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OUR VIEW: Feelings of 1876 hard to overcome

It's been 136 years since Lt. Col. George Custer was killed by American Indians on the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana. When it comes to American Indian and white relations, how much has changed since June 25, 1876? First, it's important...

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It's been 136 years since Lt. Col. George Custer was killed by American Indians on the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana.

When it comes to American Indian and white relations, how much has changed since June 25, 1876?

First, it's important to clear up that it was indeed a battle. We are equally frustrated and amused to still read that some authors call it the "Custer massacre." The fact is that Custer was sent out to round up the Indians and bring them back to the reservations, by force if necessary. When Custer found the vast Indian village that steamy afternoon, he sure didn't send in a messenger asking the inhabitants to come in peacefully.

The Indians did what anyone would do if foreign soldiers rode roughshod into their town, threatening their families, their food supply and their way of life in general.

However one feels about the political atmosphere in 1876 or the rights and wrongs that led up to the incident, the Little Bighorn was anything but a massacre and the Indian people at least deserve credit for taking a brave stand to preserve their heritage.

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It was a bitter blow to America's ego and created hard feelings that still exist today.

We wonder if the people of 1876 could have imagined how poorly race relations would progress in the years that followed.

Would the people of that era be surprised that whites and American Indians still harbor many of the ill feelings that boiled over in the late 19th century?

Would they be surprised to hear that the racial divide in South Dakota still exists, much as it did a century ago?

Would they be surprised at the poverty, crime and indignation that exist on this state's reservations?

Would they have predicted that the same strife, fraud and turmoil that were common among traders and Indian agents in the 1800s would exist today among Indian-related businesses?

And would they be surprised that governments still are calling for official periods of reconciliation and unity, even in the 21st century?

South Dakota journalist Tim Giago once said that "no one can legislate unity. It has to come from inside your heart."

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He is right, and that goes for both sides, white and Indian. Both are at fault and true reconciliation won't happen until both sides come to terms with their own feelings, emotions and prejudices.

And each June 25 -- the anniversary of the Little Bighorn battle -- we can't help but wonder if real and prolonged unity will ever exist between whites and American Indians.

We hope so, but the old feelings -- created with white encroachment in the 1700s and 1800s and sharpened by Custer's death in 1876 -- sure seem difficult to overcome.

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