American historian Howard Zinn once said, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

I’m not the best on dates, so the Fourth of July can really creep up on me. This year marks my granddaughter Animikiinz’s third birthday, born on the Fourth of July. She gives me a good reason to celebrate the Fourth. She is just a bit older than the little girl who drowned with her father trying to reach this country: the land of the free, the home of the brave.

This last week I traveled to Oglala territory, known as the Pine Ridge reservation. Simply stated, contemplating American patriotism on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek is complex. Contemplating how we relate to America is complex for most Native people. But, at Wounded Knee Creek, it is particularly complex. Innocent people died here under an American flag.

Medals of honor were awarded to soldiers who committed the massacre at Wounded Knee. That’s a sore point. Finally, the Remove the Stain bill in Congress is seeking to strip the medals allotted to 20 soldiers after that fateful December day in 1890. That bill begins to address the stain of American patriotism, and was introduced by Deb Haaland, D-NM, and Paul Cook, R-Calif.

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Manderson, the village upstream from the Wounded Knee Creek, was flooded seriously in the torrential storms. The flood contaminated the creek with sewage run off. Now, the sewer and infrastructure needs for the village, let alone Pine Ridge, are pretty large — from broken water pipes to potholes. Those should be paid for by treaty agreements with the Lakota, in a country that should keep agreements. Treaties are patriotic.

The Mni Wiconi water project, 5,000 miles of underground pipes intended to serve a 12,500-square-mile area that encompasses one-sixth of South Dakota, is not complete, and water quality is not good on Pine Ridge or any other reservation in South Dakota.

Ironically, the Lakota are looking down the barrel of a $8 billion pipeline which will make money for oil companies, and yet, they don’t have pipes for their village. It’s that basic.

Homecoming

In gigiiwe: I come home from the Dakotas, passing through until my safe spot of Becker County. That’s the county where Native incarceration and homicide rates are lower than the adjoining counties of Mahnomen and Beltrami. Opioids, however, prevail. On May 15, my tribe filed suit against opioid manufacturers, noting that the epidemic rages and destroys our communities.

According to testimony presented by Samuel Moose, the Fond du Lac health director at Senate hearings on the opioid epidemic in Indian country, "In my home state of Minnesota, the Department of Human Services reported that the age-adjusted death rate due to drug poisoning is four times higher among AI/ANs (American Indians and Alaska Natives) compared to whites. Further, despite representing roughly 1.1% of the population for the state, AI/ANs accounted for 15.8% of those who entered treatment for opioid use disorder.”

The Indian Health Service delivered a lot of opioids to my community, way more than we actually needed. Those opioids were prescribed by the federal government, under that flag. That’s the same epidemic which brings the Central American refugees to the shores by the droves—the War on Drugs.

Then I remember what it is to be a patriot. It turns out that I am a patriot to a land, not a flag. I love this land, she’s the only land I know. I love the water, the wild rice, and I love to live where the wild things are. I will defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Omaa Akiing: the land to which the people belong. That’s my patriotism.

Three years ago, my patriotism was challenged when $38 million worth of military equipment and weapons came towards us, injuring many Water Protectors . Water Protector Sophia Willensky should have received a Medal of Honor, instead she faced federal charges, despite her arm being shot by riot police. Water Protectors are some of the most patriotic people you will ever know.

Remember that Indigenous man and his daughter who drowned in front of us? He descended from people who were here long before that American Flag. He, too, loved this land.

Now, just to be clear on what patriotism means to me, I annually attend the PRCA Rodeo in Park Rapids. Minn. This isn't because I love to see that “old glory," but because I love this land, and I love the people of this land. Most of the people at that rodeo live on this land and drink the same water that I do. I remain patriotic and hopeful.

I am reminded of Simon Ortiz’s poem-

From Sand Creek

This America

Has been a burden

Of steel and mad

Death

But, look now

There are flowers

And new grass

And a spring wind

Rising from Sand Creek.