For years, Ernie LaPointe, writer and Vietnam veteran, claimed he was the great-grandson of Sitting Bull, Chief Hunkpapa Lakota famous for resisting the federal government’s efforts to take over the Great Plains. .
He had his mother’s oral history verified by researchers at the Smithsonian, and a lock of hair and woolen leggings belonging to Sitting Bull, whose birth name was Tatanka Iyotake, returned to the family.
But Mr LaPointe, 73, said he never felt he had enough evidence linking him to Sitting Bull to help him achieve his ultimate goal of moving the chief’s remains to a location. burial place in South Dakota, in an area he says has been desecrated. , to a last home worthy of his great-grandfather’s legacy.
This week, his efforts to overcome opposition to the exhumation may have received help from an unlikely source: Danish researchers.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen said on Wednesday that DNA evidence confirmed that Mr LaPointe, who lives in Lead, SD, is the direct descendant of Sitting Bull. The discovery was made by testing a one-inch piece of Sitting Bull’s hair using a new sequencing method that scientists say first confirmed parentage using “ancient DNA” from small old and damaged samples.
“The method can handle what previous methods couldn’t handle,” said Eske Willerslev, one of the lead authors of the study, published Wednesday in Science Advances. “It can work on very, very small amounts of DNA, and it can go back generations.”
The research opens up the possibility, he said, for people whether they are the direct descendants of kings like Henry V, who died centuries ago, or famous historical figures like the outlaw Jesse. James. It could also help solve cold cases that might have seemed hopeless before because the physical evidence had deteriorated, Dr Willerslev said. It could even help solve centuries-old cases, he said.
Dr Willerslev said it was possible, for example, that the methodology could help solve one of England’s most puzzling cold cases: the fate of the two young nephews of Richard III, who has been accused of them. ordered to be killed so that he could ascend the throne in 1483. The boys disappeared that year.
Almost 200 years later, the skeletal remains of two people were found in the Tower of London, but they have never been identified. Dr Willerslev said the methodology used on Sitting Bull’s hair could be used on these remains, assuming Richard III’s relatives are alive and can be traced.
Mr LaPointe said he believes DNA confirmation could bolster his campaign to exhume and re-bury the chief’s remains.
“We are going to put it elsewhere,” he said on Thursday. “Where he will be respected.”
Mr LaPointe said his mother told him and his three sisters who their great-grandfather was when they were children. In 2007, this oral history was verified by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which concluded that Mr. LaPointe and his sisters were Sitting Bull’s only living parents. That same year, the museum returned the family a lock of hair and woolen leggings that an army medic had taken from Sitting Bull’s body after being shot by tribal police in 1890.
Sitting Bull was the leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota. For years he fought the US military as the federal government encroached on tribal lands. One of his most famous battles was against the troops of General George Armstrong Custer, which were defeated in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Sitting Bull surrendered to the US government in 1881 and was allowed to live on the Standing Rock Reservation.
He then toured briefly with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but an agent in charge of the reserve feared he was planning another resistance campaign and decided to arrest him in 1890. Sitting Bull was shot dead during the botched arrest and buried at Fort Yates in North Dakota. .
Whether his remains are still there has been disputed.
The town of Mobridge, SD, said on its website that in 1953 a group of businessmen along with a descendant of Sitting Bull and one of the Native American officers who arrested the chief moved his remains. in the southern part of the Standing Rock reserve. , overlooking the Missouri River.
Mr. LaPointe said he believed his great-grandfather’s remains were there.
Over the decades, the site has been neglected, Mr. LaPointe said. And every time he visited her, Mr LaPointe said, the area reeked of urine and was littered with broken beer bottles and used condoms.
“People would go up there to party,” said Mr. LaPointe.
Mr LaPointe said he plans to ask the state to allow him to exhume the remains at Standing Rock so the bones can be tested for DNA to confirm they were Sitting Bull’s.
Jon Eagle, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal History Preserver, said removing Sitting Bull’s remains would be a big affront.
“We are protecting them – we are not digging them up or moving them,” he said. “It really violates our spiritual beliefs.”
Mr. LaPointe said he was not discouraged by these concerns. He said he didn’t know where Sitting Bull’s remains would ultimately be buried, but if he was allowed to have them exhumed, they wouldn’t stay in Mobridge.
“We won’t put it back in this hole,” he said. “They can say whatever they want.