Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Our Operation themed cards seem particularly disrespectful for this book!

(Book 146) Melissa sent us an invitation to a pow-wow under the stars on her roof deck, but because of ‘low-reader turnout’ we decided to stay cool and comfy inside. We applaud Melissa for coping with such a big change — as we were leaving she remembered: “You didn’t get to see my lights!” Melissa was dressed for the evening with beaded and turquoise jewelry adorning a cotton dress and the mood was set with a background of Native American music. She served appetizers of fresh vegetables with a spicy Southwestern cauliflower dip as well as chips and salsa. For the main course, we enjoyed bison burgers with grilled onions and mushrooms, bison sirloin tips, a colorful corn and bean salad, and a lovely green salad. For dessert, we had ‘wild berries’ served over a slice of pound cake and topped with vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious!

The book discussion was short and sweet because many of us had difficulty reading about the way white men (and by extension, white women) promised, then lied, then killed, then burned, then relocated, then promised something else, then reneged, then slaughtered, then lied again, then confined, then repeated all of the above. I tried to divert the girls with a discussion of the way the Native Americans named the moons, because Brown always referred to the time of year as “during the moon when ponies shed their shaggy fur” rather than May. I’d made a chart of the moons as they were named in six native languages and I won’t include them all here but I have to do a few.

  • January – Moon of Strong Cold (Cheyenne) Moon When Snow Drifts Into Teepees (Omaha)
  • February – Moon When Trees Crack of Cold (Lakota)
  • March – Sore Eye Moon (Dakota) Moon of the Snowblind (Lakota)
  • April – Geese Laying Moon (Dakota) Moon When Ducks Come Back and Hide (Lakota)
  • May – Moon When Ponies Shed Shaggy Hair (Arapaho)
  • June – Moon of Making Fat (Lakota) Hot Weather Begins Moon (Ponca)
  • July – Moon When Choke Cherries Ripe (Dakota)
  • August – Moon of Red Cherries (Lakota) Corn is in the Silk Moon (Ponca)
  • September – Drying Grass Moon (Cheyenne) Moon When Deer Paw the Earth (Omaha)
  • October – Moon When Wind Shakes Off Leaves (Lakota)
  • November – Deer Rutting Moon (Dakota and Cheyenne)
  • December – Moon When Deer Shed Horns (Dakota) Moon When Wolves Run Together (Cheyenne) Moon of Popping Trees (Arapaho)

Next was a short discussion of Manifest Destiny. When I came upon the phrase while reading this novel, I could picture the social studies book with the heading: Manifest Destiny. Linda remembered learning about it and Sharon said it must not have been a Catholic concept cause she doesn’t remember learning about it. It was amazing to me to think that generations after the fact, young white Americans were being taught that this expansion into all the areas originally inhabited by the Native Americans or promised to the Native Americans was really not so much theft and murder as it was Destiny. Yes, that sounds good, let’s call it Manifest Destiny! That sounds even better!

We talked about how we appreciated that the chapters began with a list of other events that were happening in the world at the same time and we were all a little surprised to realize that these battles with the Native Americans were taking place while the Civil War was going on. We came back a few times after to talk about the repetitive nature of promise, reneg, murder, but there were Supreme Court decisions to talk about, so little more was said about the book. Below are a few things we might have talked about:

This quote in The Long Walk of the Navahos:

“The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years, they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate, but when at length, they found it was their destiny, too as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, away back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms, and, as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglect — feeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser’s pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm.”

Brown attributes this unctuous support of Manifest Destiny to Star Chief General Carleton and the reader wonders how he could even say (or write) the words. There was no doubt in his mind that he/ his race was superior. Where do you get that kind of confidence?

Another bit I would have liked to discuss is the origin of the horrible aphorism: The only good Indian is a dead Indian. Clearly we’ve come a long way from Carleton’s ‘admiration and respect’ speech above! The quote was attributed to General Sheridan though not word for word. His comment was “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Lieutenant Charles Nordstrom remembered the words, passed them on and through time they became “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Sheridan was the guy who implemented the “Total War” strategy against the Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche.

Third on my list of things to discuss was the Cochise quote: “Why is it that the Apaches want to die, that they carry their lives on their fingernails?” I tried to Google search the expression ‘to carry your life on your fingernails’ and after several articles about healthy fingernails, I found the quote but no discussion. It’s just a very poetic way of saying you aren’t guarding your life as you once did? akin to “wearing your heart on your sleeve” maybe? Discuss in the comment section.

Finally, I wanted to discuss the fact that at some point during the 1880’s Sitting Bull spoke to Annie Oakley and shared an opinion of the white man that is just as true today. He told her he could not understand how white men could be so unmindful of their own poor. “The white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it.” After I finished reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I started reading a book we considered reading once before but it wasn’t chosen for our list, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. I’m not trying to diss Christianity but I found this thought-provoking: “Christianity separated the people from themselves, it tried to crush the single clan name, encouraging each person to stand alone, because Jesus Christ would save only the individual soul: Jesus Christ was not like the Mother who loved and cared for them as her children, her family.” Again, discuss, in the comments.

The Party Favor: This month’s party favor didn’t inspire the humor that the tiny hands did for last month’s book, but Sharon has told me that she’s already found it useful. The party favor was a small Foam Kneeling Pad. Attached to the pad was an acetate bag that contained two Warming Herbal Pain Plasters for knee pain, two American Meadows Wildflower Seed Packets and an assortment of Solid Milk Chocolate Pansies. The sign on the package said: “We can’t undo white man’s misdeeds*, but we can restore a little nature. BURY THIS SEED ON AGED KNEE.” Marcia asked if she could take one for Karen and I allowed it this time — but girls, the party favors are for those who attend the party! Linda said it might be based on how many I want to take home, but I’ve had knee surgery on both knees and chocolate is my best friend. (Sorry to any of you who thought you might be,) You don’t have to have read the book, but you DO have to come to the party to get a party favor! It’s a reward, just in case the wine, great food, and sparkling conversation isn’t enough! Oh and next month’s favor might be a coupon for free blepharoplasty, so y’all come.

The next meeting is Tuesday June 26 at Marcia’s home with Karen and Marcia hosting a discussion of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. It’s a long one: start reading right after you read this last part!

Happy Birthday to Chris! Happy Anniversary to Marcia! And Happy _____________ to anyone I’ve forgotten!

*I don’t mean to suggest there is nothing we can do, but you know, it was a gift tag.