Category Archives: Native Americans

What Do Present-Day Native Americans Think About The Coronavirus Pandemic?

The severity of the current viral outbreak can best be characterized using past examples. A person infected with the seasonal flu is expected to infect around 1.3 people. A person infected with the Spanish flu passed the virus to another 1.8 people on average. Those currently infected with covid-19 are expected to pass the virus to at least two more people. That means covid-19 is more contagious than the seasonal flu and one of the deadliest pandemics the world has ever known.

A person infected with the seasonal flu has about a .1 percent chance of dying, on average. But the virus affected older victims adversely. A person infected with covid-19 has about a 2 percent chance of dying, on average (so far). A person who was infected with the Spanish flu had about a 2.5 percent chance of dying, on average. Which two outbreaks seem most closely related so far?

The seasonal flu kills around 675,000 people each year. The Spanish flu killed between 20 and 50 million people during the pandemic, which lasted more than one season. The current outbreak of covid-19 has only killed slightly over 8,000 people — but it’s only just getting started.

Governments are taking drastic measures not because they are overreacting, but because they’re finally starting to learn and understand this virus’s potential

Of course, it’s interesting to understand what Native Americans are feeling when they hear about this outbreak. After all, the epidemic that occurred when settlers pushed west into the New World wiped out 90 percent of the Native American population.

School officials in the region know that several people who have been in contact with a covid-19 victim were in the school recently.

Marty Indian School on Yankton Sioux Tribe’s South Dakota reservation has shut down. Superintendent John Beheler said, “We’ll have to start looking at relational ties to the individual and if there are any relatives in attendance in our school.”

He added, “Demographically, we have a situation here that a lot of our kids live with elders and their grandparents, and so we have to take these precautionary measures.”

Sometimes, Native American communities can be left out when financial support is passed by Congress. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) has requested assurance from Vice President Mike Pence that tribal leaders are not excluded from the bipartisan deal expected from Congress this week or next. The deal should provide immediate relief to many Americans adversely impacted by the outbreak — and hopefully to many Native Americans, too.

What Was Native American Civilization Like Before Custer?

Most of us have a fairly skewed idea of what Native Americans were really like before settlers destroyed their culture both intentionally and unintentionally. Diseases from the west quite literally decimated Native American societies, which were big and booming, enjoying a level of size and prosperity that most of us probably can’t even imagine they were capable of building in the first place.

Oh, but they did built it.

Before settlers from the west arrived, and long before Custer’s Last Stand, Native American civilization was much different than we ever learned in grade school. Point in fact: have you ever heard of Cahokia, El Pilar, or Tikal? We thought not.

Cahokia Mounds in St. Clair County, Illinois, is considered the site of one of the biggest North American Native American settlements that ever existed. Before its rise to prominence, Cahokia had anywhere from 1,400 to 2,800 residents. But around 1100 AD, the population skyrocketed to anywhere from 10,200 to 15,300 people. But like all modern-day cities, there was a main “metropolitan” area surrounded by “suburbs” and farms with a lot more people.

Many archaeologists believe that there could have been around 40,000 people living there when the city was at its best. It became such an economic center that thousands more would have poured in and out each day. Eventually Cahokia’s population declined and was abandoned within 150 years. 

But Cahokia was dwarfed by the massive Maya city at El Pilar, located along the modern-day Belize-Guatemala border. Historians estimate that there may have been more than 180,000 residents in El Pilar when the city was at its peak around 1000 AD. We’re still learning about what it offered those who thrived there.

The ruins at El Pilar were discovered in 1983 by Dr. Anabel Ford, who said, “We need to be honest about the Maya and make sure people witness something with a level of veracity. I believe you can both show people something and have it be real. Besides, we have plenty of exposed temples already.”

And then there’s Tikal, another ancient Maya city located in the Guatemalan rainforests, where 100,000 people may have lived. Now, Tikal is a reminder of the superiority of Maya superiority: Tikal had an enormous amount of influence over other cities in almost every way. They interacted politically, but they could also assert control through their strong economy and powerful military machine.

Tikal fell into decline by the 4th century CE, giving newer civilizations a chance to prosper as well — which, of course, now we know they did.

Who Was Cheif Gall?

These days, much notoriety can be gained if a person is a serial or mass killer (Charles Manson, Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner), just as much if not more than someone who does a lot of good (Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning).

Unfortunately, that reality was just as true 150 years ago, when the U.S. military continued to do battle with several defiant Indian tribes which protected their sacred lands from the white settlers to the east.

Whether he did it or not, the death of a prominent U.S. military officer by a group of Lakota warriors under his charge, put Chief Gall of the Lakota on an early Most Wanted List by the U.S. Army.

Chief Gall, or Pinzi as was more commonly known,  became a bigger name nationally than Chief Sitting Bull at one point in the 1860s and 1870s during the lengthy Indian campaigns of the time. Gall became a prominent chief of the Lakota Sioux based in the Dakotas and the Yellowstone River Valley of the northern Plains.

Achieving the rank of chief of part of the Hunkpapa tribe, Gall became known as a fierce and merciless warrior, leading his band of a couple hundred warriors into several raids on settlements and skirmishes with various military outfits. He was a prominent leader of the Indian contingent during the infamous Battle at the Little Bighorn in 1876, known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

In his early 20s, Gall became a trusted adviser for Sitting Bull, and developed a loyal group of warriors to fight the U.S. military in a series of skirmishes and raids.

Before Little Bighorn, Chief Gall made his name with the U.S. government following a raid on Fort Rice that killed two officers in Col. David Stanley’s 17th Infantry. One of the officers, however, was 2nd Lt. Lewis Adair, who is the cousin of the First Lady of the United States, Julia Grant – the wife of President Ulysses S. Grant.

There is no evidence that Gall himself took Adair’s life, but he immediately became Public Enemy No. 1 for taking out a member of the presidential family. Facing the wrath of the military, Sitting Bull decided to take his Lakotas over the international border into Canada to re-settle, which was a fierce struggle to survive. At this point, Gall departed in opinion from his long-time mentor, and he brought some of his tribe back into the United States four years later, in 1880.

At that point, Gall surrendered to the military, and a few months later he and more than 200 of his brethren were loaded on steamers and sent down the river to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where Gall remained until his death in 1894. While on the reservation, Gall became a Christian, a farmer, parted ways with Sitting Bull forever, and became a prominent judge on the Court of Indian Affairs.

Chief Gall became a model for the caricature of the Indian warrior that kept fighting the U.sS. Army in defending its sacred lands in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains, especially once he killed the president’s cousin. That turned the military’s approach to the Indians to another level – from a roundup effort to a war.

Where Are The Lakota Indians Now?

After the events of the late 1800’s that were so catastrophic to the dwindling Native American population, things have not gotten much better. The Native Americans were pushed onto reservations, and that’s where many of them have stayed. There, out of sight, many of their rights as human beings have been trampled as well. Even so, the various groups who live in these reservations aren’t always on the same page–and the Lakota Indians are no different.

The Lakota Native Americans are spread across a number of reservations located throughout South Dakota. Many are at the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Lower Brule Indian Reservation, the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Even so, they have also since spread to other state reservations as well. You can find a few living in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation of Montana. In addition, they’re in smaller numbers at Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and even in Denver.

Not all of the remaining Lakota live here in the U.S. Many found sanctuary in Canada after they were pushed to U.S. reservations during the skirmishes of the 1800s.

In late 2007, a group of activists marched to Washington D.C. in order to state their intention to end all treaties with the U.S. government. Needless to say, no formal withdrawal ever took place. That’s because the activists weren’t part of any Lakota governing force and had no right to speak on behalf of their own tribes. Other issues have developed involving how to govern family relations when it was alleged that Lakota grandparents were having children stolen away.

Right now, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (or UNPO) hope to continue the fight for rights to Lakota ancestral lands. Even so, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be granted much that they ask for without any real civil rights weight behind them.

The government of the Lakota Native Americans is set apart from the U.S. government, autonomous on its own. They elect their officials to councils set within the reservations and communities where they are mostly populated, and those councils represent the interests of their people.

Even though what happened to the Lakota Indians and other Native American tribes was a tragedy brought about by the U.S. government, and the reparations provided were limited, it should serve as a reminder to future generations to not let this kind of terrible event transpire again.

The Indian Ghost Dance

There is always a record of a “resistance” when a side is defeated, no matter the conflict. There can also be a rebellion. Sometimes it’s an actual rebellion, other times it is more symbolic. Rock n’ roll music was considered a kids’ rebellion against parents’ tastes in music, for example.

For the American Indians in the West, they had developed their own “flipping the finger” to the U.S. government in response to all of the expansion and military conflicts with the Western tribes during the 1800s.

Consider the Ghost Dance the rebellion.

The Ghost Dance started in the 1870s reportedly by a Nevada Paiute religious leader named Jack Wilson, but the Dance became a religious movement around the Western tribes by 1890, as many of the tribes had adopted some aspects of the Ghost Dance ritual into their own belief systems by accident.

The premise of the Ghost Dance is based on a vision that Jack Wilson had – a vision during a New Year’s Day solar eclipse in 1889 that called for an apocalypse that would destroy the whites and the Earth. Those who were spiritually-minded (according to Wilson) would be elevated and saved from destruction and would enjoy the new Earth when it was created in the previous natural pristine state the Indians enjoyed prior to white settlement.

Within the next year after Wilson’s vision, his Dance had grown in popularity, and many chiefs and leaders from many Western tribes traveled to Nevada to be taught the Dance by Wilson himself, and he traveled around to instill some of the principles of his religion, which had some commonalities with Christianity – belief in one God being prominent among them.

While Wilson was promoting pacifism and teaching the American Indians to live a more pure life without the “vices” brought by the whites in order to have elevated spirituality, agents from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs had gotten wind of the Dance and were concerned. Considering that these agents were noting that many of the tribes were conducting the same ritual, it looked like a unifying ritual that was encouraging warlike rebellion against the American government. The federal government banned the Ghost Dance anywhere on U.S. land, but at least some remnants of the tradition are still being performed today.

The dance is a five-day-long ceremony in which believers would dance every evening, and all night on the fifth night, calling forth the warrior spirits of yesteryear (those who fought against the U.S. Army) to fight on the behalf of the living, defeat and chase out the whites and restore the lands to the American Indians.

Wilson spoke about peace from his vision, saying that if American Indians lived a clean life, loved each other, did not fight like ancestors and shunned much of the lifestyle brought from the whites (which he believed were intended to destroy Indian culture and society), those who were believers would be saved and allowed to walk the Earth with the Christ, who he predicted would come to Earth in the spring of 1890.  After the Wounded Knee massacre and Christ not coming , many believers left the religious movement, though the Ghost Dance has not been fully eliminated from tradition. It is now more of a private ceremony with many tribes.

Standing Elk and The Northern Cheyenne

Among those warriors who were a thorn in the side of the U.S. military during the Indian Wars of the mid-19th century, one played a significant role but has not gotten much publicity in the history books.

Many who read up on the Indian Wars will learn about Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse for their strong leadership with their tribes in the many battles they had against the U.S. Army over the years, as the Indians resisted being moved onto reservations and escaped reservations while protecting and defending their sacred ancestral lands from invasion by the white American settlers.

It all came to a head in the mid-1870s when gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory, which was a prominent religious landmark for the Lakota Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne in the area.  After a couple years of the Black Hills Gold Rush, the Sioux and Cheyenne of the area took exception and offense to the invasion of their Black Hills lands by prospectors.

As the Great Sioux War got started in the spring of 1876 with the military searching for the “non-compliant” clans of the area tribes who resisted negotiating a sale of the Black Hills, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Standing Elk were all leaders of their various tribes and were prominent in several of the key battles of the Great Sioux War, including the Battle at the Little Bighorn.

Standing Elk was a leader and warrior with the Northern Cheyenne, serving a s a right-hand man to Crazy Horse, who was continually leading the Army on chases through the Great Plains, even retreating to Canada at one point.

But finally, as the Great Sioux conflict was winding down in the fall of 1877, and the Northern Cheyenne was dwindled down in numbers from several defeats as well as starvation, Standing Elk joined Dull Knife to negotiate the surrender of the Northern Cheyenne, which was then to be sent away from the Black Hills area and down to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

After a few months in the strange land, Dull Knife and Standing Elk led an “escape” from the Indian Territory, guiding the Cheyenne on a 1,000-mile journey back to its ancestral home.

There is very little information about Standing Elk and his actual roles in the Indian Wars or in the exodus, but he was considered a strong leader for the Cheyenne and a worthy lieutenant for Crazy Horse. He was valuable in the process of the war in keeping the Northern Cheyenne viable throughout the war, and was vital in keeping the tribe from extinction. His important may not be known in U.S. history books, but he certainly measures up among Northern Cheyenne lore as one of the men who kept the Cheyenne still in America more than four generations later.


The Importance of Dull Knife

In a kitchen or in survival training, a dull knife is not very useful.

In American history, specifically during the various Indian Wars, Dull Knife was an indispensable tool in keeping the Cheyenne from extinction.

The Sharpness of Dull Knife

Dull Knife, as he is known to the Lakota Sioux, was a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief who went by the Cheyenne name of Morning Star, and was a prominent figure in many of the Indian wars during his lifetime, including the important Great Sioux War of the late 1870s.

Dull Knife was one of the leaders of the Battle at Little Bighorn, along with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, helping the Indians to their greatest triumph and “Custer’s Last Stand.” He was a strong advocate for the Cheyenne territory in Montana, and had long advocated and fought for his tribe’s rights to live in their ancestral lands despite all of the settlement by whites from the east.

The Warrior

Dull Knife was born in Montana (not Colorado) in 1810, but once he got to adulthood he was almost constantly on the run, either being moved to another part of the country or he was leading the charge in attacks and defense of the homeland, or resisting placement on a reservation a thousand miles away.

Dull Knife was very active in fighting against the federal government, having participated in the Cheyenne-Arapahoe War in the mid-1860s in Colorado, the war of 1866-67 and the War of the Black Hills (also called the Great Sioux War)  in 1876-77 (which included the Battle at Little Bighorn).  He led his small band of Cheyenne warriors into battle after battle before finally surrendering in 1877 and being forced to the Southern Cheyenne Reservation in Oklahoma.

But even in surrender, Dull Knife didn’t go down without a fight.

The Advocate

After surrendering, Dull Knife didn’t sit back and just accept his fate nor the fate of his people. After a few months on the reservation in Oklahoma, realizing that the land was harsh and there were hardly any animals to hunt and eat, Dull Knife decided to combat starvation by leading a group of Cheyenne out of Oklahoma and on a trek back across the West toward the ancestral home of Montana.

The Cheyenne fought valiantly and traveled great distances, with many of them perishing on the way. But his continued work and advocacy for his people and their homeland led to some changes in U.S. policy toward the Indians. This resulted in some additional reservation land, which included a Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, which the remaining Dull Knife Cheyenne moved to just after the great chief’s death in 1883.

Dull Knife was essentially an ambassador to the United States from the Northern Cheyenne tribes in the Rocky Mountain area, spending much of his early life in and around Cheyenne territory in Montana. He was one of the signatories to the important 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which was created to maintain tribes into their ancestral lands and maintain peace with settlers who were coming into the area.

But while he was one who wanted peaceful co-existence, he was also one of the first to stand up and seek to defend and protect the lands of his people when the settlers came, and he was unrelenting in his passion for his people and its history in the area. He is always remembered as one of the great warriors and leaders of the American Indians in the 19th century.

The Story of Grant Short Bull

Among the players during the Great Sioux War of the mid 1870s in the Dakota Territory was a Oglala Lakota scout named Grant Short Bull, or often called Short Bull. Short Bull was a key participant in the legendary Battle of Little Big Horn, where Lt. Col. George Custer had his famous “Last Stand.”

Because Grant Short Bull was an American Indian, much about his life was based on an oral history. Over the years, as his family died away and history was being put to paper, there was some confusion about his life. Let’s look a little deeper.

Some Short Bull Confusion

For a while, two prominent Short Bulls had merged into the same man and the same life, which did a disservice to both of them.

Grant Short Bull was a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and spent much of his life on the Great Sioux Reservation and was a lifelong member of the Soreback band of the Lakotas, affiliated with the Sioux. He was a prominent scout for the Sioux during the Great Sioux War and was known to be a compatriot of legendary warrior and chief Crazy Horse.

Albert Short Bull, who lived during the same time, was a well-known religious leader and medicine man on the Rosebud Reservation. He is most known for the Brule Ghost Dance of American Indian tradition. Now that you know we are talking about Grant, let’s cover his life as an Oglala Lakota.

Early Life

Grant Short Bull was born around 1851 near Fort Laramie. He was born to Black Rock and Scatter the Feather and had an older brother, He Dog. Grant Shot Bull lived a traditional American Indian life as much as he could, deliberately staying away from the federal-government-run agencies that were scattered throughout the reservations. In 1875, he married Good Hawk, who was known as Nellie Short Bull, and they had two children, Charlie and Katie.

Great Sioux War

Grant Short Bull became involved in the Great Sioux War, but his nonparticipation in an early raid was a key moment in starting the war. He was part of a raiding party in January and February 1876, while his northern bands received an “eviction” notice from the U.S. government. While Short Bull and his tribesmen were on the raid, the village where his people were residing (with Cheyenne along the Powder River) was attacked by U.S. troops who were looking to enforce the “eviction” order. Short Bull and his men got back in time to reclaim many of the village’s horses, but mutany of the villagers were killed or forced out by the troops.

Short Bull later said, “If it had not been for that attack by Crook on Powder River … there would have been no Sioux war.”

Wounded Knee

Just less than 15 years later, Grant Short Bull played an important role in trying to avert the tragedy that occurred at Wounded Knee in 1890. As a scout and mediator, Short Bull was involved in talks with U.S. General Nelson Miles that ws meant to avoid a conflict in the wake of the Treaty of 1889, of which Short Bull’s Oglala Lakota Tribe did not participate.

However, despite Short Bull’s best efforts to find common ground, Wounded Knee was a devastating event for the Lakota and it was painted in such a way as to make the U.S. government and the American people look like conquering foreigners – a reputation that has been hard to break in the century-plus since.

Tragic Ending

Though Wounded Knee was bad for his people, Grant Short Bull survived that battle and wound up being a well-known and respected headman on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He lived until 1935, when he and his son, Charlie, were killed in a car accident.

The Lasting Legacy of Sioux Chief Spotted Tail

Those involved in the clash between American and Native American would come to achieve historical immortality in the years following the Sioux War. One of the most famous faces from this time period is a Sioux chief who was called Spotted Tail, a name granted after he was gifted with a racoon. Born around 1823, he grew up in what is today South Dakota. We don’t know where exactly, but we do know that later in life he played a major role in relations between the U.S. and Native Americans while living in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

Spotted Tail was well known for his unflappable sense of duty and honor to his people, and even the U.S. government occupying the Black Hills region at Fort Laramie would come to respect the man. When he and two other members of his tribe were accused of murder, they surrendered themselves to the authorities at Fort Laramie. It was during this time that Spotted Tail became literate in English. He was released from custody around the same time that the previous Sioux chief passed away, and he was promptly chosen as successor.

He was one of those present during the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which granted the Sioux Nation permanent lands in the form of a reservation in the Black Hills region.

Spotted Tail was a major factor in how this treaty was written, because it replaced what would have been an entirely different treaty three years prior. Spotted Tail and other chiefs were proficient in the art of negotiation, and they knew they could do better than what the 1865 treaty would have provided. As a result, the reservation granted from the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 gave them land that included almost all of South Dakota–more than enough to fulfill their needs as a tribe and allow them to continue their way of life for an indefinite period of time.

Spotted Tail remained an active force for his people in the years to come. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills region, and Spotted Tail quickly acted to appraise the value of the mine in question before running to Washington in order to sell the right to mine to Black Hills settlers. This negotiating tactic failed, and his offer of sale was denied by the U.S. government. Settlers continued to flood the region and tensions skyrocketed.

The terms of the treaty they had worked tirelessly toward would eventually be discarded because of that same greed. Conflict between the Sioux Nation and the U.S. military was inevitable.

“This war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land from us without price.”

Those words were spoken by Spotted Tail after the Great Sioux War broke out in 1876. Even so, the man still believed that peace was in the best interest of his people–and he worked to that end. He traveled along the Black Hills in order to spur the remaining Sioux back to reservation territory in a bid to end the hostilities once and for all, and found some success in his endeavor. Even though skirmishes continued for years, the war ended only a year after it began.
Spotted Tail was assassinated by a rival sub-chief in 1881, and in a decision somewhat unusual for the U.S. court system at the time, his murderer was released. The court ruled that it had no authority over the reservation, and therefore could not try a crime committed there.

The Black Hills Expedition and its Impact on Native American Relations

The Black Hills Expedition set out on July 2, 1874, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, and may well have been the catalyst for a chain of events that inevitably led to the slaughter of Custer and nearly 300 of his men during the Great Sioux War of 1876–a defeat that would go down in history and make a national hero out of the man (although not forever). How did the expedition get going, what was its purpose, and what was its impact on the Great Sioux War?

When the expedition first set out, the Black Hills region of South Dakota was still a great unknown in the ever-growing America, and remained uncharted. The United States Army was looking for ways of expanding its strategic arm in the region at the time, and founded the expedition as a means of doing that. It’s purpose was simple: scout the region to find a good tactical vantage point from which they could build a fort, discover and map new routes to the southwest and, if possible, locate areas where gold ore veins could be mined.

Although these endeavors were each somewhat successful, the results were disastrous.

It is not technically accurate to say the Black Hills Expedition found much of what they looked for–that is, gold. Accounts vary wildly, and we really just don’t know with any degree of certainty that they found any large quantity. What we do know from records at the time is that civilians were looking for gold while Custer’s men worked on the project of finding a location to build their fort upon. Therein lies the problem: civilians were looking for gold. They weren’t part of any organized military operation, and therefore word inevitably got out that the expedition was on the hunt for gold, perhaps even having found some.

Consequently, there was a massive rush to the region as people looked to strike it rich.

It didn’t happen immediately, but it didn’t take long either. The United States government initially had a policy to remove trespassers from the area but, as tensions with the Indians in the region rose, the policy was abandoned. President Grant put an end to diplomatic proceedings with the Sioux and other tribes inhabiting the region, and began an overtly aggressive approach that sought to subjugate Native Americans living in the Black Hills region. The ultimate goal was their removal.

Treaties had previously been formed with the Sioux Indians, guaranteeing that their sacred lands would forever remain out of reach for non-native peoples currently living in other regions to the east. When masses of people began to migrate into the Black Hills region, the Sioux felt that the United States government had reneged on its end of the deal, betraying a promise that had been given.

The Sioux were right.

The Lakota and Sioux tribes were soon “ordered” to return to their reservations by early 1876–even though winter weather prohibited travel. They were told that military action would be taken if they stayed beyond the deadline given. Since leaving was impossible, the United States followed through with its threat.

This was the beginning of what would come to be known as the Great Sioux War, also sometimes called the Black Hills War, that would last until 1877–although conflicts would extend for many more years. Although it had many lasting ramifications, Custer’s defeat is still the best known among them.