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American Indian Warriors

June 25, 2003, was a day to remember in Montana's Little Bighorn valley. Tepees stood on the rolling, grassy hills. A drum group from the American Indian Wind River Reservation arrived to play during the day. A small group of United States Army soldiers stood at attention holding flags and wearing traditional cavalry hats. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Northern Cheyenne, made a speech.

They were all gathered to celebrate the opening of the Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The memorial was built to honor the American Indian fighters who died in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The battle came at a time when the United States government was forcing Plains Indians onto reservations. Many of the Plains Indian nations fought to preserve their traditional way of life.

On the day of the battle, hundreds of Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Sioux warriors fought against members of the United States Army. Those soldiers were led by George Armstrong Custer. Crazy Horse, the famous Sioux chief, commanded the American Indian fighters. Writers called the battle “Custer's Last Stand,” since Custer and all his soldiers died in the defeat.

Remembering the Past

The battle site is one of the most famous in United States history. In 1881, the government built a memorial honoring Custer and his men. The government also placed headstones on the graves of the soldiers who had died that day.

Some people were not satisfied with the way the battle was remembered. American Indians have long been troubled that Custer and his men were considered the battle's only heroes. American Indian warriors fought to protect their homeland. They wanted a memorial for American Indians, too.

In 1925, a Cheyenne woman named Beaverhart asked the United States government to mark the spot on the battlefield where soldiers killed her father. Later, American Indian leaders repeated her call for a memorial to the American Indian fighters.

Finally, in 1991 the United States Congress agreed to their wishes. The $2.3 million Indian Memorial features three bronze sculptures of warriors on horseback riding toward the battle. Near the sculptures, pictures and writings describe the battle. Government officials unveiled the memorial on the 127th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Righting a Wrong

Little Bighorn was one of many battles fought in a long war between American Indians and settlers from Europe and the United States. The two sides struggled to control the country's rich lands. For centuries fear and disrespect poisoned feelings between settlers and American Indians.

Feelings have changed since that time. The Indian Memorial is symbol of those changes. At the opening day celebration, the theme was “peace through unity.” Representatives of the United States Army stood at attention during the ceremony, along with representatives of many American Indian nations.

Alice LaClaire, a Cheyenne River Sioux, said that the memorial “will help teach our young people about their identity and culture and make them proud of how our ancestors fought to retain our human rights and our territory.”