LOST BIRD OF WOUNDED KNEE, by Renee Sansom Flood. Simon & Schuster; 800-223-2336, 0-684-19512-7
History can be told through dates, battls, political figures; you'll find all those here. But this history is told through the sad life of one Lakota woman. Not only is there a perspective on events of the 19th century, but there is a strong resonance with current problems of removal of Native children from their relatives and tribal cultural heritages. Zintkala Nuni (Lost Bird) as an infant survived the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, only to be adopted by a white general as a political stepping stone for his ambitions, tjhen later abandoned to a miserable life of harsh Native boarding school, being passed among many men, abandoneed and betrayed, and dying at age 29 of diseases she had no immunity from. The book is a story of how Lost Bird body was traced by Pine Ridge Lakota relative and reburied at the Wounded Knee Massacre memorial cemetery on Pine Ridge reservation in SD. It has very great interest for Native children who were adopted away from their relatives and cultures, and also as a different look at the history of Lakota people and the dispossession of their lands. See longer review by Cherokee writer Brooke Craig. Marie Fouche has started a Lost Bird web page whose main theme is support for Native people in relation to cases involving the Native American Child Welfare act, and the practice of removing Native young people from their relatives and homes. This book is very highly recommended, especially for older Native youth who, for reasons perhaps more subtle than those of Lost Bird, feel removed from their culture and relatives. The book was nominated for a 1995 Pulitzer Prize. Regrettably it is at poresent available only in hardcover -- priced for school libraries, but not classroom use as a paperback version might be. Reviewed by Paula Giese
Long review by Brooke Craig (Cherokee)
After reading this, my first thoughts were that I wish I hadn't been asked to review it. I simply do not know where to begin. I don't believe any review can do justice to a book which I consider to be one of the most brilliantly researched, spiritually written novels I have had the honor to read. THAT having been said....I feel anything beyond this point is not worthy to describe the messages contained within its covers.
Arvol Looking Horse, nineteenth-generation Keeper of the Sacred Calf Pipe of the Lakota Nation, opens the journey with, "This is a spiritual journey, a turning point for our people. This journey, for years to come, will mean a better life for our children, so that things don't happen to them like they did to Lost Bird." That sums it all up. I cannot find words to better describe this novel.
Page after page reveals facts not previously known about the planned extermination of the Sioux Nation. I was enthralled with Renee's research, which revealed so many new important revelations gathered from Wounded Knee Survivor's descendants...and felt, at times, that I was being told things only revealed to those that the People feel are honorable enough to know.
We begin our journey at the reburial of Lost Bird in the sacred Wounded Knee Cemetery after years of searching for her remains which were found in a cemetery in Hanford, California. I applaud Rene as she honestly opens herself up to criticism, revealing her visions during her search, never ceasing in her efforts to find the small child who appears to her, guiding her quest.
The reader is painstakingly taken, step by tortuous step, explaining the events leading up to the 1890 massacre, and I found myself becoming more and more angry as I see more clearly, the greed and political corruption behind the murders of innocent people. Zintkala Nuni,(Lost Bird) was estimated to be about 4 months old when her Mother was deliberately hunted down while attempting to flee the scene of carnage at Wounded Knee. It was evident to those who accidentally found her four days after the massacre, after blinding blizzards, that the last act of her Mother (evidence suggests it might have been Black-Day Woman, the youngest and last wife of Chief Sitting Bull) was to protect the child by laying over her in death.
The miracle of this tiny girl's survival is astounding, especially considering the fact that she had no food...no liquids...freezing temperatures...yet live she did...and I was to wonder, throughout the book if that necessarily was a blessing. Brigadier General Leonard Wright Colby, commander of the Nebraska National Guard, arrived on January 5, 1891, four days after the burial of those who had been slaughtered, and immediately realized the political significance that adoption of Lost Bird would have on his career. He was to point out, countless times, that she symbolized the Spirit of the People, courting the empathy of the public.
Thus...without consulting his wife Clara, who was the founder of Woman's Tribune Newspaper and a leading active supporter of the women's suffrage movement, he uses devious and illegal means, including bribery and forgery to legally adopt Zintkala Numi on January 20th [a few weeks aftr the massacre]. Although his wife's name appears on the legal document, she had no inkling she was now the Mother of an Indian female infant. He had not bothered to inform her. But, Clara, always obediently blind to her egotistical, self-serving husband merely accepts his decision and becomes devoted, and the only person in Lost Bird's life that cares for her. Chairperson for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Clara is portrayed as a selfless, all forgiving woman who tries to balance her family life with total ommitment to the suffrage movement.
If I had any concerns about this book, it would be that I found it hard to believe St. Clara was blindly faith and gullible about a adulterous husband who flaunted his mistress in her face, always defended him without fail. I found myself more than a little upset with Clara, who was always off to another lecture or meeting, feeling appropriately guilty at leaving the child in the care of a variety of incompetent caretakers (including the one that had her husband's illegitimate son..yeah that one...whom she supported and befriended for years) This savagely dysfunctional relationship was to be the cause of Lost Bird's chronic depression, to the point of self mutilation in later years.
Now called Zintka, we watch this child desire to learn of her People...her heritage...and frustrated at being taunted, cursed and belittled..become disobedient and wild...never happy in the white world and eventually, when she returns to her native land...not accepted there either.
Leonard is out becoming Asst. Attorney General of the United States...becomes tribal attorney in Oklahoma eventually stealing lands...involved in graft...and spending all of Clara's hard earned monies...never giving her money to raise the child. Estranged for years, (Clara won't hear of a divorce) he openly lives with his mistress and disavows Zintka when she is no longer an asset to his career.
Taken to Europe, introduced to countless society figures, we begin watching as this small child instinctively attaches to any Indian visitor who comes to see her in her Washington, D.C. home. At an early age, it is evident the child is clairvoyant. Facing cruel racial prejudice, treated as a prize and never feeling as if she belongs anywhere, we see her advancing from nightmares to a deep depression that totally incapacitates her...at the age of 10.
Shuttled between a variety of private schools, including a government boarding school, she is finally sent to a reform school when she is found to be pregnant. There is, I think, strong indications that this child has been sexually abused by her Father. She is placed in the Milford Nebraska Reformatory, a place for unwed mothers, and as with all the girls there, is "sentenced " to a full year of confinement. "If a girl came to the home in need of discipline, her arms were forced into a reddish brown leather straitjacket that buckled tightly across the back. A dark attic room in one of the dormitories, not big enough for a bed, was used for solitary confinement. (The building is still standing and the room is testimony to its one time horrors) The plastered ceiling of a small, unventilated cell sloped inward on both sides. A tall girl could only stand up straight in the middle of the room.....women were tied for hours with their hands up..sometimes scratching the ceiling plaster with their fingernails....On April 22, 1908, Zintka lost her child, a stillborn baby boy.
We are horribly moved into the world of boarding schools where children are whipped with hemp ropes, water hoses...Indian boys chained to their beds at night, underfed...child labor, exhausted, hungry...and often whipped to death....many sexually abused by pedophiles who sought jobs where they could prey on the innocents.
Zintka continues to search for what she can never quite grasp....and we see her being passed from man to man, used...abused....and I can only smile as I realize the justice that her highly infectious sexually transmitted disease has rendered when she is used by a Seattle group of "Sportsmen" under the pretext of adopting her as a mascot for their "club". She staggers through a maze of abusive relationships, the death of a child, the denial and neglect of her Father, her return to her People in search of an identity, her show business career, her spiral downward on the Barbary Coast, left to care for a husband and two ailing children.
She suffers from chronic infections throughout her life, unable to fight off the white man's diseases due to her lack of immunity....she struggles..falls...runs...falls...over and over in her life. Her dream of a happy marriage is shattered when she discovers her first husband has given her syphilis. I now understand more fully the purpose of the "lost bird" society...an organization dedicated to finding Indian Children who have been adopted out of the tribes. I am taken to heights...dropped...and find myself running a maze of emotional responses.
My only suggestion would be to have down played all of the material of the suffrage movement. I found myself distracted and often frustrated as I would try to follow and was taken off in a direction that was not as relevant to the story as it was portrayed. I found myself skipping through many pages of the distractions that dwelled on suffrage leaders in my determination to continue with Lost Bird's story.
At age 30....she flew away...and even in death was captured away from her people. Moved by Renee's beautiful description of her reburial I found myself hoping...believing, that this lost bird finally knows who her real Mother was and is united with the People she sought for a lifetime...
I closed this book....depressed...saddened....and with much gratitude that Renee has granted us this gift. I thank her for moving my heart and opening it. This book will take a strong heart to read. I recommend this if you are prepared for the journey...the sadness and to learn the lessons...Renee has given you a way to travel...Read this book....hear the song of a broken hearted little bird..and remember the melody. --Brooke Craig
LOST BIRD WEB PAGE: This page is all about Lost Bird of Wounded Knee and the contentious topic of the adoption of American Indian Children by other cultures. Lost Bird, or Zintkala Nuni, was a baby girl found underneath her dead mother four days after the Wounded Knee Massacre. There had been a horrible blizzard and that is why it was four days before she was found. She was placed into the arms of a Grandmother since all of her family had been murdered. It is believed that she was the daughter of Sitting Bull. In what could only be described as an act of kidnapping, she was taken from the Grandmother by General Leonard Colby of the Nebraska National Guard. The only reason why he was interested in her was because he wanted to have a live curio of the massacre.
This girl lived a very tragic life... she was later raped by her adopted cousin and by General Colby. She was never accepted by the "white" world, and when she went home to Pine Ridge, she was not accepted there either because of her brashness and rude behavior. She was forever lost, looking for the connection to something that she could not name or understand. She died at the young age of 29 on Valentines Day. After year's of searching Marie Not Help Him and Renee Sansom-Flood located her remains and returned her to Wounded Knee where she is now buried next to the Wounded Knee Memorial.
This page includes stories about Zintka, Lost Bird, which I will be expanding upon here soon. These excerpts come from Renee's book about Zintka. I've also included information about her son whom we are currently looking for, her lost cap which is about to be returned to the Lakota people, and the story of Wounded Knee told by a woman who survived named Alice Ghost Horse. I will also probably expand on the Wounded Knee information in the future. I've also included information about four court cases which are challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act. --Marie Fouche
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Thursday, March 14, 1996 - 6:36:19 AM