There is a curious case of dualism that occurs in the beautiful He Sapa (Black Hills) of the Lakota every year. It is known as the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.
Including the name of the infamous “Custer” to a roundup of the buffalo, an animal that was sacred to the Lakota, is like waving a red flag in the face of tatanka.
Just to the west of the city of Custer, at the Pleasant Valley exit, there is a historical marker that reads, “The last buffalo in the Black Hills was killed on this site.” Of course, the wasicu was wrong then, and it is our determination that the way this roundup is handled today, they are still wrong.
The buffalo roundup is held in a “state park,” so we must assume that the planning and the conduct of the roundup is in the hands of the State Government of South Dakota and again, we suppose, this is where the invitations to participate should originate. How many tribal chairmen and leaders received invitations to this year’s roundup? How many Native riders were invited? It was a missed opportunity for the state to reach out to its Native American neighbors in a show of reconciliation and unity.
This year 14,000 people turned out to see the buffalo run, chased by a bunch of cowboys. More than 1,225 buffalo were rounded up. There are about 1,300 total buffalo in the park. After the roundup, about 250 head will be sold or auctioned.
There are several Lakota veterans who will tell you that the purest bred buffalo in the world are in the herd at Wind Cave National Park. They are supposedly, the purest of the pure in blood. Thank goodness they are not included in this foolish roundup.
The irony in the annual Buffalo Roundup is that it was the wasicu (white man) who decimated the once mighty herds of buffalo. At one time in history there were as many as 60 million buffalo roaming the plains from Mexico to Canada. Yes, there were many buffalo in what is now Mexico because there was no border dividing the United States from Mexico. Of course, it was the southern herds that were the first to be wiped out.
The theory was that if the buffalo herds were destroyed it would bring the Indian tribes to their knees because without the meat and hides of the buffalo, the buffalo hunting tribes would have to come to the bargaining table without any cards and all the trump cards would be in the hands of the “treaty makers.” The United States government wanted the tribes to come to the treaty table with their heads bowed and with empty larders.
And so an animal that was more than just a bargaining tool to the Indian people was nearly exterminated from the face of the earth. From herds totaling 60 million to just a few tiny herds amounting to less than 1,000 in the space of a few short years, that was the gift left to the Lakota and other tribes of the Plains by the benevolent government.
And last weekend, as the herd of buffalo was rounded up, cowboy’s road along the fences carrying the flag of the United States and the flag of the State of South Dakota. Why weren’t the flags of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nations on parade also? Why weren’t there Indian riders from all of the tribes of South Dakota riding side-by-side with the cowboys representing the United States and South Dakota?
After all, the buffalo, even to this present day, means a helluva lot more to the Indian people than it does to the cowboys and to the 14,000 spectators watching the roundup and to the state and federal government that sponsors this annual spectacle.
One white spectator compared the buffalo roundup to the “Sturgis Rally,” a gathering of motorcyclists from across America. The sacred buffalo of the Northern Plains has now been reduced to the symbol of a motorcycle. What kind of rationality is that?
Ralph Murphy, who came to the roundup from Colorado said, “It was a nice demonstration of the Old West.”
The Old West? If it had been a demonstration of the “Old West” the riders pushing the herd would have been Lakota warriors, not cowboys.
The Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup has turned into a 3-day festival of arts and crafts displays as well as food and entertainment. It is an affair where cowboys show up wearing shirts emulating the American flag. But it seems to scream out to the original inhabitants of this land, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people, “This is now our affair; this is now our roundup; Indians not welcome.”
Tatanka Iyotanka, Tasunka Witko and Mahpiya Luta must have been spinning in their graves.
What’s the hullaballoo over Mount Rushmore?
The local daily newspaper and Senator John Thune (R-SD) are trying to turn the adventures of the Greenpeace team that hung a banner over the face of Abraham Lincoln several weeks back into a political football. So what is the big deal?
Most Native Americans could care less because the four faces carved on a mountain in the Sacred He’ Sapa, faces of past presidents who each did irreparable harm to the Native Americans, is not one of the top priorities amongst the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
Many feel that this is just a poorly veiled effort to get rid of the only Native American to ever serve as the Superintendent of Mount Rushmore, Gerard Baker. He is the man who brought Native culture to Mt. Rushmore for the first time in its history and much to the chagrin of the naysayers, has continued to stress and teach the impact Native Americans had on this territory. So please Rapid City Journal and Sen. John Thune, put away your long knives and let the matter resolve itself without your petty screeching and interference.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the
founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the
1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with
the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of
Fame in 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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