What is the historical significance of Wounded Knee, South Dakota and how has it become a symbol of Native American history?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wounded Knee is a symbolic moment in the relationship between Native Americans and White Settlers.  In 1890, the forced relocation of Native Americans had become governmental policy.  The United States Army approached the Sioux tribe at Wounded Knee with the intent to escort them off of the land.  The military surrounded the tribe with a rudimentary form of a machine gun being aimed by some of the soldiers.  The intent was to escort them off of the land, with the presence of armed forces as an attempt to move the process along in an expedient manner.  As the army had made repeated calls for the Sioux tribe to lay down their arms, Black Coyote, an Indian chief who was dead did not hear the command, and with the escalation of tensions, shots broke out.  300 Sioux, men, women, and children died as a result of the massacre of Wounded Knee.

The moment represented so much of the miscommunication of between White America and Native Americans.  This can be seen in many instances.  The first and most evident would be that the United States army came to "escort" the Sioux off of their land.  This is representative of so much of the affairs between both sides, where one side repeatedly usurped land from the other.  The standoff shows so much:  One side calling out to another side that does not understand the other.  Native Americans had a difficult time "understanding" so much of White Settler society.  For example, the notion of "owning" the land is an aspect that did not fully register with Native American society, which believed that land is communal and not the sole propriety of any other.  The Sioux, in particular, felt that the land is not one person's or one group's, as they believed in a wide ranging nature of land.  The demands to "leave" did not make any sense to the tribe, on many levels.  Additionally, the fact that one side is "hard of hearing" to the demands of the other is also quite representative, for there were years where White society refused or could not hear Native Americans' pleas for understanding and tolerance.  The fact that one side possessed advancements in technology and used it at the whim of another spoke loudly, as well.