Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wounded Knee by Ginger Simpson
For years in history, the US Government has lied to and cheated Indians out of their right to life and the land they love.  One such lie involved promising the Sioux tribe sole access to the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota and then later reneging on the promise by allowing white men to invade the territory in pursuit of gold.
 Imagine living off the land, revering the Great Spirit and all creation, and watching the buffalo, the very animal that provided most everything needed in life, fade away as white men killed them simply for sport.  Without the animal, gone were the lodge coverings, the sinew for sewing and bows, the bones and organs that provided cooking pots, pans and utensils, and most of all, food that sustained the Indian nation.

  By declaration of our government, Indians were deemed to live on reservations under the servitude of corrupt Indian Agents who stole money and food promised the red men.  It's no wonder that on February 27, 1973, the Indian people had reached their breaking point, thus the standoff at Wounded Knee began. 
Approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Their mission was a protest of a failed attempt to impeach tribal president, Richard Wilson, who was accused of corruption.  The action was also aimed as the US government for their failure to adhere to agreements with the Indians. The protesters demanded the reopening of negotiations on failed treaties.
The occupied area was cordoned off by United States Marshals, FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies while the Oglala and AIM activists controlled the town for seventy-one days. Wounded Knee, so named for an 1890 massacre see was chosen for its symbolic value. Gunfire from both sides was a frequent event, with a minimum of deaths on both sides.  Because of damage to the community, Wounded Knee would not be populated again until the 1990s.
The event attracted the media on a large scale, and  Indian supporters from all over traveled to Wounded Knee to join the protest. Other than than attracting public attention and garnering public sympathy for the plight of the Indian people, nothing really was accomplished. AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means Dennis  were indicted on charges related to the events, but their case was dismissed in 1974 by the federal court for prosecutorial misconduct, a decision upheld on appeal.
Unfortunately, Wilson stayed in office and in 1974 was re-elected despite charges of intimidation, voter fraud, and other abuses.  His followers supposedly provoked violent attacks on those who opposed him and the Guardians of the Oglala Nation.  The murder rate between March 1, 1973, and March 1, 1976, was 170 per 100,000.

Since the media was banned from Wounded Knee following the standoff, perhaps the most poignant outcome of the occupation was demonstrated at the Academy Awards.  Actor Marlon Brando, nominated for an award, won, and asked  Sacheen Littlefeather, an Indian actress to speak on his behalf in support of the Sioux Nation.  When he was expected to give his acceptance speech, she announced his declination of the award due to the poor treatment of the Native Americans in the film industry.  She originally had planned to give a speech written by Brando, but was warned she would be removed from stage and arrested if she exceeded her one minute slot.

She did manage to read the speech of media backstage and public attention again focused on the plight of the movement, but did it help?  According to The Learning Network of the New York Times, "Wounded Knee did not bring about immediate reforms sought by the American Indian Movement activists, though it did succeed to bringing national attention to plight of American Indians and promoting Indian cultural identity."

 I plan to visit South Dakota on my vacation, so I'll see what I can find out, and I promise to take pictures.

Information for this article was garnered from


Caroline Clemmons said...

Ginger, I look forward to your photos. What a sad episode in our history this was.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Caroline. I can't wait to see the Lakota lands in South Dakota, and there will be pictures. :)