Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: Review

Wovoka’s vision was the undoing of colonialism, in summation. Wovoka saw the disappearance of white men, and the heavens filled with “all the Indians that ever roamed this earth.” The ghost dance serves as a ritual means of bringing about an ideal world where “the ancestors will return, and the buffalo will be renewed, and you shall all live forever, forever in the freedom that we Indian people once knew.” The belief that the bullets of the soldiers would not harm those wearing a dancing shirt, increased morale, and inspired reaction to the seizure of weapons. Native Americans (at least in this instance the Sioux) do not believe in private land ownership. This belief is reinforced through their religion, and thus conversion to Christianity would have convinced converts of private property, ensuring assimilation insofar as access to Indian land through purchase. Associating oral tradition with “legend” renders the Indian conception of history illegitimate and attempts to justify white encroachment onto Sioux land. Despite a Native’s word being sacred, to Europeans, words are easily fallible and thus worthless. A change in name is a change to one’s identity; and the government sought conversion to Christianity, so a christian name is a christian identity for a native to have. Ohiyesa can not relinquish his identity as a Sioux, as it is his history, religion, and people; accepting a christian name would render him a blank, conquered slate for white society to modify. “Civilization” means death for the native, because civilization in this case is the white construction opposed to the native way of life. “Civilized” and “native” are irreconcilable concepts, as the two have opposing interests. One may be civilized, that is, absorbed into “civilization” or one may not be; triggering conquest. This idea is reinforced through the “assimilation or extinction” line by Dawes. Oral tradition places one’s word on a pedestal, and logically, to lie is to soil this sacred object-of-sorts. One is also not to be interrupted, for his word is sacred and must be heard until its completion. Sitting Bull’s interpretation of the verse “be fruitful and multiply” is that it is not mean for the Indian, for “what kind of man would take a wife and have children he could not feed?” Wounded knee symbolizes the death of resistance, as many perish, and the battle between native ways and civilization concludes for the Sioux. To reiterate, civilization for whites fundamentally includes the subjugation of the native way of life to Christianity, money, and private property. Assimilation ensures land that can be taken from natives legally as opposed to outright conquest. The portrayal of Indians as savages dehumanizes the subject, making abusing the natives less reprehensible, and justifies whatever manner of “civilizing” that is used against the Sioux.


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