Mario Gonzalez: Protecting sacred places from commercialization

A misspelled sign at the foot of the Wounded Knee memorial gravesite advertises souvenirs inside. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News

Are historic massacre sites and cemetaries sacred ground or tourist attractions and commercial property?
By Mario Gonzales
For The Native Sun News

There have been several cemeteries and burial grounds that I have been involved in protecting from commercialization and desecration over the years, including: (a) the Wounded Knee Massacre Site and cemetery; (b) the Huron Cemetery in downtown Kansas City, Kansas; (c) the Quindaro Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas, and (d) the Creek (Muscogee) Nation’s Hickory Ground in Alabama. There has consistently been two groups of Indian people involved with these cemeteries; one group that considers the cemeteries as “Sacred Ground” and another group that considers them as “tourist attractions,” or “commercial property.”

I worked for 10 years (1985-1995) on a pro bono basis representing the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Wounded Knee Survivors Associations (“WKSAs”) to protect the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Site and mass grave. My efforts are documented in my book, THE POLITICS OF HALLOWED GROUND: Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty (1999).

I got involved with the WKSAs in 1985 for the following reason: I am related by blood to Dewey Beard, an 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Survivor, who lost family members during the massacre that are now buried in the mass grave. Dewey and my great-grandmother Rattling Hawk (a/k/a Annie Quiver) are first cousins. When Claudia Iron Hawk called me in 1985 to help the Pine Ridge Wounded Knee Survivors Association get an apology from the U.S. Government for the massacre and to build a national monument at the massacre site by December 29, 1990, the 100th Anniversary of the massacre, I felt obligated to get involved for Dewey and his family members, which included my Quiver family relatives.

The following are some of the legal services I provided to the WKSAs between 1985-1995:
• I drafted Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 153, with the assistance of Suzan Harjo and Alan Parker. We got Senator Daschle to introduce the resolution in Congress in 1990. The resolution expressed the Government’s “deep regret” for the 1890 massacre. I had originally included the words, that the Government “expresses its sincere apology and deep regret” for the 1890 Massacre in the resolution but for some reason Senator Tom Daschle omitted the words “sincere apology” in the final draft. So the WKSAs were not happy with the final language and are still waiting for an official “apology” from the U.S. Government.
• We subsequently got Senator Inouye, and other senators of the Senate Sub-Committee on Indian Affairs, to send a letter to the Secretary of the Interior to provide funds for a Study of Alternatives for the Wounded Knee Massacre Site that would include a cultural center and museum complex, and a national monument to memorialize Chief Big Foot and his band. The Secretary of Interior through the National Park Service (“NPS”) complied and the Study of Alternatives was completed by the National Park Services in 1993.

Read the rest of the story on the all-new Native Sun News website: Are historic massacre sites and cemetaries sacred ground or tourist attractions and commercial property?

(Mario Gonzalez is an Oglala Sioux attorney that practices law at Rapid City, South Dakota. He is the first recipient of the Distinguished Aboriginal Lawyer Achievement Award, given by the University of Saskatchewan in 1995, at Saskatoon, Sask., Canada. He has also been chosen as one of the role models for high school students by the Speaking Truth, Watershed Moments In Global Leadership Project in Washington, D.C. He is also the co-author with Elizabeth Cook-Lynn of the POLITICS OF HALLOWED GROUND: Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty (1999) He can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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