Sioux, the last Native American

When I was a child I supported the Native Americans, my grandfather read Tex and I felt a sort of helplessness when I saw them in the western movies, depicted as bloody assassins constantly desperate for scalps and bison hides in any situation.

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But I found the truth few years later, when I took the same routes traveled by the Lakota, the direct descendants of great chiefs such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

The hills and the wide prairies running along the state route 73 of South Dakota rise up from a ground that buried millions of bison and redskins. What is left today of the legendary Native Americans? Perhaps some murals in the new cities like Rapid City, some piece of art recalling the faces of the Sioux chiefs dominating the prairies…

The Native Americans of today, the Lakota Sioux, are an open wound in the American people’s conscience as well as in that of the government, who simply pretend they don’t exist. For most “white people”, indeed, Natives have represented a true obstacle to the birth of the great state, to the enrichment with the gold of the Black Hills, to the exploitation of the territory, even to the railway and progress in general.

They are left wandering in the reserves with a state aid as a sort of prize, but this is just a trick, the 8,000 Lakota (according to the last censuses) of the nations of Mnikówožu, Itázipčho, Sihásapa and Oóhenuŋpa try to resist in every way possible.

In the six reserves of South Dakota, the sale of alcohol and the gambling are forbidden, but as soon as you pass the border casinos start popping up. They were initially created to attract the “white people”, but quickly they turned up in places of perdition for the Natives, who buy their liquor here and more.

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After more than 125 years, massacres like the one of the Wounded Knee are still very much present in the Natives’ memory. The wounds never heal, in every neighborhood the flags of the 70’s uprisings still wave and the suffering in the reserve is visible everywhere: dead eyes, consumed by alcohol and drugs, bodies become obese because of the diabetes and bad nutrition. And, in this tragic list of sufferings, many women are also abused. Even though the desperation keeps on growing among the Sioux, you can glimpse a silent resistance carried on by those who strongly believe in the spiritual values.

An invisible population that, luckily, keeps its history and tradition alive, living in the full respect of Mother Nature. There are unbelievable stories of families that in their ancestors’ tradition recreate a present, handing down the values of the tribes which used to inhabit the prairies. There is Richard Giago, one of the best constructors of bows and arrows, who runs a ranch where he learned run archery and to do hippotherapy with the youngest people. There is Julee Richard who, with his pick-up truck, organizes patrols to hinder the methamphetamine traffic in the reserve of Pine Ridge. There is Joe Brings Plenty who, with his boxing gym at Cheyenne River, trains new warriors and, above all, takes young people off of the streets and teaches them the bases of sport ethics combined whit spirituality.

“Can you see that wood? There are tens of trees living side by side and none of them force the other to become an oak or a fir. No tree tries, with his own roots, to invade next trees’ space, even if they are different. In nature the concept of “different” doesn’t exist”. Moses Brings Plenty – medicine man of the Cherry Creek tribe of Cheyenne River (South Dakota, 2015)

It is spirituality that is the only way to hinder the decline of the Sioux: their rituals, their past and their prayers are the key for the future. Living in full contact with the four elements, sleeping on a tepee during the holy week, listening to the eldest ones, singing and praying around the fire. The sun dance with the sacrifices and the sweat lodge are traditions the Lakota are trying to keep alive so not to loose this treasure that is to be handed down.

The young Moses Brings Plenty and his brother Joe are persuaded that this rebirth shall not be limited to the Lakota population, but it should be offered to anyone who is really willing to change his lifestyle, going back to the circularity of nature: “We must learn again to be a community, to live and think like a community, where people can help each other, without yearning to be the first. Beauties are all around us, just sit under a tree and listen to the sound of nature”.

Sioux, gli ultimi indiani d'America