Kluven tunga


“We hardly dared to breathe”

“My name is Gladys Bissonette. I was born twelve miles east of Pine Ridge in South Dakota. I have spent my whole life on this reservation. My mother died in 1924, I think I was four at the time. I lived with my father the whole winter and he used to put me on his horse and take me with him to his job. He worked fore a white farmer, who lived three miles from our home. I was with the white lady all day and in the evening, when it was dark, my father brought me home again. He worked for very little money. The job was just a livelihood. Sometimes it wasn´t even a proper life. Our food cost a lot of money. So one of my sisters had to take care of me.”

“Did you go to school?”

“I was stuck in the Catholic school west of Pine Ridge. I was there for nine years. My grandfather told me bedtime stories about things he knew would happen to the Indian people. Now that I think of those stories, I realize that he was right. The nuns constantly punished the full-bloods. They scared us so that we should become pious. But we didn´t think that God loved any of us Indians. The nuns told us that our pipe religion was the work of the Devil. My father was brainwashed into thinking that the Catholic school was the only one that could take care of me after my mother died. He was a big, tough wrangler and simply didn´t have the time to raise a little girl. The Catholic priest taught us to be grateful for everything. We should be so thankful that we were almost afraid to live. Yes, sometimes afraid to breathe. But I never really believed them. And in 1964, when I was old, a relative told me about the traditional Indian pipe religion. It was not until then that I was brought back home for real.”

“But for the most part you have been unaware of the culture and religion of your people?”

“Yes. Different people on the reservation would talk about the religion and say that horrible things could happen to those who participated in the ceremonies. But now many medicine men have picked up their pipes again. And the Indians have become aware of how Christianity through lies and betrayal has stolen from the poor Indians.”

“Can you remember when white people started coming to the reservation in larger numbers?”

“I think it was in the 40´s. The government had used the Bureau of Indian Affairs to exterminate the Indians, but it didn´t go fast enough. So in 1934 the Congress made up a new election system, and many Indians gave up their inheritant rights. Most full-bloods didn´t bother to vote in the elections on the reservation. Then all the half-bloods came in and took control with the support of the government. It was just like every other game that the government is playing with people from what they call the lower classes. In this respect, we are not alone anymore.”

“But the Bureau of Indian Affairs was here before that?”

The BIA has been here as long as the government has been here. Now the BIA is saying that we full-bloods should be grateful for our social welfare checks. We should not dare to ask for more. The BIA says: we don´t have to give you the checks; if you´re not satisfied, we can always give them to someone else.”

“What does the government really want, then?”

“The main issue is Indian land. They want our land. That´s why they use half-bloods and whites who come here and frighten us. The government provides them with rifles and alcohol and all the money they need to call themselves Oglala Sioux and to run this reservation. But none of them who sit in Pine Ridge and make decisions today is a real Indian according to the treaty between our ancestors and the American government at Fort Laramie in 1868.”

“So today´s tribal government does not represent the full-blood Indians?”

“No, they are just bought-up puppets. They line their pockets at our expense. We have seen and watched this development for a long time, but what could we do? For hundred years we were doomed, we were prisoners of war from 1868 to 1968.”

“What happened in 1968?”

“American Indian Movement was born. The BIA has always told us: talk to your tribal chairman, talk to the police, if he doesn´t answer, and if that doesn´t work either, you can contact Washington and the Department of the Interior. But if you do that, it is just a waste of time. They write you a letter saying that they will look into the complaints. But that investigation is still going on, and by now they don´t even remember what they are investigating. In the end, they will discover that we are the ones who investigate them. Through the American Indian Movement we have gained a voice.”

“But still you have received a lot of subsidies from the BIA…”

“The money always gets lost on the way. We are never included in the picture. When they talk about their rich country and their foreign aid to the poor countries, Uncle Sam should look at these reservations first. There are people everywhere in the U.S.A. that are starving to death right now. Not just Indians. People are being robbed. They may get 125 dollars in social welfare, but when the rent is paid there´s only one dollar left. And food is getting more expensive because Mother Nature is punishing us for our wastefulness. If anything at all will grow next year, we will be lucky. The government thinks that it can buy our sacred Black Hills for 140 million dollars. But there is nothing with Mother Nature that is for sale. They are mistaken. This is the time of exposure. The white man was much too greedy.”

“You took part in the siege at Wounded Knee in 1973?”

“Yes. South Dakota is the most racist state in the whole U.S. The white ranchers and the BIA police and the FBI and the half-bloods stood together and shot at us when we were at Wounded Knee. We couldn´t stand this dirty, corrupt tribal government any longer. We had to do something to save our people from murder and persecution. We wanted publicity so that the whole world could see how Indian people are treated in the U.S.A., how we are starved and forced to live with harassment and humiliation. We are a forgotten people on our own land. We had to let the world know. It´s become worse here on the reservation since Wounded Knee, the violence has increased. But I trust an old saying: it´s always darkest just before dawn. I still intend to survive in order to experience the day when my Indian people receive help.”

“Do you expect help from the white society?”

“No, white people are too greedy. You know what the world looks like today. There are people screaming for food. But the money people still manage just fine. They´d rather buy rifles and ammunition for their armies than food for their starving people. And the ones that are most greedy think that the world is over-populated. Starvation is one way of killing the poor and unwanted in this world. The rich want to own everything. But it will never work before the Great Spirit. I read in a newspaper that Richard Nixon had two special planes made for him and his administration, so that they would be prepared if someone pressed the button and the world went up in flames. He and his people would sail away in those planes and escape. But didn´t he understand that the planes would have to land some time? Where would he land? Well, he got some time to think over his situation. The Great Spirit works in his own way. The mightiest here on Earth can never conquer the Great Spirit.”