m so glad you’re home, I’m so glad you made it back. They’re happy about it too, but it’s like my own child, or it’s like my own daughter or my own relative that’s come home. And lost bird to me symbolizes the child that is gone, my child and also symbolizes my relative that’s gone and returned. I’m still waiting for the return of other lost birds, and if there’s any way I can help, for them to come home, then I’m willing to do that. But I receive phone calls at 2:30 in the morning, late at night and if I hear their voices and I know that they’re native Americans or Indians wanting to come home, then I’ll do what I can to help them. I’ll always be here to help.
Q: What sort of things have you been able to do?
I’ve been able to trace, to find their families, to find out who they are, to find their families, to call them back and reconnect them with their families. To see them go home to their families is one of the things that is the greatest fulfillment to me. I don’t ask for anything in return except to see them home, that’s the greatest reward.
Q: How do they feel?
To them, it’s first "I wonder if I should go. I wonder if they will reject me?" But when they finally meet their family, it’s tears…tears of joy and tears of relief being home.
Q: Tell us about reburial customs?
Repatriation and reburial is just bringing back of something that was taken, and that could mean an article of clothing, a religious article of clothing, it could mean some personal belonging…a child. To bring home the Lost Bird was reburial and repatriation, but it was also symbolic, that you can bring home a child from where it’s buried underneath all these things and you can bring it home and to return it. And as far as the religious articles and personal belongings of our people that were taken, repatriation is a very important issue, because it’s a return of that thing to where it came from. Recently we had a ghost shirt that was returned from Scotland and one of the things that I really felt strongly about and I told the people on the radio in England and to the people in Scotland is it’s like taking a part of the pope’s clothing and taking it away and then it’s sacred, and the ghost shirt is sacred to us just as much as the pope’s clothing is to them. To return it is very important and so you take a part of spirituality, a part of religion, and bringing it back is making it whole.
Q: Does it make you whole?
It makes me feel like not totally whole, but it’s a start. It’s an understanding and it’s also helping others to not be so ignorant about things, the culture, and the language, the traditions, what we consider sacred, what we consider to be part of us. Anyone’s belongings that you make with your own hands, it could be an article of clothing that’s beaded, it could be an arrow or a moccasin, the person that made it, or it was made for, it is a part of that person until it’s taken away. Until it’s returned then in a way, it’s beginning to make a healing, to make things whole. For me I always think it’s good, the beginning of that healing process.
Q Why was Lost Bird’s reburial so important?
Lost Bird’s reburial was historic, it was very historical, it had been never done before, and so some of the leaders told us it had never been done before. "And so we don’t think it should be done". But in our hearts, especially myself, how I felt, as a mother and as an aunt and as a sister and as a Lakota woman, if we needed to do these to make a change so we could continue to bring home what is ours and to especially bring a lost bird home, we needed to do that. We prayed a lot about it. And we didn’t just go out by ourselves, we had a lot of guidance, and through a lot of prayer, we were able to accomplish that, and it was history, history of our own tribe and it was also history of the United states, because they saw that she had come home. After a long while of being away, so for me, I felt good about it. I didn’t realize it was such a different thing until we did it. And I was told, and it was different, but we did it.
Q: What was the trip to California like?
It was supposed to happen in December of 1990, one hundred years after the massacre, and it didn’t happen. I always felt there was a reason why. Finally when we found out she would be coming home in July, I didn't’ know that either until we had gone over there. As we were flying home there was an eclipse of the sun. The same year that she was taken from our people there was an eclipse of the sun, and she was returning to our people there was an eclipse of the sun, so in many ways it was very spiritual...it was very special. I felt nervous, anxious it was really a good trip, it was very spiritual, it was a good journey. There were a lot of people, a lot of coverage on TV and in newspapers, and I didn’t expect that. Then when we got into Rapid City, again, we had TV coverage, we had newspaper coverage at the airport, I didn’t expect that. Then when we got back to the mass grave site, we had the bigfoot riders, we had people from the Cheyenne River reservation, we had people from Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Rapid City and we had the press. And I was nervous and yet it needed to be in order for people to know that it happened. And I was surprised, but I’m glad it went the way it did.
Q: How did it bring closure to Lost Bird’s life?
It brought her home. She wanted to be home, she was taken from that place, then she came home looking for her mother, all her life, she came home several times, but she never stayed, because she never fitted. She didn’t know the language, so bringing her home was fulfilling her wishes. Her wish to be home. And we couldn’t bury her as close to her mother as we could, but we got just as close as we could, and to me that means her cycle, circle is complete and then to go forward. We founded the Lost Bird Society so, we know that wherever she is, she knows what other lost birds are going through, so in a way, she probable has a hand in helping us to be able to help them, the lost birds.
Q. Are there false accounts of (wounded Knee?)
There are a lot of accounts that are romanticized, some might be accounts that are wrong, but yet they are written, and when they are written, even though they’re wrong. I know a lot of the people who have personal accounts and who know, don’t really write a lot of books, we don’t mention it a lot. A lot of what is written is not the right account, but it is written and people believe it.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception?
That the massacre was a battle. It isn’t . It was a massacre of babies, pregnant women, old ladies and old men. And it was a massacre of unarmed men who were put in a council circle and fired upon until some of them died right away, but some didn’t so they laid kicking and rolling in their own blood until they died. And then the guns were turned on the women and the children and they were shot. It was terrible, and so it was not a battle, it was a massacre. The other thing I don’t agree with is that the soldiers were given medals of honor. Those medals should be rescinded and taken back, because in both WWI and WWII there were never that many medals of honor given to soldiers, and that includes Korea and Vietnam. Mostly it was to hush up the soldiers, to keep them from telling the terrible thing that happened at wounded knee. It wasn’t medals of merit, it was because they had killed innocent people, and they knew it, and in order for them to not say too much about it during the court martial afterwards, they were given those to be quiet.