Indigenous activism against settler colonialism: Kiara M. Vigil, ‘Who Was Henry Standing Bear? Remembering Lakota Activism from the Early Twentieth Century’, Great Plains Quarterly, 37, 3, 2017, pp. 157-182


Excerpt: High atop Thunderhead Mountain in South Dakota, the Crazy Horse monument aims to commemorate America, the power of nature, and the greatness of Native Americans in general, if not Crazy Horse in particular. This memorial seems not only impressive due to its size but extravagant based on its claims to Native heritage, authenticity, and support. Included alongside the controversial sculpture is an Indian Museum of North America, Native American Cultural Center, and sculptor’s studio as well as a new 40,000-square-foot Orientation Center and theaters. Considering the expansiveness of the Crazy Horse Memorial it seems almost shocking that so little is known about the Lakota man, Henry Standing Bear, who was tied to the creation of this site within prominent scholarship about Native American history. It is equally striking that the other less-publicized aspects of Standing Bear’s life have remained on the margins of historical research, in some ways obscured by the published writings and public persona of his better-known older brother, Luther Standing Bear. This article aims to recover Henry Standing Bear. In the following biography I acknowledge, first, that he was a complicated figure who poses a series of hard-to-understand questions regarding the Native activism rooted in the social and political geographies of the Great Plains, and second, that as a resistant intellectual, he was a distinctive figure in shaping the different approaches to Native social and political activism that became necessary during the early twentieth century. Third, I delineate the ways in which his challenges to federal Indian policy pertaining to Native societies in the Great Plains lay bare the oppression and abuses inherent in these policies and some of the structures underlying settler logics, such as assimilation. Fourth, I examine how Native people educated at institutions like Carlisle could successfully use tools from their schooling to their advantage even if their actions were mischaracterized and misunderstood by government officials, agents, and other non-Natives who embraced ideologies that perpetuated settler colonialism in the United States.

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