A BOY BECOMES A MAN AT WOUNDED KNEE by Ted Wood with Wanbli Numpa Afraid of Hawk. Walker and Company, 435 Hudson St., N.Y., NY 10014, (800) AT-WALKER, (212) 307-1764 FAX. Published simultaneously in Canada: Thomas Allen and Son Ltd., Markham, Ontario. 1992 Illustrated, map. 48 pp., $6.95 paper. 0-8027-7446-6. Clothbound also available: 0-8027-8174-8
Wanbli Numpa Afraid of Hawk, an eight-year-old Oglala Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation, recounts the story of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. On the 100th anniversary of the tragic event, the boy participates in a 150-mile journey, retracing the steps of Big Foot and braving temperatures of 50 degrees-below-zero to mend the sacred hoop. When the final ceremony is over, Wanbli Numpa is a Big Foot rider. Wood's photographs depict the riders braving the frigid conditions, offering prayers, and honoring the dead warriors. A powerful document, should be required reading in classes studying Native Americans. Ages: 10+ Grade: A. Reviewed by: Steve Brock
PG Note: There's a wonderful video of the first Wounded Knee winter Memorial ride of 1990, when the Bigfoot Riders were founded. See for more personal info about that from Arvol Looking Horse, one of the leaders. See Audio-Visual Page here for more info about it and how to order.
A second Look: Wanbli tells the story of the 6-day winter ride in his own words, which are eloquent. He goes on the last of the 5 prophesied rides, the last being the 100th anniversary of the massacre. Wanbli is more sensible than I believe would be true of a white 8-year-old. "My dad and lala (grandpa) gathered our horses from the pen where they had eaten and slept in the cold. Were they suffering like we were, I wondered?...We stayed on small dirt roads for a while because of all the fences on the farmland. We passed strange places with barbed wire and satellite dishes. My dad told me these were nuclear missle silos. It made me think of other people being killed in wars. In the beginning, Uncle Birgl told us to pray for wolakota (peace) and that massacres like Wounded Knee w0ould never happen again anywhere. When I saw those silos, I prayed." Later in the day, Wanbli's horse is spooked and he's thrown. He doesn't know if he can make it to the night's camp, " but my dad kept telling me that I could, that I had to. It was the only way to get back. Finally, far off on the plain, I saw the tepees....My uncle carried me to his truck to get warm. I stayed in there a few hours and ate, and got my strength back. Luckily, my arm wasn't broken. I'd be able to ride again. In the evening after everyone ate, my mom, dad and I went to the big campfire to listen to stories. It was so cold we all wrapped up in one big blanket and got as close to the fire as we could." Wanbli decides without any parental pressure that he will not ride the next day, when the riders must go down the Big Foot pass, an icy cliff trail. "If I got hurt badly, I couldn't finish the ride...it was better to rest up and be strong later. Everybody understood. I was disappointed but I wasn't ashamed." No one is hurt on the pass. Wanbli sees the small group of fasters, and the sweat lodge they are preparing. "I saw how strong our people could be and I felt honored to be a Lakota. I wanted to fast too, but I got too hungry." He checks on his horse and finds he's escaped from the field, but his dad tracks the horse 20 miles into the snowy Badlands and brings him back.
At the last night's camp, "Lakota men made big pots of Indian beef soup and fry bread. There was coffee, cake and sweet berry syrup. Usually, the women made the food for the riders, but that night the men were doing everything to honor the women for their strength and support. My mom, dad, sisters and I sat around a big fire with everybody else and ate. While we ate, uncle Birgil talked about the suffering and the honor of the women in the Lakota culture and the world. He talked about Grandmother earth too. He said the earth was suffering because we haven't taken care of her. He said we have to respect the earth, like our mothers. The earth was the very firstwoman, he said, the mother of us all After Birgil spok, every woman told a story about being a woman. Some were funny, some were sad, but all were honorable.
It's hard to stop quoting from this wondrful book. I should mention the photos by Ted Wood, co-author. These are in color, and appear on every page of the horizontally-designed 8 x 12 book. They give a good feeling for the cold on thee snowy ride -- Wanbli's face mask is entirely crusted with ice in one close-up. What I most wish for, for this book is that, now that 6 years have passed since the last of the 5 Wounded Kne memorial rides, Wanbli would write a sequel about how it has affected his life and that of others. That could be added to it, perhaps with words of some of the elders and women who participated. In the years since, the Big Foot Riders have been making a circuit of places in the U.S. and in recent years, Canada. This could be added. The resulting book might receive the serious attention it deserves. This is the best Indian book I've read, for Native people of all tribes and all ages. It belongs in every Native home and school. It is worth 10,000 of the dreary "multicultural education" books about Native people generally written by white people, though that doesn't matter. Reviewed by Paula Giese
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Last Updated: Monday, March 11, 1996 - 11:37:17 AM