Personal Change Leadership in 2021 and the 130th Anniversary of Wounded Knee: Leading the Conversation on Diversity IV

December 29, 2020
On December 29, 1890, the US 7th cavalry moved upon an encampment of Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota with the formal intention of disarming them. Fourteen years had passed since the great gathering of plains tribes early in the summer of 1876. Then, as in 1890, Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, figured prominently in Native American leadership.
In 1876, George Armstrong Custer, a soldier of national fame, led his 7th cavalry in an attack on plains tribes, Sioux and Cheyenne principal among them, gathered in historic numbers along the Little Bighorn River in present day Montana. The attack repulsed, Custer and all of his immediate command died in the Native American counterattack. These events occurred just over a week before America’s centennial celebration.
In 1890, tension between the US government and local Native American plains tribes was rising as was a religious and cultural movement called the Ghost Dance. On December 15, 1890, an attempt to arrest the legendary Sitting Bull and thereby to curtail involvement by him in the unrest in general and in the Ghost Dance movement in particular ended in multiple deaths, including Sitting Bull’s.
A few days later, on December 19, Commanding General Nelson Miles summarized the overall state of affairs in the area in a communique to General Schofield: United States Congress (1937). Hearings Before the Committee on Indian Affairs. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 28. Retrieved December 28, 2017
 “The difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires the fulfillment of Congress of the treaty obligations that the Indians were entreated and coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for which they have received nothing.”
“They understood that ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced, and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the crops of the white people, for two years have been almost total failures.”
“The dissatisfaction is widespread, especially among the Sioux, while the Cheyenne have been on the verge of starvation and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life. These facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and sustained by thousands of witnesses.”
On December 29th, the troops set about disarming the Sioux at Wounded Knee. With many already disarmed, someone fired a shot and killing ensued that left 25 cavalry soldiers dead along with somewhere between 150-300 Native American men, women, and children. More people died subsequently of their wounds. Twenty American soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for their service that day.
Shortly after Wounded Knee, General Miles wrote his wife and described it as “the most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children” DeMontravel, Peter R. (1998). A Hero to His Fighting Men. Kent State University Press. p. 206. Historians generally have come to refer to Wounded Knee as a massacre. On its 100th anniversary in 1990, both Houses of Congress passed a resolution expressing “deep regret”.
This year, on the 130th anniversary of the tragedy at Wounded Knee, may we consider that at our best Americans are a people of peoples, a people committed to equal protection of one and all under the law and a people committed to protecting the right of one and all to pursue happiness as they might see fit so long as their pursuit does not unduly inhibit such pursuit by others, at work and outside it. Our manifest failures to live up to our declared values means that we still have much work to do in this moment and in the moments to come, in 2021 and beyond. That work includes broadening and deepening our understanding of the past, of our soaring aspirations and impressive accomplishments together with our terrible and shameful failures, as well as renewing our commitment to values expressed in those accomplishments and violated in those failures.
The anniversary of Wounded Knee provides us the occasion to step back on the eve of a new year and to consider who we are, individually and collectively, personally and professionally, to what we aspire (and how strongly), and to the labor before us–including at the workplace, be it remote or face to face. All of us, especially leaders at every level, should examine our respective, private dashboards and ask ourselves if we feel the need to work harder at closing the gap between our expressed values and our behavior. Do we feel the need to change as we move toward an as yet untouched 2021, a year likely to see the first Native American cabinet secretary, Deb Haaland, sworn in and of the Interior no less?
May we all come to look back upon 2021 as a year of profound personal and professional development and accomplishment, a year in which we renewed our commitment to our dearest of values, through thought and deed.