Sunday, May 24, 2009

Remembering the Dead, Memorial Day 2009

May 22nd, 2009, Wounded Knee, SD

Detouring south, i pass through the Pine Ridge Reservation stopping briefly in Wounded Knee. i park and leaving my dogs in the car, i walk to the dusty graveyard and the monument of the three hundred and fifty souls- men, women, and children who perished on that bitter winter day in 1890, gunned down by soldiers while attempting to flee the carnage all around them.

Another car arrives, maneuvering along the rutted dirt road, and three middle-aged tourists get out and walk quickly up to the monument. “Here it is!” “Yes, I found it, we did turn the right way!” We exchange hellos as we pass between the narrow rows of graves to look at the stone monument, i do not ask them what drew them to this place. They do a quick walk around the graveyard, saying little, before they climb back in their car and head back down the rutted track to the little souvenir stand at the junction of the main road.

It is getting late and the wind is blowing the prayer ribbons and tobacco pouches tied to the chain link fence. As i stand among the graves, i can hear the Hotchkiss guns singing their deadly song and the soldiers crying out “Remember the Little Bighorn” as they gun down children running away. i can feel the hatred coursing through the soldiers minds as they murder women with babies clinging to their breast. i can hear the peoples death songs whistling through the grass. i can hear the moaning of those left to die on the frozen earth as the soldiers turn and return to camp.

Congress awarded 20 Medals of Honor to soldiers that participated in the slaughter.

In October, 1990 the United State Congress passed a resolution to recognize Wounded Knee as a massacre and issued a statement of deep regret.

As i stand amidst the graves, i too feel deep regret from Wounded Knee to My Lai to Haditha, and all the massacres forgotten (a convenience only of the vanquisher) or left unsaid. i feel deep sadness for the ignorance that feeds them and anger at the lies our government uses to justify them.

i turn and walk back to my car. i, too, stop at the junction and two little girls run to my window and invite me to the jewelry stand. As we walk, the little one says, “You only have two dogs?” “Yes”, i reply, how many do you have”? “I have three!” The older girl says, “One boy and one girl nice.” Puzzled, i ask her, “How could you tell?” She says, matter of factly, “The girls have fluffy ears.” With a twinkle in her eye, she turns and runs.

The descendants of those murdered here continue on, mostly forgotten. Justice has yet to visit them, “change and hope” merely catch phrases relegated to dreams.

At the table, i look at the dozen offerings of jewelry for sale. i notice one piece has fallen to the ground and had been trampled in the dust. i pick it up- a necklace with a pouch for sage and cedar. Another car pulls up and the girls run off, shouting, “There’s another tourist!” i take a minute to buy the necklace before getting back on the road.

“Never forget” is a phrase oft repeated, but rarely embodied. So often, i never even take a moment to realize the truth. i mythologize war and ignore the inconvenient truths in the fabrication of our national story. “Never forget” becomes just another slogan to justify more war. This Memorial Day i will commemorate those living and dead who have been marginalized, victimized, and sacrificed at the alter of American power, including the soldiers who return from war damaged, isolated, and forgotten, suffering unbearable anguish for what they did in service of our nation.

i place the necklace around my neck, i wear it as a talisman against ignorance and forgetting.