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Native American speaker discusses Lakota hardships

November 2, 1998

Rachel Salis

James Fenelon, a Lakota Indian and a sociology professor at John Carroll University speaks Monday at the Ohio Union.

Native Americans are reclaiming their culture and sovereignty after centuries of attempted domination and destruction, said a Lakota Indian who is a professor at John Carroll University. James Fenelon, a native of the South Dakota Standing Rock reservation, lectured at the Ohio Union Monday on “Wounded Knee I and II: Culturicide Resistance and Survival.” Standing Rock is the home of the Lakota Indians, more commonly known as the Sioux Indians.Fenelon, assistant professor of the sociology department at John Carroll University, said the two events at Wounded Knee highlighted the genocide of American Indians.The last stand of General George Custer occurred in Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1869. In 1973, members of the American Indian Movement commandeered a trading post in Wounded Knee to protest treatment of American Indians.Fenelon said that unlike Nazi Germany, the United States began harsh and then became less brutal. It started off with genocide and then went to cultural genocide. “But when the United States wanted to make a really big point, they would slip back into genocide,” Fenelon said.The United States forced American Indians to use its political, educational, religious and enforcement systems. Fenelon gave examples of oppression felt by the Lakota Indians from the United States military. In 1882, Lakota Indians were told that they could no longer practice their “sun dance” tradition which Fenelon said is a “four day or more traditional ceremony people do as a group to restore the relationship between one another and the earth.”The United States saw the sun dance as a “savage, pagan form of worship,” he said.In 1889, the Lakota Indians began a new tradition called the “ghost dance.” This was a “quasi-Christian ceremony that was not violent, but peaceful and loving,” he said.Felon said the United States believed the ghost dance was hostile and used it as an excuse to use military force in the region. Many different tribes had a ghost dance, but only the Lakota were forced to stop.Pictures of American Indian sun dances, ghost dances and villages accompanied his lecture. In his closing statement, Fenelon reminded the audience that “We are all related. Let’s respect one another.””This was a very informative lecture that was somewhat political,” said Jeanette Montour, president of the American Indian Council. “It was educational for me also because I especially don’t know about everything that goes on out West.”Fenelon’s lecture is part of the American Indian Awareness month. On Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., Dwight Birdwell, author of “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road,” will speak at the Ohio Union. He will speak on his experiences as a Vietnam veteran, including postwar struggles.”We do these programs to help students understand the historical context of American Indians,” said Marti Chaatsmith, coordinator of the American Indian student services of ethnic student services. “This is part of the history we share in America. This did not happen a long time ago and there are still treaties and negotiation occurring today.”


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