06/20/2014 11:06 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2014

Honoring the Dead and Celebrating a Victory

It was on June 25, 1876, 138 years ago, that George Armstrong Custer and his Seventh Cavalry suffered their worst defeat at the hands of a combined force of Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne at the battle of Greasy Grass or Little Bighorn or Custer's Last Stand.

It depends on what side of the battle you were on for your name preference, but the Native Americans usually refer to it as the Battle of Greasy Grass.

Several years ago I wrote that this day was usually a holiday for the people of the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota (Sioux) Nations and it caused some non-Indian readers of my article to get upset that the "Indians" would celebrate the slaughter of a great cavalry officer and his men.

Perhaps they didn't understand that it was a holiday to commemorate the lives of the gallant warriors who lost their lives in the Battle of the Greasy Grass, but it was also a celebration of the great victory scored that day over the invaders.

There is a day celebrated in the deep south called Confederate Memorial Day that is usually held on April 26, a day chosen by Elizabeth Rutherford Ellis because that is the day Confederate General Johnston's surrendered to General Sherman because for most Southerners that surrender marked the end of the Civil War.

It was the ladies of Columbus, Georgia who asked that one day be set aside to memorialize the Confederate soldiers that died in the Civil War. So we have a memorial holiday celebrated in most southern states to honor the soldiers of the south who fought against the Union forces of America in a civil war.

It is only right that the Native American descendants of one of the greatest victories ever scored against the United States honor those warriors who fought and died in the battle.

And so it is that powwows, speeches and meals will be served to honor those warriors and their victory. The celebration has been ongoing for several years now and it took many years for the National Park Service to finally place a memorial at the battle site that would speak for the Indian warriors who fought and died in the battle. Lakota leader Enos Poor Bear fought long and hard as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to convince the Park Service that the one-sided memorials were discriminatory.

And so way out here in Indian Country we will honor those brave warriors of 1876 who fought and died defending their country. It is what any nation would do under the same set of circumstances.

But we will always wonder what would have been the results if the combined forces of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho had considered the Greasy Grass a long term war instead of just one battle.

Just as the people of the Confederacy honor their dead from the Civil War, so too will the people of the Indian Nations honor their dead on the fields of the reservations and on the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji, an Oglala Lakota, can be reached at