31 Notes on the Alcohol Wars at Pine Ridge
Crazy Horse was a Sober Warrior
by RUSS McSPADDEN
Photos by Joey Feaster
1. Autumn Two Bulls is the mother of Wakiyan, or Loud Brave Thunder, a young Oglala Lakota protester who was maced by police on August 26 during a march against alcohol sales along the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “My son believes in sobriety. One thing he told me was that Crazy Horse, his hero, was a sober warrior. Crazy horse didn’t believe in alcohol and he knew what was coming because he was a spiritual man and he stood up and fought against what was coming.” Wakiyan is ten years old. Days after the protest his vision was still blurry from the mace.
2. Wakiyan takes part in traditional ceremonies, traveling as far away as Wyoming to offer respect to the sacred, to hang prayer flags in the presence of Mato Tipila, or bear lodge, an enormous intrusion of igneous rock that towers over the land like a blunted 1,200 foot buffalo horn. The sacred mountain in the Black Hills is also known as Devil’s Tower in the language of the ones who made wretched war on the Lakota and colonized the region.
Lakota protesters occupy Highway 87 in White Clay.
3. There are four liquor stores and only fourteen residents in the unincorporated town of White Clay. It exists purely to unload alcohol, and lots of it. On average, the retailers sell 12,500 cans of beer every day, mostly to the reservations 40,000 residents. White Clay is 250 feet from Pine Ridge where alcohol is forbidden.
4. I’ve always only respected and prayed for the “zombies” of White Clay, because some of them are my uncles, my grammas, or my cousins, a new pain hard to see…When I used to live at home, I live in Omaha now, I would drive through White Clay everyday, early in the morning, with a cigarette and a dream, on my way to school, I drove through everyday, with a fleeting moment’s honor, I would honk at them; a small moment of honor, a small song with one drum beat and one sound, a death song perhaps, I would honor them. – Elisha Yellow Thunder
5. There is a green State Highway sign near the hamlet of Wounded Knee, 18 miles northeast of White Clay that lists four possible burial sites of Crazy Horse, the great Lakota warrior. It is believed that his family buried his bones and his heart in the earth beside the creek.
6. Wounded Knee Creek is cut by wind, its behavior a condition of the topography of wind. The surface is evaporated skywards by the sweeping aridity in the summer or frozen by the crystallized gusts of winter. Its waters eventually meander northwest to feed the White River into the isolated grassland mesas and buttes of the Badlands. From there, the blood of Wounded Knee Creek eventually feeds the Missouri, empties into the Mississippi, mixes with silt, agricultural runoff, thousands of other tributaries, and dumps, some 1,400 miles south, into the Gulf of Mexico. The migration of the watersheds of the Lakota nations, which carry the debris of attempted genocide, of struggle and spirit, pass into the warm open ocean, feeding the intensity of hurricanes.
Members of Deep Green resistance blockade highway, shutting down liquor sales.
7. Crazy Horse malt liquor first appeared in 1992 in New York City. Attorney’s representing the descendants of Crazy Horse successfully sued the brewing company responsible, which went out of business in 1999. Collectors still sell cases, from time to time, online.
Facing down the police.
8. For over 100 years the women of the Oglala Lakota nation have been dealing with an attack on the mind body and spirit of their relatives. We have been silenced through chemical warfare waged by the corporations who are out to exploit and make a profit off of the suffering and misery of our people. The time has come to end this suffering by any means necessary. – Olowan Martinez, organizer of the Women’s Peace March.
Young Lakota wearing fox head prepares for march.
9. Numerous documented complaints have been lodged against the four liquor stores: beer sales to Lakota minors; racist slurs from the store keepers; the trading of alcohol for sexual favors; the violation of open container laws at the store fronts; the continued harassment of the Lakota by poisonous profiteers.
Helen Red Feather, veteran of Wounded Knee 1973, protesting alcohol sales in White Clay.
10. In 1973 several hundred Oglala Sioux and hundreds of others occupied the hamlet of Wounded Knee with rifles and roadblocks. Under the banner of the American Indian Movement (AIM) protesters reclaimed sovereignty of the land–reclaimed the spirit of a warrior’s revolt. They demanded the end of corrupt tribal government collusion with outside and moneyed interests, the return of the Black Hills, and the end of strip mining, which toxified Lakota waters, on their land. For 71days AIM and the Lakota held the town. U.S. Armed Forces, Marshals, the National Guard and the FBI surrounded the uprising, cutting electricity and food supplies to Wounded Knee. Buddy Lamont and Frank Clearwater, both members of AIM, were killed by machine gun fire. Two FBI agents fell in open gunfights. Twelve other members of the uprising simply disappeared. In the end law enforcement raided the camp and made over 1,200 arrests. AIM organizer, Leonard Peltier, received two life sentences. Over the next few years the reservation would see more than 60 unsolved murders of tribal members.
11. Every year, the Lakota and other First Nation peoples commemorate the ‘73 uprising. It’s not uncommon to see U.S. flags displayed upside down.
12. I was also taught that the American flag upside down is our right. That when our ancestors rode off with this flag at the Battle of the Greasy Grass [aka Custer’s Last Stand] it became ours. – Olowan Martinez.
13. Along with 10 year old Wakiyan, veterans of the ‘73 uprising, protesters from AIM grassroots, Deep Green Resistance (DGR), Un-Occupy Albuquerque, Occupy Lincoln and Native Youth Movement (NYM) joined women from the Oglala Lakota nation for the Women’s Peace March on White Clay. Members of DGR closed down Nebraska Highway 87 for six hours by linking arms in fortified pvc tubes, laying in the road. Elders and youth provided them with support–water, shade, drums. Some stood with ceremonial staffs between the protesters and the police. The action cut off sales at the liquor stores to the tune of five grand. This is the second such highway blockade this summer. Autumn Two Bulls publicly thanked the activists for showing solidarity with the Lakota people noting that active unity across cultural lines would bring results. One of the members of DGR noted that the group is honored to follow the leadership of the Lakota. According to a published DGR code of conduct, “Non-indigenous members of DGR remember that we are living on stolen land in the midst of an ongoing genocide. The task of the non-indigenous is to build solidarity with indigenous people in defending the land, preserving traditional cultures, and protecting sacred ceremonies from exploitation.”
14. Police sprayed mace from their cars, disabling marchers, elders, children, anyone–a chemical drive by.
The police maced protesters from the windows of their cruisers.
15. A few days later–ushered by gusty winds–wildfires moving north from Nebraska raced through the Pine Ridge Reservation, burning 25,000 acres. The tribal government issued evacuation orders for several districts.
16. It’s common for winds to topple buildings throughout the area.
17. In 1890, hundreds of famished Minneconjou Sioux were murdered by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry in the dead of winter at Wounded Knee, 18 miles from White Clay. Old photos capture the scene of the genocide in the frozen snow. With the thaw, the blood made its way to the creek.
18. There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce, and the women and children of course were strewn all along the circular village until they were dispatched. Right near the flag of truce a mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing, and that especially was a very sad sight. The women as they were fleeing with their babes were killed together, shot right through, and the women who were very heavy with child were also killed. All the Indians fled in these three directions, and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys who were not wounded came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there. – Testimony of American Horse to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1891.
19. Nearly twenty years before the massacre at Wounded Knee, Crazy Horse led a successful coalition war party against the 7th Cavalry of the U.S. Army, which included 700 soldiers and one General George Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn in Montana.
20. Every year tribal members reenact their ancestors’ victory against Custer in a grand celebration on horseback.
21. One year after the victory, as the story goes, Crazy Horse was fatally wounded in Nebraska, resisting imprisonment.
22. Crazy Horse malt liquor has a Facebook page in disturbing memoriam.
23. Though the Lakota struggle to rid their community of outside poisons has existed since the first European traders arrived in their land with small pox and liquor, the recent skirmishes were reignited in 1999. Two tribal members, Ron Hard Heart and Wally Black Elk Jr., were killed near White Clay, their deaths unsolved. Marches, protests, blockades and legislative hearings in Nebraska called into question the legality and morality of liquor sales in the region.
Vivian Loud Hawk, who has lost loved ones from alcohol-related deaths, condemns the business practices of bars in White Clay.
24. According to Re-Member, a non-profit working on the reservation, Pine Ridge boasts some rather painful statistics: alcoholism in up to 80 percent of the community; 1 in 4 infants suffer the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome; the lowest life expectancy rate in the U.S., second lowest in the Western Hemisphere; high rates of cancer, diabetes, suicide.
25. Wakiyan: Alcoholism ain’t right. It kills a lot of our relatives.
26. The Oglala Sioux tribe filed a lawsuit in February, 2012 seeking $500 million in damages from the four establishments and the nation’s biggest breweries.
27. The area around White Clay has a history rooted in illegal liquor sales. In 1882, at the behest of Oglala elders and the U.S. Indian agent in the territory, U.S. President Chester Arthur ordered that a buffer zone be put in place in Nebraska, south of the reservation, between illegal whisky peddlers and the Lakota. Known as the White Clay Extension, the fifty square mile area was later incorporated into the reservation then offered up into public domain, precipitating a land grab by whites. Liquor licenses followed shortly after–its original purpose turned upside-down.
28. The growing alliance in defense of Lakota sovereignty, uniting DGR, the occupy movement and indigenous resistance, both broadly, under the banner of AIM, and locally, with the descendants and veterans of the ‘73 uprising, is promising to the resistance–terrifying to authority.
29. DGR is a movement built upon Derrick Jensen’s critique of industrial civilization and his premises for a return to a healthy humanity and planet, spelled out his book End Game. In essence, Jensen has called for the deliberate toppling of industrialism and militarism, power-grids, dams, monoculture, patriarchy, and the dominant culture of contemporary city-states–for a return to the land and the land-based community. In his books Jensen calls for a new warrior ethos amongst environmentalists, for a serious resistance prepared to meet a serious and terrifying enemy, a resistance akin to the French underground during WWII, the Spanish anarchists in the time of Franco, or the Lakota Sioux in the time of Crazy Horse.
30. It was Custer’s Last Stand, sure, but not the last stand of Manifest Destiny, which eventually had its way and still does.
31. Until it kills itself, or something else does.
Russ McSpadden is a part of the editorial collective of the Earth First! Journal and Newswire. He has worked on grassroots biodiversity, human and indigenous rights campaigns across the United States and has taken part in tree-sits, power plant blockades and late night political rants about the beauty of the stars and the detritus of civilization. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org