The following is an excerpt from the August issue of National Geographic magazine:
Almost every historical atrocity has a geographically symbolic core, a place whose name conjures up the trauma of a whole people: Auschwitz, Robben Island, Nanjing. For the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that place is a site near Wounded Knee Creek, 16 miles northeast of the town of Pine Ridge. From a distance the hill is unremarkable, another picturesque tree-spotted mound in the creased prairie. But here at the mass grave of all those who were killed on a winter morning more than a century ago, it’s easy to believe that certain energies—acts of tremendous violence and of transcendent love—hang in the air forever and possess a forever half-life…
…the Black Hills, which the Oglala consider their axis mundi, the center of their spiritual world. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty guaranteed the Sioux possession of the hills, but after gold was discovered there in 1874, prospectors swarmed in, and the U.S. government quickly seized the land. The Sioux refused to accept the legitimacy of the seizure and fought the takeover for more than a century. On June 30, 1980, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an award of $17.5 million for the value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years’ worth of interest, together totaling $106 million. But the Sioux rejected the payment, insisting that the Black Hills would never be for sale.
For more photos and audio interviews by Aaron Huey, check out National Geographic‘s The Voices of Pine Ridge.
To read about the Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project, a collection of stories of life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation told by the people of Pine Ridge in their own unedited words, or if you are Oglala Lakota and would like to contribute a story, click here.
Top: Riders take a break during a day of activities to mark the 1876 defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. ©Aaron Huey. Images are from the August edition of National Geographic magazine.