Legacy of Wounded Knee occupation lives on 50 years later

Legacy of Wounded Knee occupation lives on 50 years later
Legacy of Wounded Knee occupation lives on 50 years later

WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. (AP) — Madonna Thunder Hawk remembers the firefights.

As a medic throughout the occupation of Wounded Knee in early 1973, Thunder Hawk was stationed nightly in a frontline bunker within the fight zone between Native American activists and U.S. authorities brokers in South Dakota.

“I’d crawl on the market each evening, and we’d simply be on the market in case anyone received hit,” mentioned Thunder Hawk, of the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, one of 4 ladies assigned to the bunkers.

Reminiscences of the Wounded Knee occupation — one in a string of protests from 1969 to 1973 that pushed the American Indian Motion to the forefront of Native activism — nonetheless run deep inside individuals like Thunder Hawk who had been there.

Thunder Hawk, now 83, is cautious about what she says as we speak about AIM and the occupation, however she will be able to’t overlook that tribal elders in 1973 had been raised by grandparents who nonetheless remembered the 1890 slaughter of tons of of Lakota individuals at Wounded Knee by U.S. troopers.

“That’s how shut we’re to our historical past,” she told ICT recently. “So something that goes on, something we do, even as we speak with the land-back situation, all of that’s only a continuation. It’s nothing new.”

Different emotions linger, too, over the tensions that emerged in Lakota communities after Wounded Knee and the digital destruction of the small group. Many nonetheless don’t need to speak about it.

However the legacy of activism lives on amongst those that have adopted of their footsteps, together with the brand new generations of Native individuals who turned out at Standing Rock starting in 2016 for the pipeline protests.

“For me, it’s necessary to acknowledge the era earlier than us — to acknowledge their threat,” mentioned Nick Tilsen, founder of NDN Collective and a pacesetter within the Standing Rock protests, whose mother and father had been AIM activists. “It’s necessary for us to honor them. It’s necessary for us to thank them.”

Akim D. Reinhardt, who wrote the ebook, “Ruling Pine Ridge: Oglala Lakota Politics from the IRA to Wounded Knee,” mentioned the AIM protests had highly effective social and cultural impacts.

“Collectively, they helped set up a way of the permanence of Crimson Energy in a lot the best way that Black Energy had for African People, a everlasting legacy,” mentioned Reinhardt, a historical past professor at Towson College in Towson, Maryland.

“It was the cultural legacy that racism isn’t OK and other people don’t should be quiet and settle for it anymore,” he mentioned. “That it’s OK to be proud of who you might be.”

A sequence of occasions in South Dakota in current days acknowledged the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation, together with powwows, a documentary movie displaying and a particular honor for the ladies of Wounded Knee.



The occupation started on the evening of Feb. 27, 1973, when a gaggle of warriors led by Oklahoma AIM chief Carter Camp, who was Ponca, moved into the small city of Wounded Knee. The group took over the buying and selling submit and established a base of operations together with AIM leaders Russell Means, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Dennis Banks, who was Ojibwe; and Clyde Bellecourt, of the White Earth Nation.

Inside days, tons of of activists had joined them for what grew to become a 71-day standoff with the U.S. authorities and different regulation enforcement.

It was the fourth protest in as many years for AIM. The group shaped within the late Nineteen Sixties and drew worldwide consideration with the occupation of Alcatraz within the San Francisco Bay from 1969-1971. In 1972, the Path of Damaged Treaties introduced a cross-country caravan of tons of of Indigenous activists to Washington, D.C., the place they occupied the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters for six days.

Then, on Feb. 6, 1973, AIM members and others gathered on the courthouse in Custer County, South Dakota, to protest the killing of Wesley Dangerous Coronary heart Bull, who was Oglala Lakota, and the lenient sentences given to some perpetrators of violence towards Native People. Once they had been denied entry into the courthouse, the protest turned violent, with the burning of the native chamber of commerce and different buildings.

Three weeks later, AIM leaders took over Wounded Knee.

“It had been ready to occur for generations,” mentioned Kevin McKiernan, who lined the Wounded Knee occupation as a journalist in his late 20s and who later directed the 2019 documentary movie, “From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock.”

“For those who take a look at it as a storm, the storm had been constructing via abuse, land theft, genocide, non secular intoleration, for generations and generations,” he mentioned. “The storm constructed up, and constructed up and constructed up. The American Indian Motion was merely the thunderbolt.”

The takeover at Wounded Knee grew out of a dispute with Oglala Sioux tribal chief Richard Wilson but additionally put a highlight on calls for that the U.S. authorities uphold its treaty obligations to the Lakota individuals.

By March 8, the occupation leaders had declared the Wounded Knee territory to be the Impartial Oglala Nation, granting citizenship papers to those that needed them and demanding recognition as a sovereign nation.

The standoff was typically violent, and provides grew to become scarce throughout the occupied territory because the U.S. authorities labored to chop off assist for these behind the strains. Discussions had been ongoing all through a lot of the occupation, with a number of authorities officers working with AIM leaders to attempt to resolve the problems.

The siege lastly ended on Might 8 with an settlement to disarm and to additional talk about the treaty obligations. By then, at the least three individuals had been killed and greater than a dozen wounded, based on stories.

Two Native males died. Frank Clearwater, recognized as Cherokee and Apache, was shot on April 17, 1973, and died eight days later. Lawrence “Buddy” Lamont, who was Oglala Lakota, was shot and killed on April 26, 1973.

One other man, Black activist Ray Robinson, who had been working with the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Group, went lacking throughout the siege. The FBI confirmed in 2014 that he had died at Wounded Knee, however his physique was by no means recovered. A U.S. marshal who was shot and paralyzed died many years later.

Camp was later convicted of abducting and beating 4 postal inspectors throughout the occupation and served three years in federal jail. Banks and Means had been indicted on fees associated to the occasions, however their circumstances had been dismissed by a federal courtroom for prosecutorial misconduct.

Right this moment, the Wounded Knee Nationwide Historic Landmark identifies the positioning of the 1890 bloodbath, most of which is now beneath joint ownership of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes.

The tribes agreed in 2022 to buy 40 acres that included the world the place most of the carnage befell in 1890, the ravine the place victims fled and the world the place the buying and selling submit was positioned.

The acquisition, from a descendant of the unique house owners of the buying and selling submit, included a covenant requiring the land to be preserved as a sacred web site and memorial with out industrial improvement.

And although inner tensions emerged within the AIM group within the years after the Wounded Knee occupation, AIM continues to function all through the U.S. in tribal communities and concrete areas.

In current years, members participated within the Standing Rock protests and have continued in pushing for the discharge from jail of former AIM chief Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree homicide regardless of inconsistencies within the proof within the deaths of two FBI brokers throughout a shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.



Tilsen, now president and chief govt of NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led group centered round constructing Indigenous energy, traces the roots of his activism to Wounded Knee.

His mother and father, JoAnn Tall and Mark Tilsen, met at Wounded Knee, and he praises the ladies of the motion who sustained the normal matriarchal system throughout the occupation.

“I grew up within the American Indian Motion,” mentioned Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. “It wasn’t a query about what you had been preventing for. You had been raised up in it. In reality, for those who didn’t struggle, you weren’t going to stay.”

Tilsen credit AIM and others for many of the rights Native People have as we speak, together with the power to function casinos and tribal faculties, enter into contracts with the federal authorities to supervise colleges and different companies, and non secular freedom.

He mentioned the motion confirmed the world that tribes had been sovereign nations and their treaties had been being violated. And when AIM and non secular leaders resembling Henry Crow Canine, Leonard Crow Dog and Matthew King joined the struggle, it grew to become intergenerational.

“It grew to become a non secular revolution,” he mentioned. “It additionally grew to become a struggle that was about human rights. It grew to become a struggle that was about the place Indigenous individuals aren’t simply throughout the political system of America, however throughout the broader context of the system; of the world.”

Tilsen appreciates that his mother and father had been prepared to take part in an armed revolution to attain one of their goals of establishing KILI radio station, often called the “Voice of the Lakota Nation,” which started working in 1983 as the primary Indigenous-owned radio station in the USA.

The Dakota Entry Pipeline protest in 2016 grew to become a defining second for him and his brother. That they had questioned, he mentioned, what can be their Wounded Knee?

“What made it so highly effective and what made it totally different was that you simply truly had grassroots organizers and revolutionaries and official tribal governments coming collectively, too,” Tilsen mentioned. “I feel that Standing Rock specifically truly reached approach additional than Wounded Knee as a result of of how the problem was framed round ‘water is life.’”

Alex Fireplace Thunder, deputy director of the Lakota Language Consortium, mentioned the occupation of Wounded Knee and different activism helped revitalize Indigenous languages and cultures. His mom was too younger to have participated within the occupation however he mentioned she remembered visits from AIM members locally.

“The entire level of AIM, the American Indian Motion, was to deliver again a way of delight in our tradition,” Fireplace Thunder, Oglala Lakota, advised ICT.



For Thunder Hawk, the problems grew to become her lifelong work quite than momentary activism.

She joined AIM in 1968 and took part within the occupation at Alcatraz, the BIA headquarters, the Custer County Courthouse and Wounded Knee, in addition to the Standing Rock pipeline protest in 2016.

She mentioned work being accomplished as we speak by a brand new era is a continuation of the work her ancestors did.

“That’s why we had been profitable in Indian Nation, as a result of we had been a motion of households,” she mentioned. “It wasn’t simply an age group, a bunch of younger individuals carrying on.”

She hopes her legacy will stay on, that her great-great-grandchildren will see not only a picture of her however know what she appeared like and the individual she gave the impression to be.

It’s one thing that she will be able to’t have when she seems to be at a photograph of her paternal great-grandparents.

“Hopefully that’s what my descendants will see, you already know?” she mentioned. “And with the know-how these days, they will press a button, possibly, and it’ll come up.”

Frank Star Comes Out, the present president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, additionally believes it’s time for the earlier era’s work to be acknowledged.

Some of his members of the family strongly supported AIM, together with his mom and father. He mentioned it is necessary to struggle for his individuals, who survived genocide.

“That’s why I assist AIM, not solely on a household stage,” he mentioned. “I’ve loads of delight in who I’m as a Lakota. … Occasions (have) modified. Now I’m utilizing my management to assist our individuals rise, to provide them a voice. And I imagine that’s necessary for Indian Nation.”


ICT producer Stewart Huntington, primarily based in Colorado, contributed to this report.

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