Monday, August 23, 2010

Wounded Knee

Graveyard at Wounded Knee - Entranceway to the past

One of the four principles of Second Generation CPTED explains how neighborhood culture can create a common purpose. That can become the glue that binds people together to work against problems like crime.

Attaching culture to neighborhood safety can be tricky as I discovered this week on a tour of South Dakota. Sociologists say culture is everything beyond genetics passed from one generation to the next. In their view language, religion, values, law, and fashion all fit.

Yet in my experience, it is much more useful for each neighborhood to define its own sense of culture and then build on that common definition. That narrows the list considerably. When that happens music, art, sports, and historical events rise to the surface. One great example is the Intersection Repair programs in Portland.

Another example emerged while I visited an unforgettable and deserted place on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I'm referring to the haunting, windswept cemetery overlooking the valley when hundreds of Native Americans were slaughtered by 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1890.

I stood looking at the run-down graveyard, where a single faded monument notes the inconceivable tragedy that was Wounded Knee, and I wondered how such a thing happened.

What lesson can such a place tell us about community culture? How can good arise from such evil so long ago? Can a remote, rural place of such political furor offer anything helpful to urban dwellers seeking a cultural touchstone of their own?

Some will say no. Yet I cannot so easily dismiss the lesson of Wounded Knee. It is a lesson worth studying and remembering for its exhibition of human folly. I struggled to make out the fading inscription on the lone monument which recounts the words of Sioux Chief Big Foot "I will stand in peace till my last day comes."

That, more than anything, makes the point of a shared, community culture. At least it should.

Perhaps this is where the truly difficult work of building a community culture begins. Places like Wounded Knee are a warning for civil vigilance - we must not allow prejudice to infect our civility.

As I watch the latest CNN "controversy" about locating a mosque near Ground Zero, I am again reminded this message - standing in peace - is relevant in rural and urban places alike.

Monument at Wounded Knee

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. Since you commented to me in an oblique manner and provided me with this link, I will make this short comment;

    An event like the alleged "massacre" at Wounded Knee has to be taken in full historical context with an objective reading sans popular, modern politics and revisionism. The "Ghost Dance" uprising was taking place all over the Western region. The army was seeking to remove the weapons from the Indians camped at Wounded Knee and actually move them to a place that could be serviced (easier) when guns went off on the Indian side. The official U.S. Army tally of dead if far, far below the over 300, claimed by groups like the American Indian Movement since 1969.

    The indulgence in continued Amerind grievances is not particularly helpful to Amerind youth (IMHO) nor is it helpful in assisting Amerinds in advancing in skills of self-reliance. Non-Amerinds indulgences in this appears to be part of a greater cultural addiction to the need to feel virtuous.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous, for your view on Wounded Knee. The blog is actually about the larger issue of the power of community culture. That Wounded Knee is still discussed a century later certainly speaks to that. But I take your point that you have an alternative interpretation of the facts in the Wounded Knee tragedy.

    Perhaps your facts and interpretation is correct. Perhaps not.

    In the marketplace of ideas, all are welcome to present their case and let the facts speak for themselves. Unfortunately, as with all historical events long ago, facts are not always as clear or plentiful as we'd like. Historical revision, as you note, is a threat against which we must be vigilant. However whether 300 were killed, or whether it was fewer, does not help your case. An atrocity remains an atrocity.


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