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Volume 14, Number 1
January 6 - 19, 2008


opinion

Also in this section:
Bernal, A new page for Panama
E. Jackson, Now they notice
Leis, Assault on Reason as seen from down here
N. Jackson, The gap
Weisbrot, The last US recession --- and this one and the next one
Nasser, Israel's peace-killing settlements

Greenpeace, Japan cancels its humpback whale hunt

Reporters Without Borders, Attacks on freedom of the press in 2007

Denis, Climate change and the Caribbean

Pilgrim, Democracy and courage needed in 2008
Sirias, Benazir Bhutto's assassination
Phillips, An American prophet

Suanne Marie Big Crow: American Prophet
by Bill Phillips

Suanne Marie Big Crow was born on March 15, 1974 in the small hospital in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, USA. Suanne was a Lakota (Sioux), a member of a tribe that had once, under the leadership of a chief named Crazy Horse, fought fierce battles with American soldiers in attempts to protect its land in an area known as the Black Hills. This tribe has never signed a peace treaty with the United States. The feeling of resentment has remained a factor in the memories of the families who were forced to live on the huge reservation known as Pine Ridge.

I visited the area three times, 10 years before Suanne was born. I found it to be a place of extreme poverty and powerlessness. Forlorn and seemingly overlooked, many wander about without work and with little hope. I had taken students from the University of Nebraska there to do work projects in various towns on the reservation. Basically, what we learned brought life changes. The wind blows steadily at around 20 miles an hour. There is an extreme temperature range between 10 degrees below in the winter to 105 degrees in the summer. Many of the homes have only blankets for doors on their small homes. Indoor plumbing is still uncommon. High school is a place of refuge; where there is warm water, indoor plumbing, and a nourishing lunch. It is also a place where boys and girls can be on a basketball team and travel outside Pine Ridge to play against teams in Nebraska, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. In some of these communities, the townspeople have not overcome harsh feelings toward Native Americans.

At the age of 14, Suanne was the only freshman to make the varsity girls basketball team. She was one of the team’s smallest members at around 5’5” but she was sure that she would get to play in the games. On a day that was to stand out in legend, Suanne’s team, the Lady Thorpes, traveled to the town of Lead, South Dakota. Lead is an old mining town with little current employment for its citizens. The teenagers and their families filled the gymnasium where the game was to be played. The Pine Ridge team could easily hear comments from the crowd, while they were dressing in their locker room:

Gut eaters,” “Get in line to get your cheese” (a degrading reference to government subsidies.) There were whoops and yelps that were meant to sound like the “Indians” depicted in Hollywood movies. The high school band began to beat their drums to duplicate the sound of tom-toms.

The players and their coach stood at the door of the dressing room and hung their heads in humiliation and anger. The usual procedure would be for the team to race out on the floor led by the tallest and oldest players. In this instance, those very players argued about whether to go out at all. Suanne asked her coach if she could lead the team out. The coach looked at the smallest and youngest player on the team with skepticism. Suanne said, “I have an idea that I would like to try.”

The crowd roared and laughed as they saw the small basketball player emerge and walk quietly to the center of the court, completely alone. She did not run the customary lap around the court, but walked directly to the center. She took off her warm up jacket and stretched it across her back, as she would a shawl. She then sang a song in Lakota dialect in the ancient intonation of her tribal heritage; and she began to move in small circles, bending her body down and spreading out her arms. It was known as a “shawl dance” and after bringing the auditorium to total silence, she then picked up a basketball and ran to the basketball hoop and put in the ball. The crowd began to slowly applaud, as if they had suddenly “got it.” Then the rest of the team ran out on the court and completed their warm-ups without a single additional insult from the crowd. The Lady Thorpes won the basketball game.

The story spread quickly across the 100 mile stretch of the Pine Ridge Reservation. In months and years that followed the impact of the event became clearer. This had been one of the most uplifting moments on the reservation since the tribe had been moved there in the late 1800s. When they returned to Lead, the following season, the Lady Thorpes were invited into the homes of home team members and welcomed as visitors to the schools.

I am saddened to report that Suanne was killed a few years later while en route to give a talk to other teenagers about self improvement. Her legacy is immeasurable. At the Pine Ridge Reservation a large social center is named after her. There are organizations to promote her story. Her picture is everywhere. Her life has been incorporated into the story of her tribal history and she is now seen as one of the tribe’s great prophets.

In all of the great religions there is a point where circumstance, trust and insight converge to produce wonderful things. The prophets, priests, sages, ministers and saints all have born witness to this point of power --- power that inspires masterpieces of art, inventions, cures to diseases, and acts of human understanding. Suanne found this point, and she exemplified its truth.

The author is a retired United Church of Christ Minister who grew up at Fort Davis


Also in this section:
Bernal, A new page for Panama
E. Jackson, Now they notice
Leis, Assault on Reason as seen from down here
N. Jackson, The gap
Weisbrot, The last US recession --- and this one and the next one
Nasser, Israel's peace-killing settlements

Greenpeace, Japan cancels its humpback whale hunt

Reporters Without Borders, Attacks on freedom of the press in 2007

Denis, Climate change and the Caribbean

Pilgrim, Democracy and courage needed in 2008
Sirias, Benazir Bhutto's assassination
Phillips, An American prophet


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