Wisdom Road Day #47: Joe White Mountain, Lakota Elder

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Wisdom Road Day #47: Joe White Mountain, Lakota Elder

Joe White Mountain and his granddaughter, Tabitha Keller, who introduced us.

Teaser:  Joe reports first hand from an elder who was at Custer’s Last Stand: the history books are wrong about how Custer died!

If two families have a dispute of any kind, the older people would put on a feed  and they would call these two families together.  Then at the end of the feed, the elders would give a solution and they were all gonna shake hands with each other.

“I’m 88 years old. I grew up in the little village of Bullhead here on the Standing Rock. That’s where I was born.  There was no doctors. One person had a phone that was located in the store. So if an emergency came up, everybody had to go over there. There was only two cars, my dad who was a judge at that time had one of them.  We grew our own vegetables in the summertime, did a little hunting in the fall and got ready for the winter. The government gave all the families a slab of salt pork, some flour and coffee.” 

“My dad went and fought in World War I. When the second world war started, they drafted him again. The reason why he was drafted the second time is because he made a decision that the Bureau of Indian Affairs didn’t like. He was too old and had all of us kids. But they put him up there where he was drafted.”

“This uncle of mine used to work for a rancher right down the street here. This rancher made a proposal to him, says ‘I’ll let you use all my equipment. You plow your land, whatever you grow, I’ll take a percentage of it’. So my uncle  took that to the Bureau of Indian Affairs where they says, ‘no, you can’t do that’. So I asked ‘Why could he not do that?’ That was a good proposition. They said, ‘You natives are not ready to go into business yourself’. I thought that was strange.  I come to find out after being on the council that back then the Bureau of Indian Affairs didn’t really want any of us natives to go into business. Because if that happens, they will not have a job. Back then, those BIA, none of them were native, none.  Of course, it’s different now.”

“Our parents always taught us to be honest. Be truthful. Your word is supposed to be about something. I believe those were good things to learn. Be honest, be hardworking. Always be truthful. They taught us to always be respectful towards the older people. Never answer back. Maybe they’re not always right, but don’t ever answer back.”

 “I remember growing up, some of those elderly took part when they were young in the Custer massacre. They had a card table and they would play dominoes. They said to me ‘Go sit over there. And don’t say nothing’. So I did, maybe five feet from them, and I listened.  I learned a lot. I wish I had a tape recorder then! There were some who were young and were at that battle.  They said it wasn’t like you hear.  When everything was over with, there was two warriors that brought Custer to the leaders and said, ‘What shall we do with him?’  They said, ‘give him to the women.’  Back then the women used to carry knives all the time.  Custer was not dead already.  They let the women kill him to humiliate him.  The history books will never say that, but those guys were actually there and no one ever asked them.

“I went to a Catholic run school. And then I went to a government run school at Pierre.  My family did not want me to go but did they have a choice? If they did not let us go, the government would cut off their rations and they would starve. I was about 13 when I went to the Catholic school.   I remember one time the nun asked us if we ever wanted to be a priest. Of course, I had no idea so I did not say I wanted to be a priest. I got a whipping for that. Just for saying I don’t want to be a priest.”

“I went to the Marine Corps and we were stationed in Korea during that war. Then I came home and I was in California and I met my wife.  We lived in San Jose for about 10 years. But smog was getting so bad, so then we just moved back over here. We’ve been married 61 years.”

“When I look across the prairie I see beautiful land if it’s not plowed or anything. That grass is bending whichever way the wind is blowing. But they have plowed up much of the land, and over the period many years, they’ve been using this insecticide that sunk into the ground, got into the water table and we drink it. I got cancer bad. There’s a lot of us out here on the reservation that have cancer.”

“Growing up, if two families had a dispute of any kind, the older people would put on a feed  and they would call these two families together. And then these elders will get up and ask, ‘What is the problem? Why are they mad at each other?’ Then at the end of the feed, the elders would give a solution and they were all gonna shake hands with each other. That’s how they handled problems back then.”

“There was a similar situation that came up when I was a judge. A man was a Protestant but his people they’re Catholics, and they wanted to bury him in their Catholic cemetery. So they went to court. I called all the people over. I had a good long talk with them. No lawyers, just families. I said, ‘you should have a Protestant service and then you should have a Catholic service.  And I am sure the deceased is not going to object!’  Pretty soon they all got up and I told him to shake hands. Everything was okay. Sometimes those things are not in the law book.”

“My granddaughter, she’s proud that she’s half Native. These kids a couple of years ago said, ‘You’re nothing but a white girl’, teasing, making fun of her.  She got this idea on her own. She asked my son, ‘Can you come to my classroom with me?’ He didn’t know what was going on. So he said, sure. She took her dad into the classroom with all the students and told them, ‘This is my dad!’ Needless to say they didn’t make fun of her any more.”

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By | 2022-10-22T18:06:09+00:00 October 22nd, 2022|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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