Monday, January 17, 2011

Where Does One Put Wounded Knee?

I gotta admit, right now I'm stuck in 1890. My daily newspapers, my many magazine subscriptions, my Twitter feeds, my Facebook friends, public radio, and CNN all tell me without interruption about the calamities occurring in real time in Haiti, Brazil, Sudan, Tunisia, Australia, Pakistan, Afganistan, and numerous other points on the globe (Mexico?). These are not being exaggerated and people living in these regions are desparate. Nevertheless, I'm stuck in 1890 in South Dakota.

What Heather Richardson's book, "Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre" reveals is the degree to which political party goals determined the futures of thousands of Native Americans in the western regions of the country in the late 19th century. Those of us alive today may think that the divisions currently existant between the Democrats and the Republicans are unique and possibly of epic proportions. Not so! The only thing that's changed in more than a century are the issues being debated. Today it's health care and issues of taxation. In 1890, the issues were the Mckinley Tariff and election reform.

It's sobering and yes, appalling, to realize that the lives of the Native Americans in the western territories and states meant nothing more to the business community, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the government of the United States than how many seats in Congress could be garnered by the mid-term election of 1890. And in the process of this jockeying and bickering, thousands of people were shunted into dangerous or meaningless situations or killed, and were unable to prevent their defeat and their demise.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. day in 2011, let's remember all of the people in this country who have been stripped of their dignity and their futures by forces beyond their control, and work together to prevent such abuses of power and indifference in the years to come.

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