Honor the Grandmothers takes a look at four Dakota and Lakota women who offer to share the stories of their lives to the reader. It is a heartfelt look into their hardships through racism, to their ongoing battle to pass along the rich history of their ancestors while fighting poverty on the reservation.
The first grandmother we get the chance to hear from is Celane Not Help Him. I wondered how she got her name because I think that would be an entire story all by itself, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any research that would answer my question. Celane’s story was the most informative and vivid of all the tales in my opinion. The stories she recounted of the massacre at Wounded Knee really gave me a full understanding of what really happened there. There is a vast discrepancy in the version I learned in history class when I was a child versus what Celane described and what I now know to be fact. It was amazing to me that her grandfather, Dewey Beard was present at Wounded Knee and passed down the story from generation to generation in such detail. Her ancestry is sometimes hard to follow, as it is with all the women in the book, but from what I gathered one set of grandparents died among those killed during the massacre. Dewey Beard, one of her grandfathers, did survive and ended up raising Celane after her father died when she was fourteen months old.
Celane’s retelling of Dewey Beard’s tale of the massacre at Wounded Knee is haunting because of the sheer inhumanity and brutality of it all. Dewey, his family, and approximately 300 other Indians were on a winter trek to Pine Ridge when they met up with the U.S. 7th Cavalry. The cavalry had orders to disarm the Indians but the Indians couldn’t understand the logic behind it. They needed those weapons to feed their families and to protect themselves. The soldiers lulled them into a false sense of security by offering them food and drink. They were starving so they obligingly took it. After depriving Dewey and Sitting Bull of sleep all night they sent them home to eat. They went back to their tipis and all they wanted to do was get to Pine Ridge. The soldiers summoned them back and demanded the guns. After a struggle between Black Coyote and a soldier, his gun discharged and the massacre began. The soldiers shot down every moving person they could find, even chasing some into a ravine and killing them one by one. The soldiers received Medals of Honor while the Indians were tossed into a mass grave.
Celane’s later years would provide us a rich insight into her family life and how everyone was related and how lovingly she was brought up. Her grandmother, Wounded Horse, would insist on teaching her the customs and stories that she took a lifetime to learn. It was Celane’s responsibility to remember them. A grandmother’s duty was to take care of her extended family. They cooked for them, worried over them if someone wasn’t home when they were supposed to be, and were well aware of the goings on within the community. Her grandparents often never had money, but they always provided. They taught her that a parent must have patience and knowledge, and to always be strong. Celane has proved that she has had those qualities her entire life.
Stella Pretty Sounding Flute is the second story we get to hear. Her story begins with her grandmother telling her to come and sit down and listen to the tales so that she, in turn, can pass them along to her grandchildren. She tells us about how she remembered going to rummages looking for fabric to make diamonds for star quilts. Her name was chosen for her by her grandmothers, while everyone else’s was earned. When she was a child and they hunted buffalo, and no part of the animal was wasted. Everything was used for survival. Everything was shared. I listened to her story about finding some cherries and leaving it with the tobacco, but I never understood it. I understood the importance of tobacco to them, but...