Tim Giago: Still waiting for reconciliation in South Dakota

The following opinion was written by Tim Giago, Editor and Publisher of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

Reconciliation: 24 years and counting
A challenge to Gov. Dennis Daugaard
By Tim Giago
Native Sun News Editor and Publisher

In the past 24 years since Governor George Mickelson proclaimed 1990 as the Year of Reconciliation the leadership of South Dakota has found a convenient out by dismissing “Reconciliation” with: “Oh that was Mickelson’s idea.”

No, South Dakota legislators and governors, it was not Mickelson’s idea; it was mine. And I am still here and I am still asking, “Whatever happened to reconciliation?”

Twenty-three years ago it was the 100th anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee that served as the catalyst that prompted me to challenge Gov. Mickelson to proclaim 1990, a Year of Reconciliation. Birgil Kills Straight, Alex White Plume and Jim Garret organized a ride that would follow the exact path Sitanka (Big Foot) took as he fled with 350 followers to refuge on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

As every Lakota knows, they never made it to Pine Ridge, but instead were halted at Wounded Knee Creek where the slaughter of innocents took place on December 29, 1890. After the “Big Foot Riders” reached Wounded Knee, they prayed and held a Wiping Away the Tears ceremony. They prayed for peace and reconciliation. This is the message I took to Gov. Mickelson in January of 1990. I told him that reconciliation was a two-way street and South Dakotans had to respond. The message behind the Year of Reconciliation had been lost or buried by South Dakota’s media, but not by the Lakota people.

For more than 30 years James Czywcznski, the man who owns the property that once housed the Wounded Knee Trading Post, has offered to sell the property to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. And for 30 years his offer has been rejected. Last year he put the property on the auction block and he is negotiating with an entity to purchase it, but this sale is by no means guaranteed.

Czywcznski lost everything he owned in the takeover of Wounded Knee by members of the American Indian Movement in 1973. The Associated Press erroneously refers to the takeover as an “uprising.” The residents of Wounded Knee and the owner of the Trading Post did not “rise up” and burn their own village to the ground. This deed was accomplished by mostly outsiders who desecrated the hallowed grounds of Wounded Knee with drugs, guns and violence. Why didn’t the so-called Wounded Knee descendants speak up then and there about the desecration of Wounded Knee?

I suggested in 2013 that the Oglala Sioux Tribe should honor the more than 300 Lakota who died there by purchasing the property and establishing a Native American Holocaust Museum on the spot, much like the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. The museum would serve as one of the most potent educational tools for all Americans to know the true history of the settlement of the North American continent.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what a museum of this nature would do for the economy of the reservation and the entire state of South Dakota for that matter. The Holocaust Museum would draw visitors from around the world. It would be a year-round tourist attraction. It would boost the economy of the reservation and of Western South Dakota by millions of dollars. And more than that, it would be a destination to honor all of the victims of the North American holocaust.

Jim Czywcznski is not the greedy white man that so many have depicted him to be. He is a man who lost everything after the 1973 invasion including his income for the next 41 years. You will not find a single Lakota who worked for him at the Wounded Knee Trading Post that will have an unkind word to say about him.

The joke that turned out to be Johnny Depp and his frivolous and ridiculous intervention into this serious matter was just that: a joke, and put an unneeded bad spin on the entire process. Well, that can be taken as a lesson that should never be repeated. Keep the interlopers out of it and get down to serious negotiations.

The subject of “Reconciliation” led this topic. The State of South Dakota has a surplus of $68.5 million it is looking for ways to spend it. Why not resume the efforts started by me and Gov. George Mickelson on reconciliation.

What better gesture, an open and honest gesture, by Governor Dennis Daugaard than to pick-up where we left off and purchase Wounded Knee and turn it over to the Oglala Sioux Tribe so they can build the Native American Holocaust Museum that will be an economic revival for the Tribe and an economic landfall for the State of South Dakota? What a way to start 2014 and what a way to spend that surplus.

In this year of 2014 this is my challenge to the Governor and to the State legislators. Reconciliation should never die. It is a concept that began in 1990 under a governor who realized that the relations between the people of South Dakota and the Indian tribes was tenuous at best and downright shameful at worst. Let the 2014 legislators honor the memory of Gov. Mickelson and our dream to bring Native Americans and the white population of the state together. I also challenge our Indian state legislators to get behind this worthy idea and introduce legislation to make it a reality.

Let it also be a reminder that neither the United States nor the State of South Dakota has ever acknowledged or apologized for the slaughter of 300 innocent Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee in 1890.

Reconciliation is still a two-way street and Birgil Kills Straight, Alex White Plume, Jim Garret and their Big Foot riders are still making that ride every year since 1990 and they are still praying for friendship, peace and reconciliation.

(Tim Giago can be contacted at editor@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News