Monday night while fixing dinner, I heard Diane Sawyer say Geronimo and then stumble over E KIA.  I walked into the living room to hear more.  She did not repeat the words so I checked for the story online to find out why Geronimo’s name was being used.  The U.S. military used the code name “Geronimo” for Osama bin Laden and released Geronimo E KIA-Enemy Killed In Action.

It was disrespectful to use Geronimo’s name in association with Osama bin Laden.

On Tuesday, Fort Sill Apache Chairman Jeff Houser sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a formal apology.

Jefferson Keel, president of National Congress of American Indians said that since 2001, 77 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have died defending the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq.  More than 400 have been wounded.

Geronimo was named Goyathlay, “The One Who Yawns.” As a young boy, he learned to farm crops of corn, beans, squash, and peppers in his homeland.

Years later Mexican soldiers would murder his mother, his wife, and three of his children.  Mexican soldiers gave him the name Geronimo, after the Catholic Saint Hieronymous.

In 1877 Geromino and his people were pursued by Mexican and American soldiers.  Surrounded, he went to the San Carlos Reservation and surrendered.  After being fed wormy hardtack and rancid beef, unable to farm in that land, lied to by one government agent after another, Geronimo left with a handful of warriors, as he would do several times in the coming years.

In March 1886, after having been pursued relentlessly by a quarter of the U.S. Army, Geronimo surrendered to General George Crook.  He had about 35 warriors and 100 women and children with him in his band.   Geronimo had a simple demand on behalf of those who stayed with him: if he surrendered, he said, he would submit to imprisonment for a couple of years, as long as his people were allowed to return to Arizona.

President Grover Cleveland refused. The Chiricahuas were shipped off to Fort Marion, Florida. Geronimo was not with them; with Naiche and a few others, he escaped to Mexico.

September 3, 1886, Geronimo made his final surrender to General Nelson Miles.  Geronimo would never see his native land again, even though Miles promised him that on signing the peace treaty, “Your past deeds shall be wiped out . . . and you will start a new life.” He was imprisoned in northwestern Florida and put to hard labor for nearly eight years.

In 1894, along with some 340 other Apache prisoners, he was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he farmed and posed for tourist photographs, sitting at the steering wheel of a Cadillac sedan wearing a top hat or a Plains Indian headdress.

He made an appearance in St. Louis honoring the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, selling bows and arrows and signing autograph books.

In 1905 Geronimo made a request of President Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is my land, my home, my fathers’ land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return.  I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains.  If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct.”

Roosevelt did not reply.  Geronimo died on February 17, 1909.

American paratroopers in World War II shouted his name while jumping into battle as a tribute to the great warrior.

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Indigenous heirloom seeds – Three Sisters

The Celebrate Cultural Diversity Day Event was filled with fun and wonderful people.  Hundreds of children and adults visited my display and asked really great questions.

Native Americans pass down the knowledge of growing and preserving the Three Sisters to each generation.  Early settlers would never have survived without the generosity of Native people and the gifts of the Three Sisters.  Planting the Three Sisters involves careful attention to timing, seed spacing, and varieties.

There are many Indigenous heirloom seeds available for your garden, each year I like to try new varieties.  This year I have chosen Hidatsa Shield Figured Bean Ama’ca ita’ wina’ki matu’hica (Phaseolus vulgaris) from the Hidatsa people who raise corn, squash, beans, and sunflowers in the Missouri River Valley of North Dakota.  And Mandan Red Flour Corn (Zea mays) from the Mandan people of the Central Plains. Pale yellow and highly edible at the milk stage, it matures to a deep red when dry, two or three 6″ ears per 4-5′ stalk.  And my third sister will be Small Sugar Pumpkins.

I am looking forward to Spring planting.

Wishing you a beautiful and happy day.

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Celebrate Cultural Diversity

I was honored to be asked to participate in the Celebrate Cultural Diversity event at the Illinois State Museum, in Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, February 12, 2011 from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM.

Spring will be here soon and I am looking forward to gardening.  I will be presenting Native Gardens – the Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash.  The corn gives the beans something to grow on. The beans fix nitrogen at the base of the corn, helping it grow.  And the large squash leaves take over the ground crowding out the weeds, shading the ground as well as saving precious moisture.  What would Illinois agriculture be without corn and beans?

Over 60% of all the vegetal foodstuffs commonly consumed by all of humanity today were under cultivation in the Americas and nowhere else in the world at the time Columbus discovered he was lost.

Please join us for a celebration of Illinois’ cultural diversity. Learn about the heritage and traditions of various world cultures through hands-on crafts, international displays, live performances, and more.

Live performances in Thorne Deuel Auditorum
12:00 pm – Brazilian Martial Arts: Capoeira Volta Ao Mundo
1:00 pm – Fun with Fables: Storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis
2:00 pm – Dances of India
3:00 pm – Special Program – Around the World in 60 Minutes: Storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis

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My First Heroes – My Grandfather, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse

While I was growing up, my beloved Grandfather would tell me stories of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.  Along with my Grandfather, they were my first heroes. When I first started school he quizzed me about what I would tell my new classmates.  He surprised me with; “What will you say when they ask – Who are your heroes?” “Crazy Horse!” I replied. “And,” he said – “Sitting Bull!”  “And,”  “YOU!” I said.  My answers were met with warm smiles and a pat on the back.  My Grandfather taught me to be observant and brave.  I am fortunate to have grown up with strong women and great men as my heroes.  It is my honor to REMEMBER.

“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country? . . . God made me an Indian.” Sitting Bull

December 15, 1890, the great Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull and his 17 year old son Crow Foot were killed on the Standing Rock reservation.  Sitting Bull was only 56 years old.

The following is an account of Sitting Bull’s Death by James McLaughlin Indian Agent at Standing Rock Reservation (1891):

“Bull Head” was standing on one side of Sitting Bull and 1st Sergt. “Shave Head” on the other, with 2d Sergt. “Red Tomahawk” behind, to prevent his escaping; “Catch the Bear’s ” shot struck Bull Head in the right side, and he instantly wheeled and shot Sitting Bull, hitting him in the left side, between the tenth and eleventh ribs, and “Strike the Kettle’s” shot having passed through Shave Head’s abdomen, all three fell together.

During the attempted capture of Sitting Bull and ensuing conflict, the following people were killed or wounded:

Henry Bull Head, First Lieutenant of Police, died 82 hour after the fight.
Charles Shave Head, First Sergeant of Police, died 25 hours after the fight.
James Little Eagle, Fourth Sergeant of Police, killed in the fight.
Paul Afraid-of-Soldiers, Private of Police, killed in the fight.
John Armstrong, Special Police, killed in the fight.
David Hawkman, Special Police, killed in the fight.
Alexander Middle, Private of Police, wounded, recovering.
Sitting Bull, killed, 56 years of age.
Crow Foot (Sitting Bull’s son), killed, 17 years of age.
Black Bird, killed, 43 years of age.
Catch the Bear, killed, 44 years of age.
Spotted Horn Bull, killed, 56 years of age.
Brave Thunder, No. 1, killed, 46 years of age.
Little Assiniboine, killed, 44 years of age.
Chase Wounded, killed, 24 years of age.
Bull Ghost, wounded, entirely recovered.
Brave Thunder, No. 2, wounded, recovering rapidly.
Strike the Kettle, wounded, now at Fort Sully, a prisoner.

With the assassination of Sitting Bull, many of his followers hurried to Big Foot’s camp some 100 miles to the south.  When Colonel E. V. Sumner intercepted the band, Big Foot assured the officer their intentions were peaceful and lawful.  Then why, Sumner demanded, had they taken in and sheltered hostiles from Sitting Bull’s camp?  Big Foot replied that he had found men and women who were hungry, footsore and nearly naked in mid-winter.  “Anybody with a heart would have done the same thing.” he told the colonel.

Four companies of the 7th Cavalry intercepted Big Foot’s band, December 28, 1890, on Porcupine Creek.  Carrying a white flag, Big Foot approached Major Samuel Whitside to talk.  Whitside demanded a surrender.  Big Foot, whose band was in no condition to fight, advised his followers to offer no resistance, surrender their weapons and follow them into camp, on Wounded Knee Creek.   By morning, four more companies had arrived under the command of Colonel James Forsyth, bringing the military escort to 470.  Four rapid-fire Hotchkiss guns were set into place on a low hill over-looking the camp from the north.

The following morning the Cavalry demanded that the Indians give up their weapons, and they began impounding axes, knives, even tent pegs and sewing awls.  Yellow Bird, a medicine Man began blowing an eagle-bone whistle and called for resistance.  The soldiers opened fire on the relatively defenseless men, women and children.  One officer said, “I never in my life saw Springfields worked so industriously as on this occasion.” The tipis were burning, ripped by explosive shells.  Women, children and a few warriors ran for the ravine that led away from the encampment.  The soldiers followed and used the Hotchkiss guns which poured in two pound explosive shells at the rate of nearly 50 a minute.  They swept the ravine and cut down anything that moved. “We tried to run but they shot us like we were a buffalo.” said Louise Weasel Bear, survivor of the massacre.  The soldiers had the Indian scouts call out to the women and children in Lakota that it would be safe to come out of hiding…some small boys crept out and were surrounded by soldiers who butchered them.  Big Foot was murdered as he tried to rise from his sick bed.  The bodies were found to extend for more than three miles from the camp–and they were all women and children.

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Moon of the Popping Trees

“Everywhere we went, the soldiers came to kill us, and it was all our country.  It was ours already when the Wasicuns made the treaty with Red Cloud that it would be ours as long as grass should grow and water flow…they are chasing us now because we remember and they forgot.”
Black Elk

On the morning of December 29, 1890, on Wounded Knee Creek near the Pine Ridge agency 500 well armed Seventh Cavalry Troopers with four Hotchkiss guns aimed at the Lakota people gathered there, began disarming them.  After some confusion a shot was fired and all hell broke lose.  The well positioned Hotchkiss guns opened fire on the encampment of Big Foot’s band of Miniconjou Lakota. When the shooting ended, Big Foot and most of his people were dead or dying. It has been estimated that nearly 300 of the original 350 men, women, and children in the camp were killed.

Unarmed women and children ran as far as three miles only to be chased down by the Cavalry (Long Knives) and put to death.

The following account is from the 1891 Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. It is part of the verbatim stenographic report of the council held by delegations of Sioux with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in Washington, February 11, 1891.


The men were separated, as has already been said, from the women, and they were surrounded by the soldiers. Then came next the village of the Indians and that was entirely surrounded by the soldiers also. When the firing began, of course the people who were standing immediately around the young man who fired the first shot were killed right together, and then they turned their guns, Hotchkill [Hotchkiss] guns, etc., upon the women who were in the lodges standing there under a flag of truce, and of course as soon as they were fired upon they fled, the men fleeing in one direction and the women running in two different directions. So that there were three general directions in which they took flight.

There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce, and the women and children of course were strewn all along the circular village until they were dispatched. Right near the flag of truce a mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing, and that especially was a very sad sight. The women as they were fleeing with their babes were killed together, shot right through, and the women who were very heavy with child were also killed. All the Indians fled in these three directions, and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys who were not wounded came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.

Of course we all feel very sad about this affair. I stood very loyal to the government all through those troublesome days, and believing so much in the government and being so loyal to it, my disappointment was very strong, and I have come to Washington with a very great blame on my heart. Of course it would have been all right if only the men were killed; we would feel almost grateful for it. But the fact of the killing of the women, and more especially the killing of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the Indian people, is the saddest part of the whole affair and we feel it very sorely.

I was not there at the time before the burial of the bodies, but I did go there with some of the police and the Indian doctor and a great many of the people, men from the agency, and we went through the battlefield and saw where the bodies were from the track of the blood.

Herbert Zitkalazi – young survivor of Wounded Knee 1890

A little boy of four years, the son of Yellow Bird, the medicine-man, was playing on his pony in front of a tipi when the firing began.  As he described it: “My father ran and fell down and the blood came out of his mouth [he was shot through the head], and then a soldier put his gun up to my white pony’s nose and shot him, and then I ran and a policeman got me.” He saw his father killed and his mother was already dead. After Wounded Knee he was adopted by Mrs. Lucy Arnold, who had been a teacher among the Sioux.

Zitkala-noni–Lost Bird – baby girl survivor of Wounded Knee 1890

A baby girl was found under the snow, carefully wrapped in a shawl, beside her dead mother. On her head was a little cap of buckskin with a beaded American flag.

The Lakota women gave her the name, Zitkala-noni–Lost Bird. She was adopted by General Colby and put on display as a genuine Indian ‘war curio.’  When Colby first showed off ‘his newly acquired possession’, reported his home newspaper, ‘not less than 500 persons called at his house to see [her] it.’

She was featured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and died at age twenty-nine in Los Angeles. In July 1991, the Lakota brought her home to Wounded Knee, where she was interred, a hundred years after the massacre.

On New Year’s Day, 1891 the frozen bodies were dragged from under the snow and thrown into a single mass grave, dug on the battlefield.  Many Lakota were thrown in the pit still alive.  Some members of the cavalry stripped the bodies for souvenirs.  One member of the burial party said, “It was a thing to melt the heart of a man, if it was of stone–to see those little children, with their bodies shot to pieces, thrown naked into the pit.”

The U.S. Army Register states that a total of 45 men earned the Medal of Honor while serving with the 7th Cavalry during the Indian Wars: 24 for actions during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, two during the Battle of Bear Paw, 17 for being involved in the mass murder of the Wounded Knee Massacre or an engagement at White Clay Creek the next day, and two during other actions against the Sioux in December 1890.

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