Pine Ridge Reservation, 1925

Why They Rebel, Part I

Ration Day at Pine Ridge

At seven, Gladys Spotted Bear enrolls in the Holy Rosary Mission School. The teachers beat her if she and her classmates speak their native Lakota language. Converted to Catholicism, she speaks English and prays in Latin. The school makes a conscious effort to destroy the Sioux culture, including their clothing, hair length, skin color, and, of course, religion.

The children perform badly when asked to raise their hands and give the correct answer. None of the children want to be first because they do not want any of their classmates to look less intelligent. The school teaches them that this sort of cooperation is bad and that they should compete with one another.

As Gladys gets older, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, (BIA) launches a campaign to wipe out her native religion. The BIA forbids the Sioux to perform ceremonies like the Potlatch (where all or most of one’s possessions are given away to other people in the tribe) and the Sun Dance.

When Gladys is sixteen, the U.S. government decides that the way tribes are organized is wrong. Indian leaders should be elected by ballot, the way the whites do it. For centuries the Sioux and other tribes have been organized in kinship groupings. The chief has as much power as the people allow him to have, given his wisdom, courage, and persuasive power. The Indian Reorganization Act changes all that. The Untied States government presents each reservation with a model pre-packaged constitution and removes tribal chiefs from power.


Bill Zimmerman, Airlift to Wounded Knee, 58-59