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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
Memorial Dedication 3
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Former Superintendents of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Barbara Sutteer, Gerard Baker and Neil Mangum led the dedication ceremony. Presentations were made by all the tribal representatives, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (who pushed the legislation through the Senate and the House to change the name of the Custer Battlefield National Monument to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and to build an Indian Memorial), Secretary of Interior Gail Norton who was the official representative for President George Bush (who signed the bill which appropriated the $2.3M to build the Memorial -- Thank You America For Sponsoring The Indian Memorial...We Should All Be Proud!!), and Montana Governor Judy Martz. Also present and honored was the family of Pfc. Lori Piestewa, the young Hopi woman who died in Iraq. A color guard from today's 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Hood, Texas was present as well.
Each person spoke in turn with their allotted 15 minutes and they kept to that time pretty good (after all they had 6' 4" Gerard Baker making sure)!!! The speakers addressed the 4,000+ crowd about "peace through unity", the sacrifice the Indians and soldiers made upon this ground in 1876 and the continued sacrifice they make today (such as the Piestewa family). All the while, one could look on the horizon and see the 7th Cavalry Monument and the Indian Memorial mound and imagine those brave souls who gave their lives for their country were with us this day. I can't even begin to express words to explain how moving this whole experience was.
Russell Means Speaks
Russell Means of the American Indian Movement showed up unannounced. He asked if he could speak and the NPS graciously allowed him to. It was the first time I've seen Means keep his talk to 15 minutes, but then again, Gerard Baker is bigger than Means!!! Means was wearing a long war bonnet and he opened his speech by stating that he was going to tell the true story of what happened here before the NPS rewrites history. He didn't talk about the battle; instead he talked about his movement’s demonstrations at the battlefield over the years in attempts to have an Indian Memorial built.
Well, I must say that Means is rewriting his history now as to what happened during his 1976 and 1988 demonstrations. He explained that in 1976 he and his people learned that the FBI would be at the centennial ceremony with canine units. So, AIM brought along a few dogs "in heat" and when they arrived at the battlefield they turned the female dogs loose upon the battlefield. In Mean's words, "It looked like something out of the Keystone Cops!" I've checked with several sources who were there or who were aware of what took place there in 1976 and this did not happen.
Means also rewrote his own history when he shared his memory of what happened during the demonstration on June 25, 1988. I've briefly spoken about this demonstration elsewhere on this website, but basically, the demonstrators arrived at Last Stand Hill and dug into the mass grave, poured cement and placed a crude make-shift plaque on the cement that interpreted their side of the story. Means had the audacity to say, during the Indian Memorial dedication, in front of 4,000+ people that they did not know it was a mass grave in 1988. He went on to say that if they had known, they would not have planted the plaque there. I must ask the question; how can that be a true statement? There are signs all around the mass grave that read, "Mass Grave, Please Keep Off." Those signs were there in 1988. I believe it was impossible for no one to not see those signs. Again, Means is doing what he blames the NPS of doing; rewriting his own history.
Frankly, I thought it was hypocritical of Means to show up unannounced on this great day for the American Indian. I talked with him in Taos, NM in June 2002 and he told me that he was not for the Indian Memorial. My jaw dropped when he said this because I thought of all his demonstrations. I asked him, "But I thought you were for the memorial?" His response to me was, "I am for an Indian Memorial, but not that one." So, go figure -- it's hard to understand what the man is really thinking. As Means spoke, his own people began to ignore him; they spoke amongst themselves and played with their children.
I’m proud of the NPS to be so willing to let Means speak after all the trouble he's caused them. But, still, one must ask oneself; can one man make a difference? Means did just that. If it weren’t for the demonstration in 1988 there probably would still not be an Indian Memorial today.
Dedication Closes With A Colorful Parade
Photos below © Kris Nyström
Photos below © Bob Reece
Copyright 1999-2013 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022