A sign at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Jimmy Emerson

Tim Giago: Another anniversary of Wounded Knee takeover approaches

Notes from Indian Country

Before pointing fingers learn your history
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

As the 45th anniversary of the destruction of Wounded Knee approaches several leaders of the American Indian Movement have walked on including Vernon Bellecourt, Russell Means, John Trudell, and Dennis Banks. Clyde Bellecourt and Bill Means are two of the last survivors. I knew them all. I have a video recording of an interview I did with Russell Means at Wakpala in 1976.

Oftentimes some of the younger generation, having read so many books and articles glamorizing the life and times of the AIM, are only privy to those things that are made to be heroic. Thus many of the more negative actions of AIM, as in all movements, are overlooked. Look at all sides of the issue by reading American Indian Mafia by Joe and John Trimbach. And here are a few other things to consider.

On the night of February 3, 1973, Jim Czywczynski, the new owner of the Wounded Knee Trading Post, took his family to a basketball game at Kyle to watch the Little Wound Mustangs play. On the way home to Wounded Knee they were stopped by a roadblock set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs police. They were told that armed men had invaded the village and had taken several people hostage.

Two of the people taken hostage were Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve, the founders of the Trading Post. Agnes was an enrolled Ojibwe. Although in their 80s, both were terrorized, blindfolded and tied to chairs. There is nothing heroic in that.

In the 1920s the Gildersleeve family built a store at Wounded Knee that sold canned goods, a butcher that featured meat cut daily, bread and milk was sold there and there were gas pumps out in front to enable the Indian people to fill up their cars.

Their store also housed a U. S. Post Office and benches on the front porch for the Lakota elders to sit, smoke and visit. The elders smoked and spoke softly about what happened at Wounded Knee in December of 1890, just 30 years ago. They pointed at the hills above the Trading Post as they talked. When I was a boy I used to sit on the steps and listen to them talk.

And it was indeed a trading post. Renowned Lakota artists like Hobart Keith, Andrew Standing Soldier, Jake Herman, Vincent Hunts Horse, Paha Ska, Richard “Codger” Red Owl, and Felix Walker brought their paintings to the store and sold them on consignment. Walker is the artist who painted the pillars and spirals in the old Holy Rosary Mission Church at Pine Ridge. His full Lakota name was Felix Walks Under the Ground and Comes Up Holy Two Sticks. Were all of these good Lakota people capitalizing on Wounded Knee as the newcomers would have you believe?

Agnes Afraid of Hawk and her daughter Belva worked at the store creating intricate beadwork which they in turn sold at the store. Joe Spotted Horse, Howard Wounded Horse, and Patricia Pumpkin Seed also worked in and around the store as did my father Tim Giago, Sr. They worked and lived there because, first – it was home and second - it was where they made their living. They never considered themselves interlopers profiting on the Wounded Knee site.

The night AIM struck the village in the middle of the night it was reported as an “uprising” by the white media. The peaceful people living and working at Wounded Knee did not rise up against themselves, loot their own businesses and homes, and eventually burn their village to the ground. The people responsible for this were outsiders; they were invaders.

As the AIM occupiers were leaving Wounded Knee their caravan of cars was stopped and searched by U. S. Marshalls. Historic artifacts and nearly 40 pieces of priceless works of art were recovered from the occupiers as they tried to squirrel them away in their vehicles as they abandoned Wounded Knee. Ray Robinson, a black activist, entered Wounded Knee during the siege and he has never been seen alive again.

A couple of years later Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, who had a romantic affair with Dennis Banks, was taken hostage in Denver, driven to the outskirts of Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and murdered by two members of the American Indian Movement. Both AIM members are now serving life sentences for her murder. Theda Clark, an Oglala Lakota, was fingered as the ringleader in her abduction. Aquash had been accused of being an informer for the FBI by AIM leaders.

As I wrote many years ago if AIM had followed the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi and protested peacefully and without violence, they would have had the entire Indian Country behind them. But when they resorted to acts of violence they lost many of their would-be followers. In the end many AIM leaders like Vernon Bellecourt became my friends and in their own way all of them tried to do what they thought was best.

There is still a lot of injustice in Indian Country and the American Indian Movement can still be a leader in the fight. We are too few in numbers and not politically relevant enough to believe that we can bring about positive change through violent means.

But I advise you younger folks to learn the true history of AIM. There was a lot of good, but there was also a lot of bad that came out of the movement. Knowing which to follow and which to believe is now extremely important. As history has taught us; violence begets violence!

Gandhi and King changed history without guns, or violence and not by occupying peaceful villages in the middle of the night. Gandhi brought independence to India and King brought Civil Rights to America. Non-violence would have served AIM much better in the 1970s. It is sad that the Oglala Sioux Tribal Government celebrates a time of violence and destruction of a village called Wounded Knee.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

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