A sunrise silhouette of the entrance to the Wounded Knee Massacre memorial in South Dakota. (Getty Images)
A monument erected over a century ago to honor tribal leaders killed in the Wounded Knee Massacre was broken and vandalized earlier this month on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
A decorative element resembling an urn was pulled off the top of the monument, despite being held in place by a pin or rod. The element was damaged and left busted near the monument. Vandals also defaced the south side of the monument with graffiti.
“I’m really angered and frustrated because people in the area should respect this a little more,” said Wendell Yellow Bull, an Oglala Lakota County commissioner.
After weeks of work to clean and repair the monument, Yellow Bull plans to hold a ceremony when the broken pieces are placed back atop the monument on Monday.
Yellow Bull’s great-grandfather, Joseph Horn Cloud — who was a teenager at the massacre and whose parents, two brothers and a niece died in the onslaught — commissioned the monument in the early 1900s to honor the 22 headmen or “Itancan” who were killed in the massacre.
A total of about 350 Miniconjou Lakota people — many of them women and children — were killed by nearly 500 U.S. soldiers at the site on Dec. 29, 1890. After some of the Native American bodies froze on the ground for several days, a military-led burial party dumped them into a mass grave.
The 870-acre area surrounding the site is designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson introduced a bill to protect 40 acres of the land, prevent commercial development and provide greater control of the site to the Oglala Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, which recently acquired the land covered by the bill. The bill unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday and now goes to the Senate.
“What happened at Wounded Knee is a stain on our nation’s past that cannot be washed away,” Johnson said Wednesday.
In a 1990 Associated Press article, Yellow Bull’s grandfather, William Horn Cloud, recalled visiting the mass gravesite with Joseph Horn Cloud.
“He would walk over and lay down on the long, trench grave,” William recalled. “I asked him later why he did that. And he’d say, ‘My mother and father are there, so I am laying with them.’”
Yellow Bull worked with Sioux Monument in Martin to piece the monument back together. Owner Rick May, who is Oglala Lakota, estimated it cost about $500 to repair the monument, which he covered.
May hopes the damage will bring attention to Wounded Knee and the needed repairs or updates that could improve the site.
“It’s just a sad event,” May said.
Yellow Bull filed a police report on the incident.
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