In December 1890 the US 7th cavalry massacred at least150 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. The death toll was probably much higher. Among the dead were women and children.
In his book the author points out that around 200 Lakota Sioux falasleep ls Indians survived. He relates the story of these Indians. Truer is an Indian and a anthropologist. What happened prior to the massacre has been told before. It is a tale of misery, disease, theft, deceit, and killing. Federal policy was racist. It was as the author says shameful and cruel. What is new is the story of how Indians have faced today's world. Some thirty per cent of adult male Indians fought in the Second World War. Treuer relates what happened to his uncle and grandfather. The former was a bank robber. As late as 1988 the suicide rate among Indians aged 15 to 25 was three times higher than other ethnic groups. Crime and violence and drugs were common.
However, Treuer points out that more and more Indians are discovering self-reliant ways of reconciling their miserable past and their present. They have started casino businesses that some ten years ago brought in a revenue of $26bn, more than Vegas and Atlantic City. They are entering the drug business, fitness studios and food businesses. The heart is still beating.
The book is organised in seven parts: apocalypse, purgatory, fighting life, moving on up, becoming Indian, boom city, and digital Indians. There is an epilogue, plus notes and a note on sources.
The massacre became overnight a touchstone of Indian suffering, a symbol of brutality and the end of Indian life. It seemed to have solved the Indian problem on the Plains. It was revenge for the Little Bighorn of 14 years earlier. The government had violated the terms of the 1868 second Treaty of Fort Laramie when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Thereafter, the tactics were to starve the Indians and encourage settlers to spread. The Indians turned to God in the form of the Ghost Dance. This was a religion that encouraged Indians to work hard, live peacefully and live in harmony with one another. This would ensure they would be reunited with the spirits of their ancestors in the afterlife. It promised that the white man would leave. The movement alarmed Washington. The Dance was banned and children were placed in boarding schools. What the Constitution promised all was ignored. An order was issued for the arrest of Sitting Bull on 15 December 1890. Sitting Bull was shot and killed by a police officer. What happy shortly afterwards was sheer butchery by the cavalry. Over half of the dead Indians were women and young children, including babies. Some women were tracked over two miles before being killed. The Colonel in charge was relieved of his command and court martialled. The media reaction was split. Some papers said the Indians ought to be wiped off the face of the earth. They all viewed the massacre as the end of the Indian era. The incredibly successful book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, was published in 1970. It had an enormous impact on the public. This excellent book is a counternarrative plus an attempt to confront an Indian's place in the modern world. It is a very ambitious project but one that on the whole is successful.