Wisdom from Black Elk

"Know the power that is peace." --Black Elk, from the visitor's center at the site of Custer's Last Stand

There are certain places on this earth that seem to carry the energy of the things that happened there: my grandparents' farm in Iowa, the former site of the Twin Towers, the city of Paris.

The site of Custer's Last Stand, or The Battle of Little Bighorn is like that. Bleak, hot (on the day we were there), and preternaturally quiet, there is no doubt that this is a place where serious things happened. Where battles were fought and won, mistakes were made and men died. Where the hope of a people rose and then fell again....

In the midst of all this are these words from Black Elk, the famous Medicine Man of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux), who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn when he was just twelve years old. Whose hopes no doubt rose on this day, but fell after the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.

What does it mean to have peace under extreme circumstances? When your land has been taken away by force and trickery, when your way of life has been destroyed by foreign invaders?

This was the question I asked myself as we drove across Indian reservations and visited the site of Wounded Knee (a place that also carries the energy of what happened there, in this case, the energy of sadness and defeat tinged with a little bit of hope). How do you move on from something like this? How do you create something positive in the wake of such loss?

I have no answer, but the power of peace seems to be a good place to start. In our country and in our own lives.


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