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In this 1985 recording from PEN America’s International Writers for Peace Day, Maurice Kenny reads a poem addressing the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee. Kenny wrote this poem in 1973 during the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge Reservation. This week marks 44 years since the end of the AIM’s siege.



The next poem I’d like to read might take a slight introduction. It deals with the massacre of peaceful Lakota Sioux People at Wounded Knee in 1890. And I wrote it back in 1973 at the time of the confrontation back at Wounded Knee then.

In it, I use a few expressions which perhaps I should explain.

I use the word “mother,” and of course I mean the earth. I use the word “father,” and I mean the almighty, the creator. And [when] I use the word “brother,” I’m really talking about brothers and sisters, we two leggeds, the four leggeds, the wingeds, and those of the water. And I use a Lakota expression: “Chankpe Opi Wakpala!” It means Wounded Knee.

Back in the late 1800s, a Paiute holy man by the name of Wovoka had a vision, and in his vision he was told that if the people danced hard enough and long enough, they would dance the buffalo back to the plains, and in that dance they would fall out in frenzy and have a vision and be reunited with their ancestors and see new growth on the earth.

I take a quote, from the holy man, Black Elk:

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back from this high hill of old age, I can see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young … A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hoop was broken and scattered.”—Black Elk