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Playing catch-up for Native American Day

When they asked me at a program on news reporting last weekend about the legacy of the Wounded Knee takeover in 1973, I should have gotten personal. Instead, I tried to say something about the possible long-term impacts on South Dakota of that in...

Terry Woster

When they asked me at a program on news reporting last weekend about the legacy of the Wounded Knee takeover in 1973, I should have gotten personal.

Instead, I tried to say something about the possible long-term impacts on South Dakota of that incident and that period. But all I've ever been is a newspaper reporter. Grand concepts like legacies are way out of my league. I can speculate and suggest, but I don't know. Getting personal, though, I can say Wounded Knee - and my time as a reporter before, during and after that 71-day standoff - made me realize how little I knew of the history, culture and traditions of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people who are both citizens of South Dakota and residents of their own nations.

This reflection comes just ahead of Native American Day in South Dakota. We observe that on Monday while most of the rest of the country celebrates Columbus Day. Since 1990, we've focused on Native Americans, rather than Columbus on the second Monday in October.

The act passed by the South Dakota Legislature creating the legal holiday says, "Native American Day is dedicated to the remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state.'' It was a good thing to do in South Dakota, and it came at the time when the late Gov. George Mickelson championed a "Year of Reconciliation.''

It's a symbolic thing, to be sure, but symbolism can be powerful, a statement that we as a state believe something is important. And recognizing achievements of Native Americans in our state is important. I wish I'd had the opportunity to learn more on that topic way back in school.

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Wounded Knee is where I began to educate myself on the Indian people of this state and region. I was a pretty good student in school. I could memorize dates and places and names. I liked history. Besides, I grew up a stone's throw from the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Indian reservations. But it was only when, as a young Associated Press reporter, I began to cover the unrest on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that I started to learn this piece of my state's history.

Some of the national reporters who came to South Dakota in the first days of Wounded Knee 1973 brought books. They'd read them and leave them. I'd pick them up. At night and in down times during the days I read "Indians of North America'' and "Custer Died for Your Sins'' by Vine Deloria Jr. and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee'' by Dee Brown and a bunch of others.

I'd known of Wounded Knee from the western movies, of course, but I never connected it with South Dakota. And I read Benet's "American Names'' in college, with its final lines, "I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.'' Again, I didn't make a connection.

During and after the Wounded Knee assignment, I began wondering, asking questions, filling in bits and pieces, reading the treaties, learning of battles and massacres and leaders. And wondering why I hadn't learned some of this much earlier.

For sure I learned about Ponce de Leon and Cortez and Balboa and other European explorers. I knew about Christopher Columbus, who sailed the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred and ninety-two. He discovered America. I knew that. I didn't know until later that he didn't really discover it because it hadn't been lost.

So, while I had received a solid education in many areas, I had to play catch-up in the area of Indian history and the native tribes and native people of South Dakota. I've been working at it for quite a while now, and I know a lot more than I did 45 years ago. There's still much to learn, and there's much I don't understand completely about what I have read and heard.

So, I don't know as much as I'd like, but I know more than I did. I guess that's called education.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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