Late last month two billboards appeared in Greeley, Colorado in which an image of three Native Americans are used to make a gun rights argument, and a controversy has arisen over the perceived insensitive nature of the message. For those who don’t know the back story of the plight of Native Americans, making light of atrocities the federal government committed against Native Americans may not be the best way to argue against gun regulations, although the lessons of history are definitely valuable, so perhaps this sort of billboard will at least start some discussion on the matter.
To summarize for those who may not know the history (because it’s not really taught in schools anymore), on December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment went into a camp to disarm the Lakota Indians that had been corralled there during the mass indian relocations of the late 1800’s.
In the years prior to the massacre, the U.S. Government had been taking the lands of the Lakota, forcing them to surrender their ancestral homes, and be relocated to other reservations to make way for white settlers. This band of Lakota was not where they where supposed to be according to the U.S. Government. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota at wounded knee, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over his rifle escalated and an accidental shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately with a Hotchkiss gun (a revolving barrel machine gun), and rifles, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow troopers.
A few Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking troopers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed. By the time it was over, at least 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. To add insult to this atrocity, the Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor, it’s highest honor to the solders who butchered the Lakota. To date the US government has refused to rescind the awards.
The lesson to learn here is that the Lakota where disarmed out of fear, not for anything they had done wrong. It should be noted that during the course of the indian wars of the 1800s, there was not a single act of violence perpetrated by Native Americans in the Dakotas. In every instance of violence, it was the US Government that was the instigator. Former Pine Ridge Indian agent Valentine T. McGillycuddy stated in a letter to General Leonard W. Colby in 1891, “No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed off the reservation.” So basically, every tragic death in this time was an unwarranted attack by the U.S. Government against it’s own people.
So while the debate of political correctness over the billboard will surely continue, the underlying message will probably go largely unmentioned. Those who say that the government would never seize your guns will conveniently ignore the times they did just that in the past, including those times in recent history. Typically a societal reaction based on fear and ignorance, resulting in meaningless laws that will do nothing to curb the violence perpetrated by those who choose to ignore them. It is not just about our right to own guns, it about our willingness to surrender that right or not, even in the slightest amount. Because at the end of the day if we are willing to surrender our liberties in this matter, regardless of the degree, what else are we willing to surrender?