It happened a long time ago, at the end of December 1890. A band of 400 Lakota belonging to Big Foot's tribe was headed to Pine Ridge in South Dakota. This is where they were supposed to be headed in obedience to the decree of the US Army. They were a cold, hungry and sickly lot, and they were met just outside of Pine Ridge, at a place called Wounded Knee, by 470 men of the famous 7th Cavalry, heirs of the Custer defeat at the Little Big Horn.
They had surrendered peacefully and awakened the next morning to find themselves surrounded by heavily armed soldiers training four rapid-fire Hotchkiss guns on them from the hills above. While they were being disarmed, a gun went off and what followed can only be described as a massacre. The Army calls it a battle and the newspapers of the day referred to it the same way but it wasn't.
When the shooting finally stopped, 300 Lakota men, women and children lay dead. Of these, 200 were women and children. An official report noted, "the bodies of the women and children were scattered along a distance of two miles from the scene of the encounter." The 31 soldiers who were killed were, for the most part, victims of their own crossfire.
The editor and publisher of The Aberdeen Pioneer wrote an editorial on January 31, 1891, commenting on the events at Wounded Knee during the previous month. "The Pioneer has before declared that our safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."
This proponent of genocide was none other than L. Frank Baum, who ten years later, would write one of the most famous children's stories ever written. It is hard to believe that a man capable of uttering such hatred for other human beings, who could so easily promote mass murder, could author The Wizard of Oz. On the other hand, I have heard that even Hitler loved children.
In more recent times, we have learned that the health department used 399 black men in a federal experiment with untreated syphilis. What will we find out next?
One thing we know. While the battle has always been between the rich and powerful "haves" on the one hand, and the "have-nots" on the other, the "have-nots" were usually non-white minorities. Today, the scene is changing. Those with money and power are not just picking on minorities but are quite ready to run over anybody who stands in the path of "progress" as they define it. Skin color means nothing to these movers and shakers. If you are not rich, if you are not powerful, if you do not have influence in high places, and if you are in the way, get ready to be ignored or run over.
Pekin native, Sandra Steingraber has a newly published book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. Since her bout with cancer, which her doctors claim was linked with environmental contamination, she has been on a crusade to convince people to put a stop to the excessive release of toxic materials into the environment. She strongly declares, "The idea that a certain number of people need to die for a business to function properly is a very repugnant idea. It runs counter to all human rights precepts."
It may very well be repugnant and it may run counter to all human rights precepts but Sandra Steingraber needs to visit Williamsfield. There she will find that money, power and influence in the right places can justify anything. It can even change the word "factory" into "farm" without so much as a giggle.
In the words of Martin Luther King, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice