We Embrace Tribal Heritage Every Day

November 22, 2018

Vi Waln

Oglala Lakota Horse Riders arrive at the Oceti Sakowin Camp near Cannonball, North Dakota in 2016. Photo by Vi Waln.

Native American Heritage Month is designed by Presidential Proclamation in November. Native American Heritage Day is observed on the day after Thanksgiving. Yet, this month is really no different for the Native American people living on Turtle Island as many in Indian Country actively embrace their tribal heritage every day.

As winter approaches, it’s also the time of year when our historical or intergenerational trauma is triggered. We will remember many traumatic events over the coming weeks.

Many of our ancestors died violent deaths at the hands of the US military forces. So even with Native American Heritage Day being observed this week, it’s the time of year many will remember the bloodiest anniversaries in our history.

Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked Chief Black Kettle’s band of Cheyenne near the Washita River in Oklahoma on November 27, 1868. Black Kettle had been promised safety by the nearby Commander of Fort Cobb. The massacre resulted in the death of the Chief and 103 of his people, many of which were women and children.

Another event is the November 29, 1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek in Colorado. Most of the people killed were women and children. Soldiers also mutilated many bodies and paraded through nearby towns displaying the bloody genitals of women.

Back then, mutilated body parts were called redskins, since they were freshly stained with the victims’ blood. There were flyers promising cash payments to people who turned in fresh redskins. Today, the world knows redskins as a football team’s mascot. Many don’t comprehend why we are offended.

December is a traumatic month for the Lakota/ Dakota/Nakota people. Chief Sitting Bull was murdered on December 15, 1890 on the present-day Standing Rock reservation by Lakota police officers. In addition, President Lincoln gave the order that resulted in the mass execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862.

And the most infamous massacre was at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, when the 7th Cavalry murdered Chief Big Foot’s band and left their bodies to freeze after a blizzard hit the area. The murdered Lakota were buried in a mass grave that is now visited by hundreds of tourists every summer.

Even though the government recognizes modern-day tribes by designating November as Native American Heritage Month, that honor means nothing to many of our own who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our genes. Consequently, there is an upswing of substance abuse during the last 2 months of the year. Many of us believe that increased drinking and drugging is due to the PTSD carried in our collective memory.

We can overcome the effects of historical or intergenerational trauma. It takes an effort by the individual to recognize trauma and begin the hard work to release it. Letting go of trauma isn’t easy and it can be very painful. Still, it’s the only way we will heal.

Our ceremonies continue to help in the healing process we face. However, there are some in denial about the effect historical or intergenerational trauma has on our family. If you look at today’s society, there are young people and children suffering horribly on our reservations. The majority of this suffering is likely caused by the trauma we carry in our collective memory.

We all have the strength to overcome the obstacles in front of us to begin walking the path to healing. Lakota prayer and ceremony have healed many of us. When you make a conscious effort to work on healing the historical trauma you carry, it will have a positive effect on your children and grandchildren. We can all pray for healing for our people in our daily prayer.



Published by Vi Waln


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