One-hundred-thirty-one years ago this week, the remnants of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry opened fire on a village of freezing, starving Lakota clustered along a creek bank on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. When the Hotchkiss cannons finally fell silent, according to the official U.S. Army report, 290 Lakota lay dead, 200 of them women and children, many of them shot in the back as they tried to flee.
Later, in a confidential letter to a friend, Gen. Nelson Miles noted a baby had been found suckling at its mother’s breast. The little girl had been shot in the back five times. Not long afterwards, Congress awarded Medals of Honor – the nation’s most distinguished military award -- to 20 of the soldiers for “gallantry” and “conspicuous bravery.”
There’s a movement afoot now that wants to whitewash such incidents, sweep them under antiquity’s carpet, prevent them from being discussed in University of Nebraska classrooms. People running for the state’s highest office who say they’ll be damned “if their 9-year-old grandson has to go to school and be told he has to apologize for being white.” These people have a name for such teachings: They call it CRT – critical race theory.
There’s another group that believes something quite different. That truth is the oxygen democracy needs to survive. That sunlight is the best disinfectant. That ignoring the past invites repeating it in the future. They also have a name for what happened on Dec. 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek: They call it American History.