Walter Littlemoon’s memoir, They Called Me Uncivilized
, is a call to awareness from within the heart of Wounded Knee. In telling his story, Littlemoon describes the impact federal Indian policies have had on his life and on the history of his family. He gives a rare view into the cruelty inflicted on generations of Native American children through the implementation of U.S. government boarding schools, which resulted in a muted truth, called Soul Wound by some. In addition, and for the first time, his narrative provides a resident’s view of the 1973 militant Occupation of Wounded Knee and the lasting impact that takeover has had on his community. His path toward a sense of peace and contentment is one he hopes others will follow. Remembering and telling the truth about traumatic events are prerequisites for healing.
Many books have been written by scholars describing one aspect or another of Native American life, their history, their spirituality, the 1973 occupation, and a few have tried to describe the boarding schools. None have connected the dots. Until the language of the everyday man is used, scholarly words will shut out the people they describe and the pathology created by federal Indian policy will continue.
Chapter Ten Remembering The Lessons From The Elders Everything lay in ruins after the takeover; it was heartbreaking. Day after day, I’d walk along counting the homes and buildings that were destroyed, left in shambles, looted, vandalized, burned. Gone were the homes of Cecelia Fast Horse, Helen and Silas Grant, Bill Cole, Mary Pike, Charlie Moose, Hobart Spotted Bear, Ben Iron Teeth, the High Pines, the Bear Eagles, Elmer Two Two and my mother, Rosa. Gone were the churches many worshiped the Creator in, the Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian, the trading post we had gathered in and our museum. Gone was the laughter of children, along with the dogs, cats and horses that had been our companions. As I walked and counted buildings, I’d pass by friends and family members who’s faces no longer sparkled with life or joy, their eyes averted and empty, shoulders hunched, heads cast down. Life felt completely hopeless. I thought I should feel rage, but instead I felt hollow, numb and alone. At the age of thirty-one, I wanted, I needed, to find a better way of life. There was no help available on the reservation, no one to talk to, no one to turn to, certainly not from the government in Pine Ridge, but not even the priests or ministers came to help us heal. I knew if I just focused on what was negative I’d kill myself; the pull toward suicide was strong. One morning, there came a turning point. I hiked up the dirt trail to my father’s homestead at Mouse Creek where my family had originally lived. I was looking for something with a little meaning that I could hold onto and get strength from. It was a pleasantly warm day. Songbirds were flitting in and about the trees lining the banks of the creek. Chokecherries were in season and wildflowers bloomed throughout the fields. A small flock of turkeys ambled in among the pines and deer stood on the south hill gazing down at me. I sat in the shade of the cottonwood for a long time, not even thinking, just giving myself over to the moment. Out of nowhere, I seemed to hear the word “remember”. It jolted me. Where had it come from? What was I to remember? My eyes were drawn to that immense tree and I felt a glimmer of hope. Slowly memories from my childhood began to come up to the surface. Voices of the elderly Lakota began to return to me in fragmented bits and pieces. I heard: “Remembering is a basic ingredient for living.” “Remember to act these lessons out and you will always have room in your mind for something new.” “All these things are part of being Lakota.” Slowly the voices faded and merged into images from my childhood. Once again I felt awe as I saw Good Lance appear before me, a round, brown, flat-brimmed hat on top of his head, his hair neatly held in two thick braids. He was dressed in his familiar purple silk shirt with the sleeves held in place by black armbands and wide leather cuffs laced over his wrists. A breach cloth was tied at his waist over the top of his pants and beaded moccasins covered his feet. Then came Left-Handed Jimmy, the storyteller, wearing his black gabardine wool pants held up by thick, wide suspenders. As usual he wore a small white Stetson, a light colored pin-striped shirt with armbands holding his sleeves and the familiar large wristwatch flashed in the sunlight. I recalled how swiftly he walked, straight-backed, with a cane that never touched the ground. As Jimmy’s image faded, “Tall Charlie” Shot-to-Pieces appeared riding his horse. I remembered his distinctive style of speaking as he spoke English but thought in Lakota always using the word “to” in his sentences. I could still hear him saying: “I came up on a fence two-wire.” Or “walk to walk”, “walk to run”, “house to home”. Next, there was Lincoln Looking Horse in his long black coat that nearly touched the ground and perched on his head, his black Scottish cap complete with a fur ball on top. Lincoln was a tall man with piercing eyes that drew you in and captured your attention. He had gone to Washington many times as a spokesman for us. After Looking Horse, I saw Tall Jenny with her big pack on her back, a long ankle-length dress and a scarf covering her hair. Her friendly face smiled at me once again and I remembered how she’d travel from home to home giving out candy to the children. I don’t know how long I sat there hearing and seeing those people who had colored my childhood summers with their distinctive personalities and their loving ways, but suddenly a drumming sound brought me back to the present time. I looked around and spotted a small black and white speckled woodpecker with a red-capped head pounding and tapping on the side of the tree. In the stillness of that moment I recalled one of the chief’s words of advice--I don’t remember which one it was--to the Lakota people and they seemed to take on an importance to me, as if in answer to my dilemma. “Times have changed,” he said. “You stand there saying that you have one foot in the red world and one foot in the white, unable to step forward. Take a little bit of the red and a little bit of the white, pull your feet together and step forward into the future.” The images and words that had come to me while I sat under the cottonwood tree, stayed in my mind as I left Mouse Creek. I recalled the impact those people had on me when I was young. You could sense every one of them come--like a rush of wind you knew they were there. Their personalities remained the same, unaltered no matter what the situation. You could hear them clearly without confusion. Even when they were all together they didn’t clash but created a sense of well-balanced power, respect, honor and dignity. The way they talked, walked and conducted themselves had a presence like dignitaries, which filled you with awe. In those moments, I had glimpsed the positive side of being Lakota and I was determined to draw it out from within myself. During the occupation, I had seen the blind leading the blind toward the destruction of Lakota wisdom. The more I thought of the contrast between the members of the Wounded Knee occupation and the older Lakota, the more determined I became to create positive changes for myself. It took such effort to recall what words followed the fragments I had heard and to begin to put the pieces together. I had to slow way down in my thinking to sort out negative things I had learned and to attempt to get rid of them. I wish I could say it happened quickly, but it has taken me thirty years of remembering, applying common sense and struggling from that day to reach this point of understanding what it means to be Lakota, to be a human being, and to accept myself and find some peace. Slowly I realized my own spirit needed a good healthy home, a healthy mind and body. For the first time in thirteen years, I stopped drinking. I thought it would be the hardest thing, but it may have been the easiest, for even sober I was restless, tormented by dreams, thoughts and feelings and I’d clench my teeth to fight them down. For years, I tried taking things one at a time in an attempt to redo myself. I would listen to what other people said, their tone of voice, choice of words, body language, manner of walking, style of dressing and I would mimic what I considered the best and try to make it a part of my everyday living. Yet still, I couldn’t quite bring in feelings and emotions. I went from job to job, from relationship to relationship and from place to place, taking pride in being sober. Decades later, as I approached my sixtieth year, I began to realize, there was more to me, something was missing. Over the years, I had sought out lessons in Lakota spirituality, attended sweat lodges, prayed with others, sat on hills and sought visions. Yet, the other side of my childhood--nightmares from the government boarding school and beatings, overwhelming loneliness and resentment--seemed to take hold even stronger.
Walter Littlemoon, born in 1942, was raised in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. His father was a full blood Lakota, and his mother, a Northern Cheyenne. For nearly thirty years he sought a means to help his community overcome the group confusion and depression that federal policies created.