Dakota Daughters Delight Crowd In Pierre
July 1, 2023
“Wounded Knee 1890, Three Women, Three Lives, Three Cultures” by the Dakota Daughters (Geraldine Goes In Center, Joyce Jefferson, and Lillian Witt) is one of SDHC’s longest running and most popular Speakers Bureau programs. On June 13, the three scholars presented the event outdoors at Rawlins Library in Pierre. SDHC is sharing the story and photos, both by Michael Nealy, with permission of The Capital Journal, serving Pierre and Fort Pierre, South Dakota.
When Geraldine Goes In Center plays the part of Kimimila in “Wounded Knee 1890, Three Women, Three Lives, Three Cultures,” she draws on strands from her past – and from her relatives’ pasts. But it’s a history she learned largely after she’d become an adult.
“I never knew a lot of that history growing up because I went to boarding school, and my parents always encouraged me not to speak Lakota,” said Goes In Center, Oglala Lakota, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Goes In Center later attended Oglala Lakota College, in the Rapid City branch, and she began to learn more and more about her history as she earned her bachelor of science degree in human services, with a minor in counseling.
As Goes In Center, Joyce Jefferson and Lillian Witt presented “Wounded Knee 1890, Three Women, Three Lives, Three Cultures,” outside the Rawlins Municipal Library on Tuesday, they continued that historical teaching in the form of storytelling. The three women played three seemingly separate characters, of different cultural backgrounds, whose lives ultimately become intertwined. They delivered the play Chautauqua-style, one-by-one telling the stories of their characters to the audience.
The three women – known as the “Dakota Daughters” – have performed the play for years throughout the state, with the support of the South Dakota Humanities Council. The Council’s website notes that while the characters are fictional, “actual events, materials, and arts of that period” are historically accurate. Tuesday’s presentation was part of the Rawlins Municipal Library’s Summer Reading Program.
The performers themselves wrote the parts, tweaking – and often thoroughly revising – their stories over years of presentation. By the end of Tuesday’s performance, the three performers invited the nearly 20 audience members to comment and ask questions, bringing even more stories into focus.
“We want to hear your voices,” Jefferson told them. And they did, lingering long after the play in a discussion with the people who came to watch.
The Massacre at Wounded Knee was catastrophic to the Lakota people living in and around Pine Ridge, with hundreds of people killed. One account, in the Library of Congress’s website, notes how U.S. government officials outlawed “a growing religion known as the Ghost Dance” and then, in December 1890, “soldiers from the Seventh U.S. Cavalry Regiment arrested a band of Lakota who were traveling toward the Pine Ridge Reservation and confined them to a camp near Wounded Knee Creek.”
The account continues:
“The day after the arrest, the military attempted to recover weapons from the imprisoned refugees. A gun was discharged and soldiers opened fire. When the shooting stopped, hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children were dead.”
A bill designed to memorialize the land where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place is under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-South Dakota) introduced the bill.
In the Dakota Daughters’ play, Goes In Center performs the role of Sitting Bull’s daughter, named Kimimila in the play. She delivers a devastating line after her relatives are killed.
“I am all alone now,” she says, in the voice of Kimimila.
Goes In Center said her years at Oglala Lakota College helped her to absorb the history she now helps others to learn. She attended college after serving in the U.S. Army, which she joined when she was 18 years old. She served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1982, and she served for five years in the National Guard as well.
“I came back and I went to OLC and I learned so much about my own history that I’m proud to be who I am, and I like to talk about the history,” said Goes In Center, who lives in Rapid City.
Jefferson, who’s performed in the play since the late 1990s, was the first of the group to work on the project. Jefferson plays the part of Mattie Elmira Richardson, a woman engaged to a Buffalo Soldier. The term refers to a name given to Black cavalry soldiers of the 1860s. Jefferson initially played a Buffalo Soldier, rather than a woman engaged to one.
“The very first time I did it I wore a band uniform, trying to look like a Buffalo Soldier,” she said, noting that the effect did not work the way she wanted it to. So, she made a shift.
“The next time I did it I worked it out where I was a woman, and eventually I wrote the part that I have now,” she said.
Jefferson lives in Rapid City and has delivered powerful performances on many aspects of Black history. She describes her depictions of women as “portrayals of South Dakota African American Sheroes.”
After Tuesday’s performance, Jefferson recalled a conversation with her husband after visiting a museum in Fort Meade, South Dakota.
“When I left with my husband, I told him there’s a lot of Black history in these hills, and somebody ought to write about it,” she said. “Lilah Pengra (Rapid City writer) wrote about it, and I began to tell the stories of African Americans.”
Along with Goes In Center and Jefferson, Lillian Witt plays a role in “Wounded Knee 1890, Three Women, Three Lives, Three Cultures.” Witt plays Sadie Babcock, a woman who’s moved to the area from Texas with her husband. She’s played her part for about a dozen years.
“I research all the time and try to add to it, always trying to make it better,” Witt said, noting that she tapped the names of family members for the characters who interact with Sadie.
Witt says her character, who’s come to the area to take advantage of the land, begins to change as the play progresses, seeing the humanity – and cruelty – around her. Witt commented on Sadie’s relationship with Lucy Lone Eagle, who, Witt says, is a historical figure.
“I was starting to come around to the fact that Lucy’s my friend,” she said, referring to Sadie.
Witt, a freelance writer for a number of publications, lives just outside Gordon, Nebraska and was born and raised north of Faith, South Dakota.
Abby Edwardson, director of the Rawlins Municipal Public Library, said the library received a grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council that enabled the Dakota Daughters to perform. She said it’s the first time they’ve performed at the library.
Edwardson said she was pleased to bring a performance with such a rich cultural component to the library – and with such a wide-ranging appeal.
“It was something we could offer to everyone,” she said.
To book the Dakota Daughters for your event, visit https://sdhumanities.org/speakers-bureau/
To read the original Capital Journal story online, visit https://www.capjournal.com/news/dakota-daughters-dazzle-at-rawlins-library-with-performance-discussion/article_7f707cc2-0a40-11ee-9158-7f644787d143.html
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