The church that once stood here was destroyed in the 1973 Wounded Knee conflict, when, once more, violence occurred not far from where we’re standing. Men and women who held radically different views of Native dignity squared off against each other in this very valley. That dispute brought in U. S. Marshalls and turned deadly, when armed wasicu, here, once again, dug in like the cavalry. For many, those government marshalls were here to defend tribal leaders some thought violent, despotic men who’d long ago sold their souls for fools’ gold.
It isn’t pretty—this crumbling shell. There’s nothing to suggest that what once stood above ground here represented—even offered—the Prince of Peace.
In Coventry, England, you can walk within the skull-like remains of a cathedral destroyed by Nazi bombs during World War II, a remarkable memento of Brit suffering during relentless air strikes. Coventry Cathedral is what much of Europe looked like after Hitler. That foundation is immense, its walls rise and fall jaggedly. But its perimeters are festooned with plaques and flowers and all kinds of memorials neatly commemorating suffering and heroism.
No walls still stand on the foundation half-buried in the crest of the hill where we’re standing. No memorials—just graffiti—decorate what’s there. No one keeps the place up, so what’s left deteriorates in the abusive hands of changing prairie seasons. You can walk into that foundation, if you dare. The empty shell of the church that once looked over the field where hundreds died is nothing at all like the monument at Coventry.
And yet it is. It’s just not sanitized. But then, nothing is at Wounded Knee. Today, there is very little to mark the spot, beyond the sign on the road and the old monument behind us. There is a circular visitors’ center down the hill to the east, the pit toilets stand just outside. The center itself is black, and it’s likely you’ve parked beside it before you walked up the hill to the burial monument. In the summer, the place is open. You can wander into its dark confines, where various displays will tell part of the story. But most of the year you’ll find a padlock on the door, which means you’re on your own at Wounded Knee.