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Sacred ground.

Byline: The Register-Guard

For more than a century, the grassy, windswept battlefield at Little Bighorn has had a granite obelisk and grave markers honoring Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the 260 members of his 7th Cavalry who died in the storied battle that occurred on June 25, 1876. But there was nothing to memorialize the Indians who won the encounter or the Native American scouts who perished alongside the cavalrymen.

That injustice finally has been remedied. A $2.3 million memorial was dedicated this week to the Indian warriors and scouts who fought in the skirmish that has become known as Custer's Last Stand.

Hundreds of American Indians, including members of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow and Arikara tribes attended the dedication of a dramatic bronze sculpture that is perched along the battlefield ridgetop. It depicts three Indians on horseback and includes a circular stone dugout with plaques naming the warriors who fell in the battle.

The completion of this memorial was shamefully overdue and delayed by years controversy, misunderstanding and hardheaded prejudice. Descendants of the Indian warriors began calling for official recognition as early as 1925 but met with stiff resistance from federal officials and an American public reluctant to publicly recognize and honor the warriors who fought that day to defend their beliefs and way of life - and who won.

It wasn't until 1991 that Congress, prodded by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native American from Colorado, approved changing the name of the site from Custer National to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. At that time lawmakers also authorized an Indian memorial, but no money was allocated until two years ago.

Most Americans are familiar with the history of the battle. On June 25, 1876, Custer attacked an Indian encampment along the Little Bighorn River but miscalculated the size of the enemy's force. An estimated 2,000 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors fought back and overwhelmed and killed Custer and his Indian scouts.

It was a glorious victory for the Indians who lost fewer than 100 warriors, but it also marked the terrible turning point for the tribes. An enraged U.S. government responded by escalating its campaign against the tribes to a level that many historians rightly equate to attempted genocide.

For those who stood in the rolling river valley of Little Bighorn -and the estimated 2.5 million tribal members scattered throughout this nation, the dedication was a profoundly meaningful event.

Emmanuel Red Bear, a great-great-grandson of both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, two of the most legendary leaders of the battle, offered a fitting benediction: ``There will never be a day when everything will be made up to us,'' he said. ``But coming back here is like a healing for us.''
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Title Annotation:Monument remembers Indians at Little Bighorn; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 28, 2003
Words:459
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