NLM healing totem journey – about Wounded Knee

From Flathead Reservation in western Montana, the NLM Healing Totem continues east stopping overnight in Billings, MT before traveling on to Wounded Knee, SD, and the Pine Ridge Reservation (, home of the Oglala Sioux and site of several tragic events in American history.

On December 29, 1890, in the last major armed confrontation between Native Americans and the U.S. Army, at least 150 largely unarmed Sioux men, women, and children were killed near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment.

The confrontation, known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, occurred when a band of Miniconjou Lakota and Hunkpapa Sioux (led by Chief Spotted Elk) fled from Standing Rock Indian Reservation following the murder of Chief Sitting Bull. Members of the Indian agency police tried to arrest Chief Sitting Bull for supporting the Ghost Dance movement.

(Banned by the U.S. government, the Ghost Dance promised a return to the pre-white settler past, and protection from bullets for those wearing special Ghost Dance shirts and performing the ritual. Many Lakota embraced the ceremony.)

The Seventh Cavalry intercepted and surrounded Chief Spotted Elk and his band as they sought sanctuary at Pine Ridge, covering them with four heavy-caliber, rapid firing Hotchkiss guns. The next day a confrontation between a deaf warrior who may not have understood commands to surrender his rifle and an army trooper escalated into gunfire, touching off the indiscriminate slaughter of Lakota women and children, as well as warriors.

The Massacre at Wounded Knee marked the end of the centuries-old conflict between Native Americans and whites on the western frontier, and came to symbolize Native American mistreatment by the U.S. government.

   The Wounded Knee Battlefield Today

   From the National Register of Historic Places

    (photo George Grant, National Park Service)


On February 27, 1973, some 80 years after the massacre, the American Indian Movement (AIM) began a 71-day standoff at Wounded Knee with federal law enforcement officials. The AIM militants chose Wounded Knee for its symbolic value in an attempt to impeach the elected tribal president, Richard Wilson, and to additionally protest the U.S. government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native Americans.

After a negotiated truce, the AIM followers left, but violence including many murders plagued the reservation for years. The Wounded Knee incident was followed in 1975 by the “Pine Ridge shootout” in which two FBI agents were killed, shot at close range, and AIM activist Jim Stuntz also was killed. Leonard Peltier, of AIM, was convicted of murdering the agents.

Today, the Pine Ridge Reservation is quiet. But it continues to struggle with the issues common to Native American reservations across the country: high unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, diabetes and other chronic health issues, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence.

Established in 1889 on 2,000,000 acres in the southwest corner of South Dakota bordering Nebraska, the Pine Ridge Reservation has an estimated population of 40,000.

The Wounded Knee Battlefield is on the National Register of Historic Places.


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