Remember Wounded Knee?
On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the occupation, Lakota residents of the tiny village of Wounded Knee So. Dakota, the site of an armed occupation by members of the American Indian Movement in 1973, are calling for compensation for the impact of the occupation on their community.
Making the call, are the Mothers, Grandmothers and long time community members of Wounded Knee. Among the small, unofficial group of Lakotas are descendants of the Survivors of the the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, Landowners and past and present community officials. Many of them were present for and survived the 73 day armed occupation by AIM between late Feb. and early May 1973.
The popular Wounded Knee II legend depicts the American Indian Movement pitted against the US government forces in an armed confrontation over treaty rights. However, to hear the history from the Wounded Knee residents themselves, one gets a very different picture. In fact many residents became unwilling participants during the occupation by simply trying to keep watch over their homes and families. Those who stayed went hungry and lived in fear in the "War Zone" created by the AIM and FBI conflict. Many of those who left their homes for safety outside Wounded Knee were arrested, interrogated and jailed. After the occupation, all the residents returned to the debris of the battle, their homes and community ransacked, trashed and burned.
From the terror of having a "War Zone" suddenly thrust upon you to being subject to persecution for simply trying to secure your homes, the impact of the occupation on the residents of Wounded Knee must be known. Children and elders were imprisoned in their homes in fear of men with guns, the firefights and the military presence. All the while, not quite clear as to the why of these events they'd been subject to.
Many were caught between AIM and the government forces being labeled and persecuted by both. As a result the conflict created further divisions among families in Wounded Knee which has impacted the community since.
After the occupation, when the government forces left and the American Iindian Movement went on to the trials and international noteriety, the residents were left to sort through the debris of their homes and lives. Many did not survive. Those who remain speak of alcoholism and depression as well as, economic hardship as the obstacles they had to overcome to survive.
In the 30 years since the occupation, according to the residents themselves, no one has ever given consideration to what the community experienced and lost. Although an unidentified government agency solicited claims from the residents for their damages and losses, no payment on those claims has ever been made. Similarly, although the American Indian Movement has, in the 30 years since, hosted and sponsored several Occupation Anniversaries, none of them have involved compensation for the residents of the Wounded Knee community.
Few will disagree with these residents as they call for long overdue compensation from AIM and the government forces whose fight destroyed their community.
In 2003, 30 years after the occupation, the Legend of Wounded Knee II persists among Natives and in popular activists culture as the notorious challenge American Indian Movement leadership made against the US governement. However, as the rest of the story is revealed we'll discover the truth from the grassroots people themselves.
For as the residents themselves say, many people from outside the community have used the name of Wounded Knee for their own benefit, laying claim to noteriety through their involvment in the occupation. In addition, many of these people have gone on to realize worldwide fame.
All the while, none of their gains have been returned to the people of the community of Wounded Knee itself. In fact, the only effort to provide much needed support to the community of Wounded Knee has come from the residents themselves.
Since 1981, the Tiyospaye Center (founded by a Wounded Knee resident) in Denver, Colo. has helped the Wounded Knee community through Christmas and Thanksgiving support drives and after the passing of it's driving force, has even established a Community Building Fund for the people of Wounded Knee.
It is the hope of the small, unofficial group of Lakotas who've followed the lead of the Tiyospaye Center and have taken up the drive to build a community center for their community. They speak of health, education and economic concerns as the focus of their efforts. It is their belief that with a Community Building they'll be able to address their concerns, begin the healing for their community and take control of the future for their children and their children's children.
Cankpe Opi is the Lakota name for the village called Wounded Knee, where in addition to the legacy of 1890 and the ghosts who remain from then, we must now acknowledge those who survived the Wounded Knee II occupation in 1973.
Or, in the words of a Wounded Knee resident and veteran of the Wounded Knee occupation, "I think we owe it to the people who lived here before, who are gone on, we owe it to them to speak out about this. About what happened here 30 years ago. Then the people who are going to come after, they need to know the truth about what happened here."So, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the occupation of the tiny village of Wounded Knee So. Dakota by members of the American Indian Movement, the sentiment is, it's time for those who have gained in the name of the occupation of Wounded Knee to return what they have gained to the community itself. This is all that is being called for, that the leadership of the American Indian Movement, bring something back to the community, something good and honorable. If they can't do that, then don't plan on having a 30th year Anniversary. At least not in Wounded Knee, So. Dak.
© Cankpe Opi Tiyospaye Oyate - Feb. 2003
(Reprinted from News From Indian Country, P. 7A, Vol. XVII No. 4, February 24, 2003)
(View of Grave Site entrance from trading post ruins )
Wounded Knee Background Page