Ghost Dance

Activists still wonder if Standing Deer died in a plot by the feds or Indian foes or for no reason at all


Sam Wounded Head says he hasn't spoken with or written to his son since he killed Standing Deer. "We ain't got time," he says in a thick Lakota accent from his Rosebud home. "We have a lot of things to do on the reservation."

Both he and Norma Wounded Head say Sam never hit Smashed Ice. Norma calls her stepson a born liar with a hot temper.

Smashed Ice has written two of his sisters, asking them to pray for him. He also sent a letter to Connell saying that shortly after he arrived at Standing Deer's, this supposedly great man started talking bad about Leonard Crow Dog.

"These urban Indians don't know anything about their culture," he wrote. He wrote that he shrugged it off, but on the night of January 20, he couldn't overlook it anymore.

They both drank heavily that night and the Deer talked bad about Crow Dog again, then made a sexual advance, Smashed Ice wrote to Connell.

"I waited until he made a move that he shouldn't have," Smashed Ice wrote. And now he had Standing Deer's blood on his hands, and only a medicine man like Leonard Crow Dog could wash it off.

The coroner's report for Robert Hugh Wilson shows no drugs or alcohol in the man's system. And the blood in the bedroom was confined to Standing Deer's pillows, the sheets and the floor immediately by the bed. He was most likely sleeping when Smashed Ice grabbed a knife from the kitchen and entered his room.

"I knew it was in his sleep, because Pius was going to hurt me in my sleep," Connell says. She believes that when Smashed Ice plunged the blade into the old Indian, he wasn't stabbing Standing Deer. He was stabbing his father.

Smashed Ice, waiting in Harris County jail for his scheduled July 8 sentencing, avoids specific questions about why he killed Standing Deer, preferring to rant about other injustices.

"Are you going to write about poverty on the reservations?" he says, raising his voice from his usual monotone. "Are you going to write about genocide?"

He asks if this story is going to make him look like a savage, the way he says Indians are always portrayed.

"We're not savages," he says.

As much bitterness as he has about the reservation and the history of the Lakota people, he says he does not hate white people. That was instilled in him from the beginning.

"My father told me, and my grandfather told me, 'It don't matter if they're the enemy. Just shake their hands.' "

He balks at the notion that most of Standing Deer's friends have: that the feds somehow hired him to kill Standing Deer for reneging in a plot to murder Peltier.

Why would he work for the government, he asks, when "the fucking government is the ones that's fucking my people?"


Two months after Standing Deer's slaying, Peltier posted a statement on a Web site that claimed to belong to his defense committee. Its contents struck the Deer's youngest daughter, Vickie Larsen, as strange. Peltier wrote more about who his longtime friend was not, rather than mourning his loss.

"I want to set the story straight," he wrote. "I want to be honest about my history with the Deer. I know there have been things written about the Deer that say he knew all about our culture, religion, and history and that I was his teacher. This is not true."

Peltier explains that Standing Deer was smart, kind and funny, but that he was just an "ordinary man."

"I will miss the Deer," he wrote. "He was a good, solid Brother. You could bet your life on him."

Peltier sent Delaney Bruce, who works for his defense committee, as his representative to Standing Deer's cremation. She presented Larsen with a deerskin robe for her to drape over her father's body.

A short while after the cremation, Chief Billy Tayac says, Standing Deer came to him in a dream. The Piscataway Indian, of Accokeek, Maryland, says that in his dream, he found an entrance to the spirit world, stepped inside and was instantly engulfed in a blinding light.

A few moments later, his old friend Standing Deer appeared.

"What's going on?" the chief asked.

"This is a holding area," the Deer replied. "I can't go into the spirit world until I get an honoring ceremony."

An ancestor appeared behind Standing Deer and told the chief exactly what he needed to do: Burn an eagle feather in a pyre of cedar by the sacred burial grounds outside Accokeek. The feather will rise to the spirit world and become Standing Deer's key.

In April, the chief invited Standing Deer's friends and family to the burial grounds. They burned the cedar, and Larsen stepped forward and dropped the feather on the pyre.

Everyone who is asked about it swears what happened next is true: Two deer suddenly sprang out of the nearby woods and stood dead still in the middle of a clearing. They stared at the people circling the pyre. The people stared back. The deer turned and retreated to the woods.

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