Welcome to the seventh edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the "Invisible Indians" project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week's edition is here. In this edition you will find a remembrance by Carter Camp of the Wounded Knee siege 39 years ago, a look at the year 1954 in American Indian history, five news briefs and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on any of the headlines below to take you directly to that section of News & Views or to any of our earlier editions.
Carter Camp Tells Why Wounded Knee Siege of 1973
Still Matters Today
Carter Camp marked as a warrior at Wounded Knee, S.D., in the late winter of 1973
Thirty-nine years ago at the end of February in 1973, some 250 Oglalas and their supporters in the American Indian Movement took over the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. The immediate catalyst for the protest was the corrupt leadership of the tribal chairman, Dick Wilson. By many traditional Oglala, he and his administration were viewed as an extension of the "colonial" system that had ruled the reservations for decades despite a veneer of sovereignty conveyed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
But their objections in this specific matter had their roots in a different, broader issue, one that remains unresolved to this day, the unfulfilled promises in hundreds of broken treaties and other agreements between Indians and the U.S. government. Those pacts smoothed the way across the nation for the expropriation and occupation of the land of hundreds of tribes as well as the destruction of our culture, our languages, our religions and our traditions.
By the time of Wounded Knee, AIM had been in the forefront of high-profile protests against the injustices against Indians by the government for nearly five years. It had already organized an occupation of Alcatraz Island, marched across the country to Washington in the Trail of Broken Treaties, and occupied BIA headquarters, making off with boxes full of documents after a week inside the building.
The takeover at Wounded Knee had resulted in a siege by U.S. Marshalls and the FBI that lasted 73 days. I was there for 51 of those days, leaving only when it briefly appeared a resolution had been achieved. The siege continued for another three weeks. When it was over, two members of AIM and one federal marshall were dead. In the following two years, 60 AIM members and two FBI agents were also killed.
Though his name is less known than that of Russell Means and Dennis Banks, in the AIM leadership at the time was a young Ponca man named Carter Camp. He was chosen as war chief.
But let my friend Carter tell this story in his own words, compiled from a number of his writings and interviews over the past dozen years.
By Carter Camp
Carter posts at Daily Kos as cacamp.
Ah-ho, My Relations,
I ask you to remember that our reasons for going to Wounded Knee still exist and that means the need for struggle and resistance also still exist. Our land and sacred sites are threatened as never before. Even our sacred Mother herself is faced with unnatural warming caused by extreme greed.
In some areas of conflict between our people and those we signed treaties with, it is best to negotiate or "work within the system." But, because our struggle is one of survival, there are also times when a warrior must stand fast even at the risk of one's life. I believed that in 1973 when I was 30 and I believe it today at 70. But to me Wounded Knee '73 was really not about the fight, it was about the strong statement that our traditional way of living in this world is not about to disappear and our people are not a "vanishing race" as wasicu (white) education would have you believe. As time has passed and I see so many of our young people taking part in a traditional way of living and believing, I know our fight was worth it and those we lost for our movement died worthy deaths. [...]
Wounded Knee takeover leaders were upset by the Nixon
White House's response to the siege and asked for
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to visit.
Here an interviewer asks Carter Camp if that's really
necessary. Camp asks, "Why not? Indians are just as
important as any other issue the U.S. has, like Vietnam."
Today is heavy with prayer and reminiscence for me. Not only are those who walk for the Yellowstone Buffalo reaching their destination, today is the anniversary of the night when, at the direction of the Oglala Chiefs, I went with a special squad of warriors to liberate Wounded Knee in advance of the main AIM caravan.
For security reasons the people had been told everyone was going to a meeting/wacipi in Porcupine, the road goes through Wounded Knee. When the People arrived at the Trading Post we had already set up a perimeter, taken 11 hostages, run the BIA cops out of town, cut most phone lines, and begun 73 days of the best, most free time of my life. The honor of being chosen to go first still lives strong in my heart.
That night we had no idea what fate awaited us. It was a cold night with not much moonlight, I clearly remember the nervous anticipation I felt as we drove the back way from Oglala into Wounded Knee. The Chiefs had tasked me with a mission and we were sworn to succeed, of that I was sure, but I couldn't help wondering if we were prepared. The FBI, BIA and marshalls had fortified Pine Ridge with machine-gun bunkers and armored personnel carriers with M-60s. They had unleashed the GOON squad [Dick Wilson's Guardians of the Oglala Nation] on the people and a reign of terror had begun. We knew we had to fight, but we could not fight on wasicu terms. We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo inside the Wounded Knee trading post, I worried that we would not get to them before the shooting started.
As we stared silently into the darkness driving into the hamlet, I tried to foresee what opposition we would encounter and how to neutralize it. We were approaching a sacred place and each of us knew it. We could feel it deep inside. As a warrior leading warriors I humbly prayed to Wakonda for the lives of all and the wisdom to do things right. Never before or since have I offered my tobacco with such a plea or put on my feathers with such purpose. It was the birth of the Independent Oglala Nation.
Things went well for us that night, we accomplished our task without loss of life. Then, in the cold darkness as we waited for Dennis and Russ to bring in the caravan (or for the fight to start), I stood on the bank of the shallow ravine where our people had been murdered by the 7th Cavalry [in 1890]. There I prayed for the defenseless ones, torn apart by Hotchkiss cannons and trampled under hooves of steel by drunken wasicu. I could feel the touch of their spirits as I eased quietly into the gully and stood silently, waiting for my future, touching my past.
Finally, I bent over and picked a sprig of sage - whose ancestors in 1890 had been nourished by the blood of Red babies, ripped from their mothers' dying grasp and bayoneted by the evil ones. As I washed myself with that sacred herb, I became cold in my determination and cleansed of fear. I looked for Big Foot and YellowBird in the darkness and I said aloud:
"We are back, my relations, we are home."
We were fighting every day and in danger every day. But it was a lot of fun. During the lulls in the fighting, or during the time when there was not actual danger, it was just a wonderful time being together. People would break out the drum every night and we'd sing together, and different tribes would sing their songs. We had Indian ceremonies that are very special to us, but we don't bring 'em out in public. But now we could have 'em right there where everybody could participate. We don't have to hide them around anymore. We had the elders, medicine men, women and children - all in Wounded Knee with us.
Carter Camp being interviewed for the
2009 PBS special, "We Shall Remain."
We were a strong community. We all had work to do and fighting to do. But at the same time, we could live together and do the things that we wanted to do, say the things that we wanted to say and understand this world the way that Indian people understand it. So it made us feel good. We just really were able to come together in a unity that you don't hardly find in Indian Country. We're different tribes and we don't always get around to each other like that. I mean literally thousands of Indian people were coming from around the country. At any one time we might only have 700 or 800 people in Wounded Knee, but people were coming and leaving. Then, of course, a group of AIM people and the traditionalists stayed there throughout the thing.
Wounded Knee galvanized Indian Country, all over. During those 73 days we were in there, from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and from New York to Florida, Indian people were trashing BIA offices, protesting at the Indian Health Services, telling their own tribal governments to stop the leases with the uranium companies and the coal digging and that sort of thing. Indian people were just making themselves known.
Wounded Knee and the rise of the American Indian Movement and the struggle of the late '60s and '70s just changed everything about the way Indian people think of themselves. They started thinking in terms of the future, not of being exterminated or maybe this is our last generation that cares about being Indian. It just invigorated the entire Indian nations [...] They started having pride in where they came from and what they were and who they were. [...] It also made the government understand that once more there was a line in the sand that they couldn't push us beyond. We had taken all we could absorb and that if they pushed us just too damn far then we'll fight.
There is a excellent PBS documentary about the Wounded Knee takeover and siege on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Carter is featured in this 80-minute segment, We Shall Remain, Wounded Knee, Episode 5. (h/t exmearden)
This Week in American Indian History in 1954
A secton of the Garrison Dam, the fifth largest earthen dam in the world. (Bureau of Reclamation)
On Feb. 27, 1954, the U.S. government took additional land from the Yankton Sioux Tribe to build the Fort Randall Dam and Reservoir in southeastern South Dakota. That dam and four others built on the Missouri River by the Army Corps of Engineers from 1946 to 1966 were approved for flood control, pollution and sediment control, navigation, conservation, recreation, hydroelectric power and enhancement of fish and wildlife under the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, a part of the Flood Control Act of 1944.
Construction of the dams and consequent flooding forced the relocation of more than 1500 Indian families on seven reservations, including some 136 on the Yankton Reservation. The tribes lost more than 350,000 acres. Besides the Yankton Reservation, fertile bottom land was condemned on reservations at Fort Berthold, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Lower Brule, Crow Creek and Santee.
The tribes didn't only lose their land but also any timber, wildlife and native plants plus homes and ranches. In the case of Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Reservation, an entire town was inundated. As a consequence, the BIA and Indian Health Service offices were moved off the reservation to Pierre, making it far more difficult for Indians they were supposed to serve to use them.
The losses also included spiritual ties to the land and the intangible benefits that came from living along the Missouri.
The tribes were never consulted about the project during the planning stages. No Indians were asked to testify during hearings on the projects in Congress. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which supervises Indian land held in trust by the Department of Interior, raised no objections.
The Corps of Engineers handled negotiations. Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, including the Yankton Treaty of 1858, were completely ignored. So also was the Winters Doctrine, a Supreme Court ruling that Indians have inherent rights to water resources on their lands. Philleo Nash, who had advised Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to integrate the Armed Forces and later served as BIA Commissioner under JFK and LBJ, would later say that Pick-Sloan "caused more damage to Indian land than any other public works project in America."
The amount of money offered to owners of individual Indian land allotments was often significantly less than the amount offered to non-Indian land owners. Likewise, as the dam projects began in a time when termination of reservations was in full swing, government compensation for damages caused by the taking of communally owned tribal land was well below its market value. Land at North Dakota's Fort Berthold Reservation of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people was condemned and bought for $33 an acre. Today, the earthen Garrison Dam is on the land, holding back Lake Sakakawea, and capable of generating some 583 megawatts of electricity.
Twenty-five years after the last dam was completed, the General Accounting Office undertook the first of four reports on providing better compensation, which you can see here: 1991; 1998; 2006; and, 2007
Today, the tribes whose land was taken have an on-reservation population of about 32,000, with another 20,000 enrolled members living elsewhere.
-Meteor Blades with a h/t to ojibwa
(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)