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The Maundy Monday Newsletter - This Week in History May 8 - 14.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was officially established in 1824, but its work has been around since the country’s founding after the Revolutionary War. What work is that?
What began as a committee headed by Benjamin Franklin to review treaties and ensure trading was on the level, the Bureau morphed into a full fledge federal agency that eventually would move from the Department of War to the newly formed Department of the Interior in 1849.
1849 was the year before Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, signed into law by President Millard Fillmore, which tried to diffuse tension between free and slave states but ended up kicking the issue down the road until a capable president came in and won the Civil War.
So, on the one hand, we were enslaving African People while at the same time assimilating Indigenous People. None of this was remotely okay, but this is where we were.
After winning the Civil War and passing a bunch of Constitutional Amendments I haven’t ranked yet, The United States found itself waging war against Native American Tribes, specifically the Lakota tribe.
In 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer led the 7th Calvary Regiment of the United States Army into battle against the Lakota and other Plains tribes near the Little Bighorn River in southeastern Montana. You might have heard that this would be Custer’s Last Stand as the Native Americans routed the Americans. They would not be assimilated this day.
Not to be dissuaded, the United States government continued its assimilation mission through a habit of not following treaties we signed with Native American Indian Tribes. To maintain control and continue to allow settlers to encroach on reservation lands, the United States sought to disarm the Lakota tribe, who, in the two decades since Little Bighorn, had been pushed back to South Dakota.
On December 29, 1890, in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the 7th Cavalry of the US Army returned and massacred around 250 men, women, and children of the Lakota Indian Tribe.
Assimilation would continue for decades as the Bureau installed leaders in the Indigenous people who were favorable to such a mandate. By the early 1970s, Richard Wilson would be elected leader of the Lakota tribe and quickly became an American politician, one who gave those loyal to him the spoils of the reservation, which were few. Fittingly, he went by the nickname of Dick.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in July 1968. It is a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of Indigenous People who faced poverty, discrimination, and other awful stuff like assimilation, due to white colonists displacing them from their native lands.
AIM took aim at the Bureau almost immediately. In 1971, AIM occupied the office of the Bureau. A year later, they returned to Washington, DC, and took over the Department of the Interior for several days and did millions of dollars of damage.
In 1973 they took their AIM to South Dakota to face off with Dick.
On February 27, 1973, AIM and other Lakota people seized and occupied the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation based in Wounded Knee after an attempt to impeach Dick failed. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The US Marshall Service, Dick’s personal security force, and the South Dakota national guard responded instantly and surrounded the reservation.
Violence would break out over the next three months. Two Lakota leaders were killed, 14 others were wounded, and the FBI suffered two causalities, including one paralyzed agent.
Negotiations increased, and on May 8, 1973, the Siege of Wounded Knee ended.
In 1975, Congress passed the Indian the Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ influence on reservation governance lessened.
In 2021, Deb Haaland became the first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Interior. She painted a bleak picture of her people.
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Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
1. Son of Sam pleaded guilty to killing six people on May 8, 1978. David Richard Berkowitz began his killing spree in the summer of 1976, and by 1977 had murdered six people and wounded eight in New York City. He sent letters to the police calling himself the Son of Sam. He is locked up in Shawangunk Correctional Facility.
2. Thomas Jonathan Jackson was killed on May 10, 1863. Better known as Stonewall Jackson, a nickname for being brain-dead about slavery and states’ rights, the successful Confederate military technician was shot three times in the left arm by rebel troops during the Battle of Chancellorsville. After amputating his arm, an unsuspecting American ally, pneumonia, finished him off.
3. Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998. The American icon who could sing, dance, and do both simultaneously passed away in a LA hospital after suffering two heart attacks. I wrote a little bit about the Chairman when I ranked unpopular presidents in 2021.
Friday will feature another round of Amendment Ranking. Also, if there is anything you would like me to answer, shoot me an email – you can just respond to this email, and I’ll receive it.
Finally, I want to thank you for making Okay History the 148th most popular history newsletter on Substack. Although I began this endeavor two years ago, I’ve been on Substack permanently for the past year. I have hundreds of subscribers, and a few of you have generously supported my work by forking over money to me. I am grateful to you all.
Thanks for reading Okay History. I hope you have a great week!