Legacy of Wounded Knee occupation lives on 50 years later

injured knee, SD –

Madonna Thunderhawk remembers the shootout.

As a medic during the occupation of Wounded Knee in early 1973, Thunder Hawk was stationed each night in a frontline bunker in a combat zone between Native American activists in South Dakota and U.S. government agents.

“I used to crawl out there every night. I was there in case someone was attacked,” said Wuhenampa Band of the Cheyenne River Sioux, one of four women assigned to the bunker. Thunder Hawk said.

The memory of the occupation of Wounded Knee, one of a series of protests from 1969 to 1973, brought the American Indian movement to the forefront of the Indigenous movement, and the tribute to those who were there like Thunderhawk. It still remains deep in my heart.

Thunder Hawk, now 83, pays attention to what she says today about AIM and the Occupation, but can’t forget that tribal elders were raised by their grandparents in 1973. US soldier.

“That’s how close we are to our history,” she told ICT recently. Today, all of that just continues. Nothing new.”

Other feelings remain about the tension that arose in Lakota communities after Wound Knee and the virtual destruction of small communities. Many still don’t want to talk about it.

But the legacy of activism lives on among those who have followed in their footsteps, including a new generation of Indigenous people who have flocked to Standing Rock since 2016 for the Pipeline protests.

Nick Tiersen, NDN Collective founder, Standing Rock protest leader, and AIM activist parent, said: “It’s important to us to honor them. It’s important to us to thank them.”

Akim D. Reinhardt, author of the book Ruling Pine Ridge: Oglala Lakota Politics from the IRA to Wounded Knee, says the AIM protests had a powerful social and cultural impact.

Reinhardt, a professor of history at Towson University in Towson, Maryland, said, “They were trying to establish a sense of permanence for red power in the same way that black power had for African Americans.” I bought a part in it,” he said.

“It’s been a cultural legacy that racism is unacceptable and people don’t have to shut up and accept it,” he said. “It’s okay to be proud of who you are.”

A series of events recently held in South Dakota recognized the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, including powwows, documentary film screenings and special honors for Wounded Knee women.


Protest “Thunderbolt”

The occupation began on the night of February 27, 1973, when a group of warriors led by Oklahoma AIM leader Carter Camp (Ponca) moved into the small town of Wounded Knee. This group took over the trading post and established a base of operations in Oglala with his AIM his leader Russell Means of the Sioux. Dennis Banks was Ojibwe. Clyde Belcourt of the White Earth Country.

Within days, hundreds of activists joined them in a 71-day stalemate with the US government and other law enforcement agencies.

This was AIM’s fourth protest in years. The organization was formed in his late 1960s and from 1969 to 1971 he gained international attention for his occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. In 1972, “Road of Broken Treaties” took his caravan of hundreds of Indigenous activists cross-country to Washington, D.C., where he occupied the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters for six days.

Then, on February 6, 1973, AIM members and others gathered in a courthouse in Custer County, South Dakota, to protest the murder of Wesley Bad Hart Bull, an Oglala Lakota, and leniency against the perpetrators of the violence. protested the verdict. Native American. Protests turned violent when they were denied access to the courts, burning the local Chamber of Commerce and other buildings.

Three weeks later, AIM’s leader took over Wounded Knee.

“It’s been waiting for generations to happen,” he says, covering the Wounded Knee profession as a journalist in his late 20s and later in the 2019 documentary film From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock. director Kevin McKinnan said.

“If you look at it as a storm, it’s been building up through generations of abuse, land theft, genocide, and religious intolerance,” he said. The American Indian Movement was a veritable lightning strike.”

The acquisition at Wounded Knee stemmed from a dispute with Oglala Sioux leader Richard Wilson, but also spotlighted the U.S. government’s call to honor its treaty obligations to the Lakota.

By March 8, occupation leaders had declared the Wounded Knee territory an independent Oglala Nation, given citizenship papers to those who wanted it, and demanded recognition as a sovereign state.

The standoffs were often violent, and the U.S. government’s attempts to cut off support for those behind the lines led to a shortage of supplies within the occupied territories. Government officials worked with AIM leaders to try to resolve the issue.

The siege was finally ended on 8 May and it was agreed to further discuss disarmament and treaty obligations. By then, at least three people had been killed and more than a dozen injured, according to reports.

Two native men died. Frank Clearwater, identified as Cherokee and Apache, was shot on April 17, 1973 and died eight days later. On April 26, 1973, Oglala Lakota, Lawrence “Buddy” Lamont, was shot dead.

Another man, Ray Robinson, a black activist who worked for the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization, went missing during the siege. The FBI confirmed he died of an injured knee in 2014, but his body was never recovered. A U.S. Marshal who was shot and paralyzed died many years later.

Camp was later convicted of kidnapping and beating four postal inspectors during the occupation and served three years in federal prison. Banks and Means were indicted on charges related to the case, but their case was dismissed by federal court for prosecutorial misconduct.

Today, the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark marks the site of the 1890 massacre, much of which is now jointly owned by the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Nation.

The tribe has agreed to purchase 40 acres of land in 2022. This land included the area where most of the 1890 massacres took place, the ravines through which victims fled, and areas where trading posts were located.

The purchase from the trading post’s original owner’s descendants included a contract requiring this land to be preserved as a sacred site and commemorated without any commercial development.

And despite internal tensions within the AIM organization after the occupation of Wounded Knee, AIM continues to operate in tribal communities and urban areas across the United States.

In recent years, members have joined the Standing Rock protests and the prison of former AIM leader Leonard Pelletier, who was convicted of two first-degree murder charges despite conflicting evidence in the two FBI deaths. continued to seek release from Agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.


new generation

Now president and CEO of NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization focused on building Indigenous power, Tirsen traces his roots to Wounded Knee.

His parents, Joan Thor and Mark Tilsen, met at Wound Knee and praised the women of the movement for preserving traditional matriarchy during the occupation.

“I grew up in the Native American movement,” said Tirsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. “It didn’t matter what you were fighting for. You grew up in it. In fact, you couldn’t live without fighting.”

For most of the rights Native Americans have today, such as the ability to run casinos and tribal colleges, contracts with the federal government to oversee schools and other services, and religious liberty, Tilssen has criticized AIM and others. We recognize people’s achievements.

He said the movement showed the world that the tribes were sovereign nations and that their treaties were being broken. It became a generational one when spiritual leaders such as the

“It became a spiritual revolution,” he said. “It’s also become a battle about human rights, a battle about where indigenous peoples are in the wider context of not just the American political system, but the world system.”

Tiersen appreciates his parents’ willingness to join the armed revolution to achieve one of their dreams of founding a KILI radio station known as ‘Voice of the Lakota’. usa.

The 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests were a defining moment for him and his brother. They were wondering what would happen to the injured knee, he said.

“What makes it so powerful and different is that it actually brings together grassroots organizers, revolutionaries and even formal tribal governments,” said Tilsen. “I think Standing Rock, in particular, was actually way ahead of Wounded Knee because the problem was framed around ‘Water is Life.’”

Alex Fire Sander, deputy director of the Lakota Language Consortium, said the Wounded Knee Occupation and other activities have helped revitalize indigenous languages ​​and cultures. His mother was too young to participate in the occupation, but he said she remembers visits from her AIM members in the community.

“The whole point of AIM, the Native American movement, was to restore pride to our culture,” Oglala Lakota of Firethunder told ICT.


future generations

For Thunder Hawk, the problem has become a lifelong job rather than a one-time activity.

She joined AIM in 1968 and in 2016 participated in the Alcatraz Island, BIA Headquarters, Custer County Courthouse, Occupy of Wound Knee, and Standing Rock Pipeline protests.

She said the work being done today by new generations is a continuation of the work done by her ancestors.

“That’s why we were successful in Indian Country, because we were a family movement,” she said. “It wasn’t just the age group, it was the younger generation.”

She hopes that her legacy will live on and that her great-grandchildren will not only see photos of her, but also know what she sounded like and what she looked like.

Looking at pictures of her paternal great-grandparents, that’s something she can’t have.

“Hopefully my descendants will see that, right?” she said. “And with today’s technology, you’d probably just press a button and it would appear.”

The current president of the Oglala Sioux, Frank Starr Comes Out, also believes it’s time to recognize the achievements of the previous generation.

Several members of his family were strongly supportive of AIM, including his mother and father. He said it was important to fight for his people who survived the genocide.

“That’s why I support AIM, not just at the family level,” he said. “I am proud of who I am as a Lakota. The Times have changed. Now I am using my leadership to help people stand up and give them a voice. I believe it is important for the country of.”

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