Thoughts by Richard Bleil
As a child, my family once visited a serpentine hill park. The hill was in the shape of a large snake, with an egg in its open mouth. If course, you couldn’t really see it from the ground because it was so large, but aerial photos showed it. I remember running along the snake as a child, unaware of what, exactly, it was that I was playing on. As it turns out, on the border of Iowa and Nebraska, there is a similar site. I’ve visited this site myself, but this time I understood what it really was. Like the Ohio park, there were, throughout the park, hills representing several animals, with well-defined walkways around the hills from which you can observe without treading on them. These hills, of course, are burial grounds, or cemeteries if you prefer, of the ancient Native Americans from long before the white man first stepped foot on the Americas.
These were, to the Native people, akin to the pyramids of ancient Egypt. People were buried there, and the hills developed over time as more people were buried. It’s not like the people were buried head to foot all along the hill, but rather, within the hills, there were certain spots where the revered departed were laid to rest, the position of which was related to how important the individual was within the tribe (as I understand it, and I apologize in advance if I am making mistakes).
Then white men landed. The hills were excavated and explored, and treasures were removed. Many of these artifacts are often displayed at site museums today, and the US government has taken on the role of guardian to protect these hallowed grounds, but who knows how much had been removed before they became protected grounds.
When I desecrated the burial grounds, it was out of childish ignorance. I had no idea what those hills were, and at that age, I’m not sure I would have fully understood the significance or how to respect the grounds anyway. I remember the day was beautiful, the grass was green and perfectly cut, and I was just running the length of the snake for no reason other than to do it. Unfortunately, though, I believe that many white people still don’t understand the cultural and spiritual significance of so many Native practices and locations.
I worked with the police department in Rapid City, which is just outside of the Rosebud Lakota Reservation and square in the Native sacred grounds of the Black Hills. As the director of the Evidence Section, we would periodically end up with items, such as peace pipes, that the officers simply didn’t realize were actually sacred, as sacred, in fact, as the bone fragment of a saint is to a devout Catholic. Because they rarely understand the significance, the pipe is often treated like a piece of wood, treated as haphazardly as, say, a doll. I’m not suggesting that ignorance somehow makes it okay to defile consecrated grounds, but it’s at least not willful acts of disrespect.
It seems to be a common thing that people will assume they know more than they do, or simply don’t ask so as to avoid disrespecting others. We seem to have trouble asking questions in general. Of course, there are exceptions, but it seems as if a lot of strife would be avoided if we did. Maybe we don’t want to seem ignorant by asking questions, or looking stupid, but it seems to me that the best way to avoid actually being ignorant is by asking questions, and asking questions makes people look inquisitive rather than stupid. Of course, that’s my opinion, but of late I’ve been asking a lot of questions myself.
Sometimes we don’t even know what to ask. It’s easy to take things for granted, just because it’s always been the way it is. For example, my M1917 rifle fires .30-06 ammunition, but what, exactly, does this mean? The .30, of course, is the “gauge”, meaning the round is 0.30 inches across, but what about the 06? As it turns out, this type of ammunition was designed in 1906, so the 06 refers to this year.
Speaking of guns, here is an unfortunate circumstance that has created many problems. When I bought my AR-15, I was curious what the “15” stood for because, after all, everybody knows that “AR” stands for “Assault Rifle”, right? Wrong. In reality, the AR-15 was the fifteenth rifle designed by the arms company “Armalite”. The “AR” doesn’t stand for assault rifle at all, but rather the Armalite 15th design rifle. Any rifle can be an assault rifle, and yes, the AR-16 (automatic design of the AR-15 restricted to military use) is a military rifle, but so is my Eddington 1917. Maybe instead of targeting the AR-15 by protesters (and terrorists) we should look at specific properties that are problems and write legislation around those concerns for any rifle.
So, if there is a moral here, it’s simple. Ask. Questions are bad for your ignorance.