Many of our people have forgotten the traditional way “War Stories” are used and respected in the sacred ceremonies of the people of the Sundance and Pipe, we who have always lived in the center of our turtle island. Long ago our wise ancestors understood that a powerful moment in time existed when a warrior performed a great deed and tested himself to the ultimate.
In English we call them war stories but in our own languages the story and the person chosen to tell it have names with far more meaning. War stories are actually “Warrior Stories” because they are told individually by the warrior who is bringing his actions into the circle.
They are told in front of witnesses who can attest to their truth because the story must exemplify the great virtues of a warrior… honor, truth, courage, fortitude, strength and selflessness give the ‘war story’ a power that can serve the needs of the ceremony.
War stories were always brought out during the special dances and ceremonies of our Clans, our Societies and our Sundance where they have a special place and use.
The leaders of the ceremony took particular care in selecting the warrior chosen to stand up in front of all the Nation and recite the actions he had taken on behalf of his people… a song is made, every step, every gesture, and every word must be given as a sacrament into the circle of the People.
In a time without lies, a Nations heart could swell with pride and power as he gifted his words to them and a oneness could encircle them as he spoke.
It could be the leader of the battle or it could be a first time coup by a young warrior on his initial experience but each war story was backed by the presence of his comrades-in-arms, verified and strengthened by their assent, their love and their respect.
In modern times where war stories are told they are told by the veterans of service in Americas wars, where our warriors were sent to fight on foreign lands. We can still hear them with pride and in this way the tradition lives on.
It has been this way because it has been generations since our warriors rose to fight an enemy while standing on the dust of our ancestors.
That last happened at Wounded Knee, in 1890. We lost that day, our children were exposed to the ravening dogs, but even then warriors stood up, men and women became spirits standing back to back in defense of their generations… courage, fortitude, strength, honor blessed the lands, given life as the eternal blood sacrament was given freely to Mother Earth.
And in the days that followed warriors fought from a Stronghold to avenge their relatives as a mass grave held the truth. New and glorious war stories were born among the carnage and strongheart songs mingled with the wails of the mourning.
A Nation lived on with the virtues given her by a hundred generations of warriors and their stories, it took immense fortitude and courage to survive for eighty-three years until warriors rose again, but the ceremonies continued and the songs of those days were sung.
In 1973 another battle happened on sacred lands along the Wounded Knee creek. Once again warriors were forced to rise up in defense of their people and stand on hollowed ground and fight.
Once again warriors blood was sacrificed and lives were freely given to revive the heartbeat of a Nation, brave deeds and selfless actions became the measure of a society called the “Independent Oglala Nation”.
To the people there it was called “the Knee” and two thousand and more, women and men, stood back to back with honor, with courage and fortitude once more in red hearts. Eagle feathers were earned there and an amazing number of worthy actions were taken daily for seventy-three days in 1973.
A community was born to live once more a traditional way of the circle of our grandfathers. Powerful medicine men and elders guided our paths as “Warrior Stories” were once again gifted to the circle in the old way as honor and truth were revived to bring power in Inipi, Yuwipi and Ghost Dance.
Led by Viet Nam vets like Stan Holder, Craig Camp, Russ Redner, Buddy Lamont, Luke Tenfingers… Rich,Tiger, Lance, Angel and a hundred others, warriors from sixteen to sixty yrs old formed an encircling wall of protection around our lands and dared any invader to enter.
Each of the Oyate inside the circle preformed warrior duties too and each faced the danger as one, cooks were shot by the wasicu as were the veterans in the bunkers, medics were sniped while bandaging wounded and even our mailman was attacked while delivering mail… his war story added to the whole.
Wounded Knee was a community of warriors empowered by stories held in the land since 1890, warriors of many Nations united by the selfless actions of their comrades-in-arms fighting by their side.
But traditional, true, honorable “War Stories” are no longer told about the last great battle at Wounded Knee in 1973. For the first time in the history of our Societies honorable and truthful warriors have put away their braveheart stories and the songs of their deeds are silent.
This has happened because for the first time in the memory of all the Red generations past, the leaders of the battle ran away and left their community while under attack.
Because they were self-chosen leaders they had not been tested. They lacked the virtues of a warrior, their honor was locked in the wasicu cities and jails they came from and they could not rise above it.
To the warriors they left inside they were called “the chickens of the knee” in jest and much worse in earnest.
We listened to stories of Russ Means enjoying the fruits of his celebrity while drinking and partying down in Oklahoma where I’m from and ending up being busted out in California after one of his notorious mega-sized parties out there.
Since 1973 he has renewed his betrayals of the principles of AIM each decade without stop. Recently he betrayed every warrior of AIM when he knelt before the subhuman Janklow to beg a pardon!
Yes, the same Janklow who brags about personally keeping Leonard Peltier in a cage, Janklow, the rapist of Jancita Eagledeer and the thief of Lakota lands in South Dakota.
None of the ION warriors really noticed when Clyde Bellecourt slinked out of the Knee, he wouldn’t carry a gun and we never saw him outside his warm trailer anyway, but we did notice when he began frantically fundraising in our name while we had no ammo to fight with or tobacco to smoke, or food for the kids.
For security purposes Clyde and his crew had not been told we were liberating the Knee that first night, so he was very surprised to end up there in a caravan he thought was going to a powwow!
The warriors had a good laugh when we noticed he had his own cameraman in tow.
Even the cops knew he was worthless, all his charges were dropped as real warriors went to prison.
Vernon Bellecourt refused to even consider sacrificing his luxury and comfort to come fight alongside us, he was “Mr.Vernon” the hairdresser to AIM warriors, he did fundraising for Clyde and hung around the leadership but he was more a joke than a leader.
We heard about it when he went to the French Riviera during a blizzard in the Knee and we joked about the hash-hish we knew he was enjoying over there on our money.
AIM died long before he claimed to be a warrior, after the rest of us were in jail or being chased throughout ndn country he stepped out of his closet into the limelight.
Vernon never set foot inside Wounded Knee in 1973 but to his eternal shame in ndn country, he stands-up when ION veterans are honored as if he were a veteran of our Nation. How low will a man crawl for money?
The Independent Oglala Nation didn’t miss them when they left, others were already doing the work of the nation, fighting the battles, supplying the needs of the people and protecting our elders and children from the ravening wolves shooting at us from the hills.
Each night pack trains of supplies were carried in under fire by dedicated warriors, timed to arrive at daybreak to feed the nation and gift their stories to us, each day the warriors worked hard to strengthen their perimeter and fortify their bunkers in preparation for the coming battles.
Each day the community lived the life of freedom they were fighting for and each day we grew closer together in our ceremonies and sharing. Every day was a war story and every warrior had stories to tell of honor, truth and generosity, enough perhaps to help our people survive another eighty-three years in ceremony and song.
Despite those who ran, the nation lived and the stories continued until peace was made by the Oglala Council of the ION.
AIM as an ndn society may have died there in those sacred ravines when the leaders failed in dishonor, but the pride of a Red Nation was reborn with the “Warrior Stories” we lived there among the spirits of those murdered in 1890.
AIM too became a spirit, it’s blood drained into the earth at Wounded Knee, but that spirit lives on just as the spirits of Frank Clearwater and Buddy Lamont dwell today with the spirits of Yellowbird, Bigfoot and the others who nourish that sacred ground.
Today every aspect of ndn country has been touched by the proud legacy of the American Indian Movement and the warriors stand at Wounded Knee.
Sovereignty has a renewed meaning to friend and foe alike and all Indian people are unified in its protection. During the brief life of AIM as a warrior society, we blew on the dying embers of our traditional fires and helped them flare back to life.
I remember well the final week of Wounded Knee 73 after my brother Buddy Lamont had been killed by a wasicu sniper. The Oglala Council had decided to stand-down the armed struggle and to continue the fight for their treaty rights in the wasicu courts.
It was a hard decision for them and a blow to the warriors’ dreams, but it was their land and their decision to make, so we prepared to obey.
I began to have meetings with the bunker leaders and squads, to plan for their evacuation and to send them out with the best weapons.
By the last four days, unknown to any but the warriors involved, Wounded Knee lay almost unarmed and unprotected by our veterans.
In order to fool the wasicu gunners around us and the government negotiators inside we devised a plan to have the dozen or so warriors (who decided to stay for the funeral) work in the open around the bunkers during daylight hours and we had people carrying fake weapons and supplies from place to place to add to the confusion.
At night we had four lookouts stationed on the cardinal points and some patrols, but most of the bunkers were empty and the way was open to the invaders. Each minute I lived in fear that I had made a terrible mistake and the ravening dogs would once more consume my helpless ones.
As the night wore on I would make a patrol across ground I now knew like an eagle knows his nest, alone I would creep out into the night and stealthily enter a bunker in secret.
Once inside I would light a cigarette(I don’t smoke) build a fire and turn on an old radio I had stashed. I would talk and joke inside and walk around the top as if we were reinforcing or changing the guard, after an half hour or so I would sneak out into the night to repeat my performance at another empty bunker on the other side of the Knee an hour later.
In between, I would walk around the village and visit the kitchens, laughing with the people in the few places with light, to be seen before I ducked into another ravine to begin my crawl once more.
In those final dark and lonely nights I had a lot of time to pray and cry for the end of our Tribe and the final days of the Knee, it was hard because each empty bunker and squad room I visited held reminders of the warrior stories that had been born there and the brave comrades who fought there.
Sometimes I would stand in a deserted bunker and loudly sing the AIM song or a Ponca He’thuska warrior song and I would face the enemy with pride, anger and defiance, but I knew we had to leave.
Wounded Knee was over and all that we had left was our “war stories” to tell in the old way and to give away in the circle of our people.
We never imagined that even our traditional “War Stories” would be stolen and dishonored by old, greed-driven AIM leaders, we never thought they would do the unimaginable and claim a warriors honors when they earned none.
In the old way of the warrior an Akicita would strike them with their whips and drive them crying from the circle.
Now thirty years later some people are having an “anniversary” celebration to honor the memory of Wounded Knee 1973 but it has to be a non-ndn celebration like a rock concert because in another sad first for ndn country the “chickens of the knee” are being “honored”!
Honored? Not really, I guess they are being “publicized” or something but it’s not honor in the way a true “war story” is an honor. Men without honor will stand up and accept false honors that belong to others because for thirty years the warriors of the ION have been silent.
No media noticed the warriors turn their backs on the cowards and leave AIM after the Knee, but that is the traditional way we vote for our leaders, no press conferences or tribunals just a traditional shunning.
After the warriors left AIM(the organization) it became a wasicu fundraising tool and they used it to become very rich old men. Now Vernon will waddle out of his mansion, squeeze into his cadillac with AIM-1 license tags, and show up burdened by jewlery to look down on all us raggedy-ass ndn warriors who fought at the Knee.
Go look at him and see the truth of my words, he has turned white in dishonor. For this reason, to protect the traditional honor of the the “War Story” of Wounded Knee 1973 and the ION, I rise to denounce those who falsely claim the honors of a warrior of Wounded Knee and the Independant Oglala Nation.
While this charade of fools goes on for them, this weekend another occasion will happen to mark the founding of the ION and the liberation of Wounded Knee in 1973. All around the Nation, a thousand warriors and more will turn to face “the Knee” with their Pipe in their hands and their traditional “Warrior Stories” held in their hearts, ready to gift them to the sacred circle in the old way when the People call their names.
Me, I will take my Pipe down to Frank Clearwater’s grave, (we have him close to the Sundance grounds) put out a little tobacco and tell my sons and nephews to sit down while I tell them a true story… it happened back in 1973 my boys, and it was a hellofa fight….
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mitakuye Oyasin, I am Carter Camp, Ponca Nation, Founder Oklahoma AIM, National Chairman AIM, Warrior Citizen of the Independent Oglala Nation.
For you, the brave warriors I served with in the Knee I offer you another war story I wrote a few years ago… I hope it brings good memories to you because it is a true and honorable story from a warrior who lived it.