|The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
The Owner of Wounded Knee, Jim Czwcynski, plans to auction the land unless the Oglala Sioux Tribe acts by May 1.
Wounded Knee: Deadline approaches
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor
RAPID CITY—Very seldom does a story about Indian country garner international attention, especially one that broke in an Indian newspaper.
The story of the sale of the historical site of Wounded Knee has traveled beyond the borders of the United States and with the approaching May 1 deadline for the tribe to buy, the entire world has turned their attention to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.
Many tribal advocates made note of the national media attention surrounding the recently passed Violence against Women act. Tribal political pundits like Ryan Wilson (Oglala Lakota) noted that for the first time in living memory legislation impacting Indian country was at the forefront of the national news cycle. For those with a significant Native American following on Facebook and Twitter, the days leading up to the passage of the bill were filled with postings urging both lawmakers and friends to speak out in favor of the bill.
One could only imagine how social media would have responded had it been available in the 1970’s during the occupation of Wounded Knee and after the unfortunate murder of the two FBI agents in the nearby town of Oglala mere miles away.
The proposed sale of the historical site of Wounded Knee by landowner Jim Czywczynksi has surpassed VAWA in interest and is now trending globally. The story has been covered by the New York Times, USA today, Los Angeles Times, the British Broadcasting Network, ABC news Australia, CNN, and most recently 11 newspapers from Germany, who will run their story on the sale this week.
Many news outlets in the U.S are now attempting to tap in to their limited resources on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for information on everything from how the people on the reservation feel about the proposed sale, what the Oglala Sioux tribal government plans on doing, and if Jim Czywczynski has had any real offers on the land.
The Oglala Sioux tribe has so far held their position that the $4.9 million dollar asking price for the two forty-acre tracts of land is just too much for the Oglala Sioux Tribe to pay. This position has been reiterated by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council representatives from the Wounded Knee District, economic development officials for the tribe, and community members.
However, according to a representative from the BBC, a high ranking member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Executive branch stated that the tribe does have an outside investor who is interested in buying the land on behalf of the tribe. According to the source the tribe is currently preparing to make an offer on the land.
The community seems to be split as to what action should be taken in regards to the land. The Wounded Knee Survivor’s Association, who speaks for a small number of the descendants of those who were killed at Wounded Knee, believes that the land should not be developed or purchased, or even sold. The group has stated publicly that their wish would be for Mr. Czywczynski to simply hand the land over to the tribe as a donation.
“We cannot support any development or exploitation of the land. For us as Lakota we cannot sell the sacred,” said Nathan Blindman of the Wounded Knee Survivors association.
The land is within the boundaries of the reservation but the tribe has no ownership rights over the land that is the private property of Czywczynski. In the early part of the 19th century huge portions of reservation lands fell into the hands of non-Natives during a process called allotment that parceled out the land on the reservation to individual Indians.
Some tribal members during that time sold their allotment to white homesteaders. The excess 40 acre plots of land that were still available after the land was distributed to tribal members were opened up to homesteaders. The policy of allotment was originally intended to introduce Native peoples across the country the concept of private ownership and to essentially convert them to farmers and ranchers is now looked at as a failure. It was ended in 1934.
The group has acknowledged that they do not speak for the rest of the descendants of Wounded Knee, the majority of which are from the Cheyenne River Reservation and are part of the Mni Cojou band of Lakota. What has been left out of many of the major networks stories about Wounded Knee is that the people and government on the Pine Ridge reservation are part of the Oglala band of Lakota, a different band than Chief Big Foot and the rest of the people massacred there in 1890.
The Mni Cojou Lakota today are concentrated on the Cheyenne River Reservation in central South Dakota. Recently a representative of the Mni Cojou Lakota spoke out on the sale. Joe Brings Plenty, a former Cheyenne River Sioux tribal president, and the youngest person in the tribe’s history to hold the position spoke out on the issue in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. In the article he called upon President Obama to fulfill his promise to uphold the trust responsibility and buy the land for preservation as a national monument.
“The federal government should buy this land and President Obama should then preserver it as a national monument – just as he did last month at five federally owned sites around the country, including one in Maryland honoring Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,” wrote Brings Plenty.
The federal government who is responsible for upholding the trust relationship has said nothing on the issue. It seems unlikely at this point that they would be willing to come forward and buy the land on behalf of the tribe.
As of today the owner of the land has said that he will not move the May 1 deadline on the land back for any reason. So far Birdnecklace LLC, a renewable energy company owned by Oglala Sioux tribal member William Birdnecklace, was the only entity to make a public offering on the land. However after a short negotiation on the terms of the purchase Birdnecklace LLC quickly rescinded their offer to buy the land.
William Birdnecklace the CEO of the company has not been heard from or seen since. Although Birdnecklace LLC backed off their intention to buy the land, Czywczynski does not have a shortage of buyers willing to buy the land.
“I have two groups out of California, one from overseas who have made offers on the land and I am expecting more once the BBC and ABC Australia air their stories,” he said. “I have told them however that I will not entertain these offers until after the May 1, deadline. I just hope the tribe will step up and find a way to buy it,” added Czywczynski.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)