Chief Red Cloud: ‘My spirit is happy’

  • Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Pine Tree Reservation speaks at a gathering at the old Town Hall in Barre announcing the return of Native American artifacts that were displayed at the Barre Public Library. Manny Iron Hawk of the Cheyenne River Reservation is seated on left. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Pine Tree Reservation speaks at the gathering at the old Town Hall in Barre announcing the return of Native American artifacts, accompanied by Manny Iron Hawk of the Cheyenne River Reservation. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Peter Champoux of Greenfield greets Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Pine Tree Reservation, center, and Manny Iron Hawk of the Cheyenne River Reservation, left, during an announcement of the return of Native American artifacts. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Chief Henry Red Cloud speaks at the gathering at the old Town Hall in Barre announcing the return of artifacts from the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Those gathered at the old Town Hall in Barre give a standing ovation as Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Pine Tree Reservation in South Dakota announces the return of Native American artifacts on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder 
Published: 4/7/2022 3:01:14 PM
Modified: 4/7/2022 3:00:36 PM

BARRE — Shortly after noon Wednesday, Chief Henry Red Cloud of the Lakota indigenous tribe in South Dakota viewed the collection of artifacts taken from the site of the Wounded Knee massacre and now in the possession of the Barre Museum Association — artifacts that include items taken from bodies of those killed and, in some cases, actual body parts.

Following a discussion with the museum’s board of directors, the chief then walked across the street for an event at Barre Town Hall where the chief addressed the 100 or so people gathered in the auditorium. 

“It’s an honor to be here and to view the collection across the street,” he began. “Better yet, we’re going to be able to take the items home.”

The crowd erupted in cheers and a prolonged standing ovation once Chief Red Cloud had given them the news they were hoping for. The approximately 120 items now at the museum will be returned to the tribe in South Dakota.

“It’s been 130 years since the incident happened,” he said, referring to the massacre of some 300 Lakota men, women and children who had been surrounded and fired upon by members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry on Dec. 29, 1890. 

After the bloodletting, gravediggers reportedly stripped possessions from the bodies of the dead and buried them in locations where they could eventually be retrieved. Some of the items found their way to the Barre area, where they were sold to Frank Root, a local resident. They eventually were housed in the Barre Museum Association, located at 19 Pleasant St.

The chief then shared a story passed down by his grandmother, a survivor of the tragedy. She was among those living on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the brutal winter of 1890-91.

“It was a terrible time,” he related. “People were freezing to death. People were starving.

“Our people were nomadic people. They followed the buffalo — clothed, sheltered, and fed themselves from the buffalo. In the 1880s there was a campaign to annihilate every buffalo that roamed the northern Plains, and they killed them by the millions, taking the food source away from the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people.

“We happened to be the only nation at that time that defeated the federal government on the battlefield — twice,” he said to applause. “So, they initiated treaties with us.”

After a series of treaties with the tribes had been broken, he explained, they decided to take up arms.

“My great-great-grandfather at that time rallied the other tribes, the warriors, and they started to war against the ‘superhighway’ known as the Bozeman Trail. They were successful in closing that superhighway down. In that year, (the U.S. government) proposed a peace treaty. They didn’t want to go to war with the natives anymore. So, at that time our ancestors laid their weapons down.”

Sometime after Wounded Knee, his great-great-grandfather ultimately made a trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues of importance to Native Americans.

“He then returned and some of the warriors wanted to go to war again because there were so many light-skinned invading their territory,” Chief Red Cloud said. “He said, ‘We’re a mighty people. We’re strong. We can go to war again, but the light-skinned people are like a cup of water. If you knock over that cup of water, that can invade everything, go around, go underneath. We’re not going to survive. We want to live forever like everybody else.’”

His great-great-grandfather lived until 1910, the same year the Wounded Knee Survivors Association was founded.

“They’ve been working since that time to bring their ancestors home,” he said. “In our way of life, when something makes a spiritual journey there’s a spirit releasing ceremony that needs to take place. And that didn’t happen for the ancestors across the street. So, they’re stuck in limbo. They’re stuck here. So, we’re going to make a way for them.”

Red Cloud then cautioned that the transfer of the artifacts won’t happen immediately.

“The items are going to be going home, but it’s going to take some time, maybe a year, maybe a year and a half. But there are a lot of things that need to be set in place before items are returned home.

“But I’m really happy today. My spirit is happy. My most inner spirit, which we all carry, each of us. We carry that from the day we were born, from the day we got swatted on the bottom. That spirit is very happy within me.”

The chief continued: “It’s time for us to heal. We cannot go back in time to change things. We can’t do that. What we can do is learn from it and embrace it. That way we can all unite together as the humans that we are. It’s very important.

“We’re only here once. I’m not going to come back again. You’re not going to come back again. We’re only here once. So, we try to leave a good moccasin trail for the ones who follow. It’s our responsibility.

“Let’s all do it together,” he said with a smile, “like a bunch of wild Indians.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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