Among Indigenous activist circles it is said that many generations ago ancestors who experienced the loss of life, land, culture and language had prayed for the coming generations to take up their causes to seek redress for injustices. Far into the future, some would.
Jewel McDonald Camp was a strong Ponca Indian woman, the first of her family born in the dumping grounds of Indian Territory. Her father Charles McDonald was eight when he, his family and Ponca relatives walked to what is now Oklahoma from their homelands on the Niobrabra River in northern Nebraska.
As her children grew, Jewel participated with them in the Ponca culture and recounted their peoples’ history to them: How the Ponca lived before white settlers came; how Ponca leaders made treaties with the settlers’ government only to be lied to; how one in eight died along the Ponca Trail of Tears, the bodies of the dead carried because Indians could not legally be buried in Nebraska. It is a testimony to endurance that her family even survived.
Whether Jewel intended to impart a warrior spirit to her offspring is unknown, but the day would come when their spiritual strength would be tested.
In the late 1960s, American Indians began to raise their voices all across the country. A small group of Indians occupied what had been a federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. At that time, Jewel’s grown children were in various stages of awareness of Indian issues, trying to provide for their own families.
In early 1973, a call for help went out from Lakota elders for the American Indian Movement to come to Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to help them address alleged injustices at the hands of Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson and his Guardians of the Oglala Nations, GOONS, as they were known.
Carter Camp, probably the most aware and active of Jewel’s six children in those days heard the call and went straight away. He called his brothers for help.
During the occupation of Alcatraz eldest son Dwain had taken blankets, groceries and cash to help but did not remain on the island. By 1973, he was busy in mainstream California as a suit, tie and tasseled loafer-wearing salesman when he answered Carter’s call.
“I was watching the news and the ‘renegade Indians’ spin being put on the takeover of Wounded Knee. Carter is saying to me, ‘Hey, brother, we are in a hell of a fight.’ It sounded like it. Carter’s name was heard more frequently on national TV as the…newest activist in the Nixon versus the rest of us era,’” Dwain, also known as Buck, said.
Youngest brother Craig, then a corporate buyer in the Bay Area, headed to South Dakota too. In the blackness of a freezing winter’s night on the South Dakota prairie, Craig and Dwain found each other then recognized Carter by his walk. The brothers would each take roles of responsibility inside “The Knee,” and find themselves with Viet Nam vets and Indians from all nations facing the full force of the U.S. military.
“We were sworn to succeed, of that I was sure, but I couldn’t help wondering if we were prepared. The FBI, BIA and federal marshals had fortified Pine Ridge with machine gun bunkers and Armored Personnel Carriers with M-60s,” Carter Camp wrote in a memoir sent to the Native American Times. “They had unleashed the GOON squad on the people and a reign of terror had begun. We knew we had to fight but we could not fight on Wasicu [the white man’s] terms. We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo inside the Wounded Knee trading post. I worried that we would not get to them before the shooting started.”
But they did. Despite false reports of being heavily armed, the members of the newly formed Independent Oglala Nation held off the U.S. military with small arms.
“We were armed only with .22-Calibre rifles along with shotguns and a few ancient 30-30’s and one AK47- our lone automatic weapon, which incidentally, became quite famous from a widely distributed picture of a warrior holding it victoriously overhead,” Dwain Camp said in a telephone interview. “We encountered what has been called the heaviest firepower this side of Vietnam with, documented from casings counted afterward, more than 500,000 rounds expended just from their side.”
After a national outcry against the militarism of an Indian reservation in modern times and the treatment of American Indians in general as well as those hunkered down at Wounded Knee, the standoff ended after 73 days.
Woodrow Camp, the father of the Camp brothers and four other siblings also briefly participated in the takeover of Wounded Knee but became ill with pneumonia and was sent first to Rapid City Jail, then put on a bus to Stillwater where his youngest child, Casey Camp Horinek, was married and pregnant with her second child. She did as her brothers asked and helped with communications on the outside.
“They wanted me to be safe and asked me to help from the outside as did many others.” Camp-Horinek said.
Casey Camp-Horinek would make her own mark on Indian history first as a mother who, with husband Mike, reared four children who she considers her greatest accomplishment. They now have more than 20 grandchildren.
“We’re very blessed. Our kids do wonderful jobs with their kids. We don’t have to worry,” Camp-Horinek said.
After being cast as a background actor and playing people of varying ethnicities, Camp-Horinek got a lead role in a theater production about the American Indian leader Black Elk. She became part of the movement to bring more American Indians into the acting world, deciding that acting could be a form of activism. She went on to star in several stage and movie productions including “Geronimo,” “Lakota Woman,” “Broken Chains,” “Follow Me Home,” and most recently, “Barking Water,” a film by Oklahoman Sterling Harjo that won acclaim at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
She has won an Emmy and will continue to work on future film projects while travelling to speak on concerns of Indian communities throughout the hemisphere. She and brother Dwain also have fought in support of the Ponca people to address the pollution of the White Eagle area by the Carbon Black Corporation. Camp also founded the Coyote Creek Environmental Center on family land near Marland.
Brother Carter has lived in South Dakota for many years now. He has been active in trying to stop the slaughter of bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park in the winter to forage for food. He also has been part of a group trying to stop the building of corporate hog farms near reservation lands.
Dwain Camp recently moved from a rental in Ponca City to a home in rural Marland. He said he now has a sense of freedom like he felt at Wounded Knee, knowing he is somewhere he belongs. He hopes that young Indian people will study history from the Indian perspective, even though distracted by mainstream media and new technology that seems to be more interesting.
“Back in 60s and 70s, we were learning to ask questions and to not accept the old answers that seemed to be good enough before that when it was safer to just be good little Indians,” he noted, citing several Indian rights organizations that were founded then. Now, he thinks that some youth seem to think they are entitled. Instead of questioning authority, there appears to be no respect for authority in the form of parents and elders. Camp said the problem lies not only with Native youth but is pervasive, watching television, engaging in current media technology “till all hours of the night and then sleeping all day and getting by with doing few constructive things.”
It all begins at home. He thinks Indian youth should be kept more active “inside the circle,” participating in cultural events.
Camp spoke of an oral tradition that explains how culture is imparted: Those at the center, near the ceremonial fire, will learn the most. Those who participate further and further out from the center will know less and less.
Some will leave the circle.
But some will return, as Jewel’s descendants did.
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