Everybody Powwow! The back story (part 1)
On February 27th, 1973, an American public, wearied by the Vietnam War, woke to the unreal prospect of guerrilla war in its own heartland.
American Indians converged on a small village in South Dakota and vowed to change the world, or die.
As real bullets ploughed through real flesh, the name Wounded Knee flashed in headlines across the globe, and the public sat mesmerised as though the whole thing was a re-run of a John Wayne Western.
The history of the 1890 massacre of the Oglala Sioux at Wounded had chilling echoes of the recent My Lai massacre by US troops during the Vietnam War. Dee Brown’s best-selling book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee which had been published in 1970, was exerting a powerful global influence, with revelations of the centuries of injustice meted out on the indigenous population of North America.
And the times they were a-changing. For a brief moment it seemed that Native Americans might achieve justice in American society.
But it was not to be. After 71 days, A.I.M., the American Indian Movement, called off the occupation, Wounded Knee faded from the world news, and the injustice continues to this day.
I was eighteen at the time, just about to finish school in England. My interest did not fade. I was captivated. I read everything I could on the subject: Newspaper clippings, books about Black Elk, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and The Oglala Sioux. I listened to Native American music, and searched out material that presented the Sioux side of the story.
Later, having completed my music degree, sitting in my local pub talking to a group of friends, I mentioned my idea to write a piece about Wounded Knee. A stranger at the next table leaned into our conversation and said “I’m a poet. I’ve just come back from Wounded Knee. You should go there if you want to write about it. I can get you in!”
Six months later, in 1978, I made the journey to Wounded Knee. It felt like a long way from Yorkshire. It was my first time in America. I had flown into New York, and made my way west. New York was pretty tense at the time, but the atmosphere on the reservation was extremely so. The repercussions of Wounded Knee 2 had left a community torn apart and struggling to survive. Goon squads terrorized the full blood Oglala on the reservation, and I heard sporadic gunfire at night. I also experienced real hostility. It was understandable, given the context.
But I dug in, made friends, and stayed for a month, talking to people, soaking up the influences, listening to music, taking part in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony and attending a Pow Wow.
I walked the hills and drove the dirt roads into The Badlands, taking photographs, and recording sounds.
It was, on reflection, a magical time.
On the last night of my stay on the reservation, I went to the local village hall to watch a play by a distinguished touring theatre group. The play told the story of the Oglala Sioux, through the eyes of the most famous Sioux medicine man, Black Elk, and was delivered in high melodramatic fashion.
Sitting next to me was an old lady who seemed to be taking a very contrary view to the show, muttering and giggling. She reacted particularly inappropriately to a very sad speech by Black Elk at the end of Act 1. During which, having tried to suppress it for some while, she finally burst out into a fit of giggles, grabbing my arm and holding it tightly until she had regained her poise.
In that small hall, her reaction took everyone by surprise, audience and performers alike.
Shortly afterwards, during the interval of the play, outside in the evening sun, I found myself standing next to her. Everyone else seemed to be giving her a wide berth. Drawn together, we introduced ourselves. Her name was Lucy Looks Twice. She was Oglala Sioux, a local, and wanted to talk. She was interested in me. She told me not to believe everything in the show. Said it didn’t happen like that. She was funny, and quick-witted, and keen to know what a young Englishman was doing in the middle of the Pine Ridge Reservation. I told her. She listened carefully, thought for a while and then gave me some cautious, but kind words of encouragement.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realised just how much weight those words carried. Thirty two years later to be precise. Prompted by a friend, I googled her name, and there it was. Straight out of the box. Lucy Looks Twice. Daughter of Black Elk. Extraordinary! The show that I had watched all those years back, sitting next to Lucy Looks Twice in that tiny village hall in Pine Ridge, had been all about her Dad!
Her reaction now made complete sense. Her words hung in the wind.
Later I wrote this song: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Robert Hart is the singer. Bernie Marsden is on Guitar, and Alan Stewart on saxophone. I’ll introduce the rest of the band later.
Link here to read more of Simon Webb’s blog about Everybody Powwow!
Link here to the Everybody Powwow! Face book page.
Link here for more information about Everybody Powwow! and the people involved!