November is Native American History Month, so let’s learn some Native American history and protest music. The history of Native American peoples in America is one of atrocious actions by white settlers, inflicting millions of deaths and forcing millions more from tribal land. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced countless indigenous communities out of the newly established United States to the unknown territories of the west. The trek west became known as the Trail of Tears, for thousands of Native Americans fell victim to both harsh weather conditions and U.S. military soldiers. Several years later, the Ghost Dance, a spiritual movement among Native American tribes, became a prominent mode of processing their trauma. For some tribes, the Ghost Dance prophesized a Native American paradise, one of peaceful coexistence with the white settlers; for others, notably the Sioux, it prophesized the elimination of all non-indigenous peoples from their lands. On December 29, 1890, the Lakota Sioux were met by the United States Army, responding to calls for aid from the white population of South Dakota, as Ghost Dance rituals developed. Although it is unclear how the shooting started, by the end, nearly all 300 Lakota Sioux were massacred at Wounded Knee Creek.
Redbone’s We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee engages with the general history of Native Americans’ treatment by white settlers, focusing on the Wounded Knee Massacre. With references to the many broken “promises” of the white settlers, Redbone draws
attention to the assurances of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that Native American land would not be infringed upon without their consent, which was later ignored. Following these lyrics is: “And finally on the Reservation, we were going for our preservation, we were all wiped out by the seventh cavalry.” This refers to the Lakota Sioux’s desertion of their reservation, during which they faced the Seventh Cavalry Regiment at Wounded Knee Creek. Within the chorus, the song mentions the massacre as being “in the name of Manifest
Destiny,” which points to the belief by white settlers that the land of America was their God-given right and further colonization is, therefore, necessary and justified. In the last verse of the song, Redbone ends on an optimistic note. With the lyrics “There’s a whole new generation, who will dream of veneration,” they elevate the voices of young Indigenous Americans in a post-Wounded Knee world working toward their liberation.
Today, Native Americans continue to fight for their “veneration” as they work toward
reclaiming land and preventing further infringement on their rights. The lyrics of music like
Redbone’s are incredibly influential in teaching this history, furthering the understanding of why Native Americans continue to fight. It is important to remember that the wrongdoings of the past remind us to do better in the future. In an era when the history of oppression is stifled across the country, we turn to the words of the survivors—like Redbone—to learn.
Listen to Redbone’s We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee here:
For more Native American protest music: https://www.cbc.ca/music/read/a-brief-evolution-of-indigenous-protest-music-1.5062369
“History of the Native American BAND Redbone.” Redbone, redbone-band.com/bio.
“Northwest Ordinances.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,
“Records of Rights.” Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee Massacre, 1890,
Smith, David Michael. “Counting the Dead: Estimating the Loss of Life in the Indigenous
Holocaust, 1492-Present.” Https://Www.se.edu/Native-American/Wp-
Content/Uploads/Sites/49/2019/09/A-NAS-2017-Proceedings-Smith.pdf, University of
“The Wounded Knee Massacre.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association,