December 29 marks the 114th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
There are no articles about it in the news this evening, but
without fanfare or flashing cameras the Big Foot Riders will finish
their ride along that trail to honor and remember those killed as well
as those who survived. While some may speak of struggles and their
own difficulties, frustrations and fatigue, remember the struggle of
those massacred and those who survived--elderly, sick, children,
mothers with babies in their arms and men all unarmed, surrounded with shots ringing out, piercing and tearing through their bodies and
howitzers blasting at them, bodies falling...300 massacred and tossed
into a mass grave--and remember the unity and action their struggle
has continued to inspire. Wounded Knee inspired and became the symbol of the indian struggle and resistance of AIM over 30 years ago and on this date it is fitting to also remember and honor Buddy Lamont and Frank Clearwater who also gave their lives at Wounded Knee as well as all those who fought and stayed and walked their talk throughout their lifetime and paid dearly in so many ways, so many still paying, just so another generation has the right to survive and continue the struggle for the next.
The repression has not ended, there is still work to be done, and
Leonard Peltier remains a political prisoner in a US federal
penetentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Today and always we remember Wounded Knee.
The Battle of Wounded Knee 1973
Resistance Stories of Lakota People
by Debbie Lang
Revolutionary Worker #1038, January 16, 2000
In the spring of 1973, hundreds of Indian people and their supporters
occupied the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation in South Dakota. They demanded an end to the
U.S.-government-backed murder and intimidation of American Indian
Movement (AIM) supporters and "traditionals" on the reservation. And
they demanded that treaties signed by the U.S. government be honored
that gave the Lakota (also known as the Sioux) the right to self-rule
and to the land surrounding the Black Hills.
Federal authorities surrounded them with an army of over 300--which
included the U.S. Army, FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents,
U.S. Marshals and state police. The Indians refused to back down. They
used weapons to defend themselves and held off the government forces
for 73 days. The courage and militancy of the fighters at Wounded Knee
grabbed the attention of people all over the world and helped build
powerful support for the struggle of Native peoples. Wounded Knee--the
site of the massacre of 300 Sioux men, women and children in
1890--became a symbol of Indian struggle and resistance.
After this siege, the U.S. government unleashed an intense, murderous
repression against the people of Pine Ridge. And AIM activists,
including Leonard Peltier, came from around the U.S. to help organize
and defend the people of Pine Ridge.
In 1977 Leonard Peltier was framed-up for the murder of two FBI agents
and railroaded into prison-- where he has now spent 23 hard years. He
is respected around the world as a voice for Native people and an
inspiring political prisoner who refuses to be broken.
November 1999 was Leonard Peltier Freedom Month. Thousands of people
traveled to Washington, DC to demand freedom for Leonard
Peltier--including people who took part in the Wounded Knee occupation
and the Pine Ridge struggle. This article is based on conversations RW
reporter Debbie Lang had with these veteran fighters.
"In our family stories we have stories of what happened to our people.
I have a grandma. Her name was Dora Hi White Man. She survived the
1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. As a little child, four, five, or six
years old, I remember my grandma Dora. So I'm very fortunate to know a
survivor of the 1890 massacre. And today you might think 1890 was
long, long, long ago. But it's just recent, because I knew my grandma
and my grandma ran from that massacre.
"I live in Oglala. When Wounded Knee 1973 was going on I was a little
girl. I looked that way and the whole sky was pink (from the flares
being shot up by the government). To me Wounded Knee was just right
over the hill there. I was like, Oh right on! Cool! Keep on doing
that, man! I was really happy. Little did I know that my nation was
trying to make war with one of the big power nations of the world. I
was just proud of them. And ever since Wounded Knee I've always been
real happy to be an Indian and I'm proud of the fact that you mess
with us, we'll mess right back."
Arlette Loud Hawk, Lakota, resident
of Pine Ridge Indian reservation
In the 1960s, in the midst of the Black liberation movement and the
mass upsurge against the Vietnam War, a great movement of resistance
rose up among the Native peoples in the U.S. AIM drew forward a whole
new generation of Indian youth to fight the powers. They helped
organize a 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco
Bay; occupations of Mt. Rushmore; a Thanksgiving "Day of Mourning"
held at Plymouth Rock; and the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan to
Washington, D.C.--which ended with the occupation of the BIA (Bureau
of Indian Affairs) building.
AIM member Carter Camp told me: "People were waiting for us to appear
on the scene and for some Indians to stand up and say that we're not
going to take this shit no more. We've lived under this oppression for
so many years. We're going to fight back now. The American Indian
Movement is the force that stood for the people as a warrior society
and said we're no longer going to allow you to roll over our people,
to take our land, to pave over our reservations and dam up our rivers."
The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has a lot of valuable
natural resources including coal, uranium and an aquifer (an
underground water reserve) with millions of gallons of clean water. In
1868, after losing in battle against the Sioux, the U.S. government
negotiated the Fort Laramie Treaty. Then, right after this, they began
breaking the treaty in order to steal Indian land and resources. The
U.S. government and Christian missionaries tried to force the Lakota
to assimilate into U.S. society. Children were stolen and forced into
boarding schools run by Christians. Lakota language, culture and
religious ceremonies were outlawed. By the 1970s, the Lakota had lost
two-thirds of their land and the government had plans to steal
more--especially in order to get uranium for their nuclear weapons
In February 1972 Raymond Yellow Thunder was beaten to death by two
white men in Gordon, Nebraska. Attacks on Indian people by white
racists and the police were common around the reservation, and the
white people who committed these crimes were almost never punished.
This time, AIM led a caravan of 200 cars to Gordon and forced the
authorities to file serious charges against the murderers. AIM's
actions had an electrifying effect on the reservation. Rosaline
Jumping Bull, who grew up on the res, told me:
"My dad worked for the BIA. He was on the credit board. One time he
came home and said, `You know, a strange thing happened today. Some
real strange looking Indian boys were at the BIA building. They had
long hair. They said they call themselves A-I-M.' We weren't allowed
to have long hair so we didn't know what a long hair was. I said, this
I've got to see. And that's when they killed my uncle Raymond Yellow
Thunder at Gordon. Mom said, `Don't go over there and get in trouble.
Don't you try and go over there. You're always doing things wrong.' So
I sneaked over there. I rushed over there. The TV and media was there.
I was busy hiding because I didn't want my folks to see me. But I
wanted to join AIM's march. Oh, it was fun, it was really fun. I
didn't know we could fight back, you know? I was taught not to fight
back, to obey the white people cause I'll get punished. That's what my
folks always told me. My grandmother did, too. Then I took my mom and
she was right up there with them."
Arlette Loud Hawk was a young teenager at the time and I asked her
what she remembered. She said: "I remember everything graphically,
vividly, with such clarity. One of the reasons why Wounded Knee 1973
stands out in my memories is because of my cousin, Wesley Bad Heart
Bull. Wesley Bad Heart Bull had gotten killed in a nearby town called
Buffalo Gap. My mother's maiden name is Stella Bad Heart Bull and that
was her brother's son who had been killed by white people. Before that
I had a cousin that was named Lesley Bandley. He was in the United
States Army. He was walking along the side of the road and some white
boys just came and ran over him and killed him. And there was no
justice for Lesley Bandley. And there is no justice for Wesley Bad
"My mom and my dad, they knew Dennis Banks and they knew Russell Means
who were both with AIM. My uncle was the vice president of the Oglala
Sioux tribe. His name was Dave Long. He always came over to visit my
parents. When my cousin died I could hear my uncle telling my mom,
`Stella, you'd better call in AIM."'
On February 6, police attacked AIM members at a demonstration at the
Custer courthouse where they demanded that the white man who murdered
Wesley Bad Heart Bull be charged with murder. Arlette told me she
watched the TV and saw "Indians had started fighting back with all
those federal marshals" after police attacked AIM.
In an attempt to counter the growing influence of AIM on the
reservation, the U.S. government backed the election of Dick Wilson as
tribal chief in 1972. Wilson was a super-patriotic reactionary who
hated AIM. He used tribal funds to hire thugs called GOONs (Guardians
of the Oglala Nation) and began a reign of terror on the reservation
against AIM, the "traditionals" and their supporters. Hundreds of
people were threatened, beaten, shot at or had their homes burned.
Wilson was backed by BIA police and the FBI. Carter Camp described
some of the military force the U.S. government positioned on the
reservation to back up Wilson:
"There was a force of the U.S. Marshals Service there called Special
Operations Group. These people were not your regular law enforcement
that you might see in a city with a suit and tie on, but they wore
combat fatigues and carried M16s. They drove around in humvees and
jeeps and they had APCs. They had helicopters. And wherever Indian
people gathered, it didn't matter if it was a wedding or a funeral,
they came out in force. Then they started telling the people that they
couldn't gather in groups of larger than four for any reason. Our
people were living under this oppression and they just couldn't stand
it any longer. And they came to us in the American Indian Movement."
Ellen Moves Camp told me how she and other members of the Oglala Civil
Rights Organization turned to AIM for help: "We called the American
Indian Movement because they were already in Rapid City. They were up
in Washington. They went to the courthouse in Custer. So we invited
them down. We wanted to talk to them. We were with a boy by the name
of Pedro Bissonnette, who later got killed by the GOONs. We were
talking to them and they said, "Join the civil rights movement with
us. That's where we belong. We got them helping us." In a secret
meeting, Ellen Moves Camp and other residents of Pine Ridge persuaded
the Sioux elders to invite AIM to intervene.
"The best, most free time of my life"
"For security reasons the people had been told everyone was going to a
meeting/wacipi in Porcupine. The road goes through Wounded Knee. When
the People arrived at the Trading Post we had already set up a
perimeter, taken eleven hostages, run the BIA cops out of town, cut
most phone lines, and began 73 days of the best, most free time of my
life. The honor of being chosen to go first lives strong in my heart.
That night we had no idea what fate awaited us. It was a cold night
with not much moonlight, and I clearly remember the nervous
anticipation I felt as we drove the back-way from Oglala into Wounded
Knee...We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo in
the Wounded Knee trading post. I worried that we would not get to them
before the shooting started...
"We were approaching a sacred place and each of us knew it. We could
feel it deep inside. As a warrior leading warriors I humbly prayed to
Wakonda for the lives of all and the wisdom to do things right. Never
before or since have I offered my tobacco with such a plea or put on
my feathers with such purpose. It was the birth of the Independent
Oglala Nation. Things went well for us that night, we accomplished our
task without loss of life. Then, in the cold darkness as we waited for
the caravan (or for the fight to start), I stood on the bank of the
shallow ravine where our people had been murdered by Custer's 7th
Cavalry. There I prayed for the defenseless ones, torn apart by
Hotchkiss cannon and trampled under hooves of steel by drunken wasichu
(whites). I could feel the touch of their spirits as I eased quietly
into the gully and stood silently, waiting for my future, touching my
past. Finally, I bent over and picked a sprig of sage--whose ancestors
in 1890 had been nourished by the blood of Red babies, ripped from
their mothers' dying grasp and bayoneted by the evil ones. As I washed
myself with that sacred herb I became cold in my determination and
cleansed of fear. I looked for Big Foot and YellowBird in the darkness
and I said aloud, `We are back, my relations, we are home."'
>From "Remembering Wounded Knee," written by Carter Camp
Carter Camp says they chose to make a stand at Wounded Knee because of
its history--it had special meaning to Native people and was well
known to millions of others from the powerful book written by Dee
Brown, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. He said:
"On the tribal headquarters they put machine gun emplacements on every
corner of the roof with big sand bags and they had these .50 caliber
machine guns. They thought we were going to attack the Bureau of
Indian Affairs in Pine Ridge and the tribal government. But we knew we
couldn't. We were too lightly armed. And when we agreed to help the
Oglala Civil Rights Committee and the traditionals do something we had
to find a place where we could make a stand without getting totally
wiped out too quickly. We thought we might get wiped out but we wanted
a place where people would know about it." On February 27, a caravan
of 200 cars of Indians and their supporters wound its way through the
darkness towards the village of Wounded Knee. The advanced squad had
already liberated it. Carter described how it happened:
"First, we captured the BIA police and ran them out of town with no
radios or anything and no guns and let them go. Then we took 12
hostages and put them in a safe place. After we had held the place for
maybe two hours the AIM leadership came with a caravan of about 400
people. We had set up perimeters around Wounded Knee and by now the
FBI and these people are understanding that they've been outflanked
because now we're there, we're ensconced and we're starting to build
our bunkers. And now they know if they come in they're putting their
own lives at risk, not just our lives. We're in the defensive
position, we're making bunkers and we've got the high ground. And so
they're nonplused. They actually don't know what to do. So they backed
off a while, which gave us time to get our people situated and that
sort of thing and it became a 73-day siege."
Everyone I talked with looked back on the armed siege of Wounded Knee
as one of the best times of their lives. Russell Loud Hawk helped on
the military perimeter around Wounded Knee. He smiled broadly when he
said: "AIM came in to straighten out the reservation because before
that the traditional people were catching hell from the U.S.
government. That's why I was pretty glad that they came. So I joined
them. I was telling one of these ladies here, remember all the crazy
things we did? You people were in, us guys were surrounded. We pulled
some crazy things but I think we outdid the FBI at that time."
Carter Camp said: "We were fighting every day and in danger every day.
But it was a lot of fun. During the lulls in the fighting, or during
the time when there was not actual danger, it was just a wonderful
time being together. People would break out the drum every night and
we'd sing together and different tribes would sing their songs. We had
Indian ceremonies that are very special to us, but we don't bring 'em
out in public. But now we could have 'em right there where everybody
could participate. We don't have to hide them around anymore. We had
the elders, medicine men, women and children--all in Wounded Knee with
"We were a strong community. We all had work to do and fighting to do.
But at the same time, we could live together and do the things that we
wanted to do, say the things that we want to say, and understand this
world the way that Indian people understand it. So it made us feel
good. We just really were able to come together in a unity that you
don't hardly find in Indian Country. We're different tribes and we
don't always get around to each other like that. I mean literally
thousands of Indian people were coming from around the country. At any
one time we might only have 700 or 800 people in Wounded Knee, but
people were coming and leaving. Then, of course, a group of AIM people
and the traditionalists stayed there throughout the thing."
Ellen Moves Camp remembered: "We had meetings in the morning. We had
prayer in the morning. We'd all go and our negotiations would start.
And then we had sweats every night...When they'd start firing on us
everybody would just sit and wait to see what was going to happen.
Once I went outside and I was standing there watching that shooting
going on, those flares coming in... It was bad and yet everybody
seemed to be happy and everybody worked together. There was no fussing
or anything. Everybody was together there. It was a good feeling."
On March 11, AIM and the Oglala Sioux elders declared the rebirth of
the Independent Oglala Nation and demanded discussion with U.S.
government representatives over the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie
Treaty. In response, the government brought in reinforcements to stop
food, supplies and new recruits from reaching Wounded Knee. The phone
lines were cut. The major media left. The government announced dozens
of indictments against the people inside. On May 4, the White House
sent a letter promising their representatives would meet with the
Sioux chiefs within weeks to talk about the Fort Laramie Treaty--on
the condition that the Indians lay down their arms. The Indians agreed
to end their occupation.
The government never investigated the BIA as they had promised.
Richard Wilson and his murdering GOONs were never prosecuted. Instead
a new reign of terror was carried out against the Native people of
Pine Ridge. And almost 700 indictments were handed down by federal
authorities in connection with the Wounded Knee occupation.
Ellen Moves Camp was one of the Indian negotiators. She described the
government's attitude: "People would come in from Washington and
they'd lie to us. They didn't do anything they said they were going to
do. We tried to negotiate with them but they just lied to us all the
way through. They promised to negotiate the treaties and follow the
treaties and they never did do it."
Millions of people were inspired by Wounded Knee. Hundreds risked
their lives and hiked many miles over the hills to join the people
inside or to bring food and medical supplies. Doctors and nurses came
to help in the Wounded Knee clinic. Telegrams of support came in from
all over the world. Tens of thousands of people held support
demonstrations in many cities across the U.S. and around the world.
The broad support for the Indians at Wounded Knee made it difficult
for the government to launch a full-scale military assault.
Carter Camp told me: "Wounded Knee galvanized Indian Country, all
over. During those 73 days we were in there, from Seattle to
Washington, D.C. and from New York to Florida, Indian people were
trashing BIA offices, protesting at the Indian health services,
telling their own tribal governments to stop the leases with the
uranium companies and the coal digging and that sort of thing. Indian
people were just making themselves known.
"Wounded Knee and the rise of the American Indian Movement and the
struggle of the late '60s and '70s just changed everything about the
way Indian people think of themselves. They started thinking in terms
of the future, not of being exterminated or maybe this is our last
generation that cares about being Indian. It just invigorated the
entire Indian nations...They started having pride in where they came
from and what they were and who they were. And that wasn't done in
America for many, many generations. It also made the government
understand that once more there was a line in the sand that they
couldn't push us beyond. We had taken all we could absorb and that if
they push us just too damn far then we'll fight."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker
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