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The Hypocrisy of "Happy Holidays"
by Shelley Bluejay Pierce
ver many years, I have dealt with intense sadness, confusion and dismay about the “Happy Holidays” commentary that intrudes upon every waking moment in the U.S. culture.  The “happy” comments begin right before Thanksgiving and continue on until after New Year’s Day.  Our lives are assaulted in every form imaginable as the celebratory events unfold and the mass marketing of every trinket, widget and wonder-toy bombards us.
I am not writing this to wage war upon religions and their choices. I am not writing this to discuss the pros and cons of using “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” either, though that topic has certainly garnered a great deal of controversy in the main stream media lately. Quite simply, I am stating my own opinions about the use of this “Happy….” preface to an extended holiday season that causes a period of deep mourning in the Native culture.

It is we who are blind to hear
asking who
asking what to blame
when history has always
been more than willing
to repeat itself.
Needing only innocence
for a backdrop
upon which sinister fingers
weave tapestries of blood
with a needle whose eye
is thread with greed.

 - Frances J. Monk

Beginning with “happy” Thanksgiving, the feasting upon displays of food that stagger the imagination, is meant to foster an attitude of gratitude for all that we have. Gatherings of friends and family surrounding the massive feasts may bring about prayers, reflection upon our many blessings and the completion of a good harvest in the previous growing season.

We have a great deal to be thankful for in this country as compared to other nations where starvation, disease and violence is the norm. In the American Indian memory there lays a darker understanding to Thanksgiving. Many commemorate this day by calling it the “National Day of Mourning” because the invaders to this land signaled death, disease, and cultural genocide from the point of first contact.

By examining the use of the term “happy…” prior to adding the Thanksgiving holiday notation, confusion arises about just how “happy” this holiday feasting celebration makes the common citizen in this country. The thankful attitude, happiness at having spent time with friends and family must not linger with some humans as I remind you of a bitterly cold dawn and the event that took place just days after a “Happy” Thanksgiving.

November 29, 1864, more than 700 soldiers, mostly volunteer Colorado state militia, attacked an Indian encampment on Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. The men of this camp were away hunting so the targets were old men, women, children, and babies.  Leading the attack on this tribal community, where a USA flag and a white flag of peace topped Chief Black Kettles’ lodge, was Colonel John M. Chivington, a former Methodist preacher known as the "Fighting Parson." Col. Chivington was well known in the region for saying his mission in life was "to kill Indians."

Several investigations were conducted, two by the military and one by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War who stated,  "Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities, and then returned to Denver and boasted of the brave deed he and the men under his command had performed”.

Colonel Chivington proclaimed before the attack "Kill and scalp all!  Big and little; nits make lice."

Between 150 and 184 Cheyenne were reported dead; most were women, children, and elderly men. Col. Chivington and his men mutilated the Cheyenne dead and later paraded through the streets of Denver adorned with scalps and other body parts, including human fetuses.

This was the “happy” attitude that carried over from Thanksgiving Day 1864.

Moving forward in this grand season of holiday happiness, we come to Christmas. Gift giving, grand celebrations of Christian religious ceremony and the tracking of Santa Claus on his gift deliveries devour our every waking moment. Songs are sung and one in particular repeats the words, “Peace on Earth, good will towards men…”

Like the lasting “happy” that comes with Thanksgiving, the Christmas season also seems to carry no lingering effect upon the participants celebrating this sacred season marking the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, a revered President of these United States made history the very day after Christmas in 1862.

On December 26, 1862, following orders issued by President Abraham Lincoln, the largest mass execution in U.S. history occurred. 38 members of the Santee Sioux tribe were hung for various “crimes” the very day after the “happy” Christmas Day. The 38 condemned men sang the Sioux death song until soldiers placed nooses around their necks at this very public hanging. The control rope was cut and thirty-eight Santee Sioux dangled lifeless in the air.

Quite the “happy” season indeed.

Moving forward a few years, we arrive at the Christmas merriment of 1890 where the brutality of the 7th U. S. Cavalry was all ready in the advanced preparation stages for what would later be known as the “Massacre at Wounded Knee.”

On December 29, 1890, just days after the “happy” holiday season of Christmas, the 7th U. S. Cavalry surrounded the camp led by Chief Big Foot. On a reservation supposedly protected by two treaties, four Hotchkiss guns surrounded the Wounded Knee occupants. 500 Cavalry troops under the command of Colonel James W. Forsyth began the process of disarming the Indians of any weapons. During a small disturbance, the Hotchkiss guns began firing into an unarmed gathering of people at a combined rate of 200 or more rounds a minute.
Of the original 350 Indians, one estimate stated that only 50 survived. Most historical statistics report over 200 Indians being killed that day but government figures only reported the Indian dead as 64 men, 44 women and girls, and 18 babies. Many of the injured died of exposure in the freezing weather, and several days after the incident the dead were strewn as far as approximately two to five miles away from the original site.

Those who did survive the massacre or were not yet dead were taken to a makeshift hospital in the Pine Ridge Episcopal Church. Ironically, above the pulpit hung a Christmas banner that read:  “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”

I guess that if the “happy” portion of the Christmas holiday had been forgotten, at least the words to that famous carol remained, though it didn’t save the innocent ones at Wounded Knee.

A blizzard swept over the countryside the night of December 29, 1890. Perhaps the troops returned home to their families and fellow military members to celebrate yet another “Happy” holiday, New Year’s Eve.

New Years Eve has become the marking point for leaving behind the previous year and making pledges to what wonderful changes we intend to make for the new year ahead. Great celebrations, counting down the seconds to the official beginning of the New Year and popping corks to champagne bottles herald this “happy” event.  The New Year of 1891 was such a “happy” day that following the blizzard, a burial party headed back out to the massacre site along Wounded Knee Creek.

The soldiers responsible for the Wounded Knee Massacre greeted the New Year’s Day of 1891 by returning to a valley covered with frozen bodies. The corpses were thrown into a single pit though there are reports that four infants were found still alive because their mothers had wrapped them inside their own shawls before dying.

Twenty-three soldiers from the Seventh Calvary were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the slaughter of defenseless Indians at Wounded Knee.

The New Year “happy” attitude was apparently in full swing during the Maria’s River Massacre also. On January 23, 1870, U.S cavalry members laid in ambush position around a Blackfoot camp they believed led by the leader, Mountain Chief.  The chief of this camp left the safety of his lodge and began walking toward the armed cavalry members waving a safe-conduct paper.  History now reveals that this was not Mountain Chief’s camp at all but was that of Piegan leader, Heavy Runner, who had enjoyed friendly relations with the white men. 

One of the Army scouts, Joe Kipp, shouted warnings that they had the wrong camp in their gun sites but he was threatened into silence. The first shot was fired, killing Heavy Runner and the massacre ensued.

Just as in the massacre at Sand Creek, the Indian camp was unprotected because most of the adult men were out hunting.  When the shooting stopped, over 173 were dead, most of who were women, children and the elderly.  140 others were captured and then released. These survivors were left without horses, adequate food, or clothing.  As these refugees made their way to Fort Benton, some ninety miles away, many of them froze to death along the journey.

Though this massacre of Blackfoot members at Maria’s River was every bit as significant as Bear River, Sand Creek and Washita Massacres, history has overlooked this incident. There is little mention of this post-“happy”-New Year’s event in history books. No sign or monument marks the site of the mass grave of the Piegan Maria’s River Massacre victims.

I have written about these “happy” holiday memories at various times and readers often comment to me that we, as Native people, should “get over it! That is the past and we are living in a new day now!”


Various comments come in to me stating that the apologies have been made to the indigenous people here and there exists a new and stronger relationship between our races.


An apology indicates an acknowledgment of past wrongs yes, but for an apology to bring true and lasting change, there must be an alteration to the previous behaviors. The people living in reservation communities may not have the 7th Cavalry surrounding them with guns at this point in time but when there are living conditions that rival those in 3rd world countries, lack clean water or freedom from the harmful contaminations remaining after uranium and other mining still exist?  The damage to the people continues to this day.

You may ask me why these historical massacres of various tribal communities brings me to the deepest levels of sorrow and depression during these few weeks of “happy” celebratory holidays. Quite simply, I tell you that in addition to those people that died in the historical slaughters, there are the survivors. The surviving bloodlines are still representative in our People to this very day.

I have one of the most precious brothers and teachers in my life here in Montana. He carries the Santee bloodlines from Mankato. This Santee brother introduced me to one of the strongest women I have had the honor of knowing and her family line comes from survivors at Sand Creek. Both of these relatives have shared their joy, teachings and time with me. One priceless day, we spent together and journeyed in to pray for and with the Yellowstone buffalo.

I have looked into the eyes of friends and shared meals during Pow Wow in Browning with those who carry the last name “Kipp.”  That bloodline is mentioned in the history of the Maria’s River Massacre. One of the greatest times I ever spent with my Blackfoot relatives was in ceremony alongside a man I deeply admire and whose eyes will look right into your soul… a beautiful soul carried inside a man named “Heavy Runner.”

I work alongside some amazing Lakota relatives in their current battles against uranium mining, enormous hog farms being moved into areas where they have their schools, homes and near sacred lands and water supplies. These strong and committed relatives fight the current re-creation of a history that has not changed over the century since Wounded Knee. The only difference in the attacks upon their well-being is the weaponry used.

I look into my beautiful relatives eyes or hear their voices on the phone and know that these people too, are survivors of massacres or other assaults all across Canada and the USA.  In the struggles of today, I stand beside my loved ones at Six Nations, Attawapiskat, and in the battle to save Bear Butte and other sacred sites. I stand beside my relations fighting to protect burial grounds that hold the remains of our relatives. I fight in the continued search for freedom for Leonard Peltier and other issues that still attempt to destroy our Nations.

Our stories continue on and are retold for every generation that follows. The historical massacres are not “history” for me, for they do not rest in the dusty pages of a book. These memories are carried in the eyes and heart, etched upon the faces and revealed in the everyday relationships with the bloodline members of survivors of these events. 

“Happy” holidays may become a reality when we as a human race truly walk and behave according to some of the teachings represented in these ritualized events. From Thanksgiving to Christmas and on into the New Year, there have been mass murders across all sectors of humanity. I have spoken only to those that personally affect me.

Perhaps, a starting place for the healing of just one of these massacres would be to take a few moments out of your busy, “happy” holiday season to sign a current petition.

Twenty-three soldiers from the Seventh Calvary were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the slaughter of defenseless Indians at Wounded Knee.  If, like me, you feel this honor has been bestowed to those less than deserving of such a valued acknowledgement of military service, please go to this site and give a “happy” holiday gift in the memory of all those who died at Wounded Knee.

“Happy” holidays,

Mitakuye Oyasin,
We are all related.

insert video link to-

insert attached picture- Wounded Knee


Forever, when I walk beside the water,
I will see there, your reflection.
I will hear your laughter in the wind.
I will feel your warmth in the rays of the sun.
and as the Blue Jay cries out, that he has seen you,
I will know that still, I breathe the air you breathe.
I walk beneath the same sky,
I sleep beneath the same moon,
And that my love for you will never die,
Until I walk no more, the Earth you walk

By DONNA J BROOKS,  Cherokee- 

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