Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Study Guide

Dee Alexander Brown

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Introduction | Summary



Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was originally published in 1970. It has been reprinted several times since, and Brown added an introduction to the 2000 edition. In the introduction, Brown describes the historical documents he used to source information for the book, including government treaties and "authentic accounts" from American Indians who experienced the Indian Wars firsthand. He also used first-person statements and records from official meetings between native councils and representatives of the U.S. government.

Brown warns readers that Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee isn't an uplifting book. After all, it's about genocide—the systematic destruction of an entire people. He hopes those who read it will begin to understand the enormous cultural and physical losses suffered in the name of white supremacy in the United States.


Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is considered groundbreaking in part because of its perspective. It was one of the first books to be written with a sympathetic view toward the American Indians in their battle against white men and the American government over the western United States. Brown grew up with American Indian friends, which made him naturally sympathetic to the plight of their ancestors, but his sympathetic tone also stems from the sources he used to inform his research.

Nineteenth-century American Indian tribes didn't use written language, and very few of them knew English. Their histories were kept as oral records, or stories, passed down over the years. When something needed to be written down, it was usually in pictures. This is why it's so easy to find written documentation of a soldier's or settler's experiences in the mid-19th century, but nearly impossible to find the same of an American Indian. Oral histories are difficult to record, especially when the language itself dies along with its people.

Brown decided to focus on the transcriptions of Indian interviews and councils. Many Indian leaders, especially those who were nearing the ends of their lives, used these meetings as a platform for telling their life histories and the histories of their tribe. They knew white officials were recording every word spoken—usually interpreted by a half-Indian translator—and they wanted to make sure their stories were told. These transcriptions help Brown provide perspectives that have traditionally gone unheard.

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