WOUNDED KNEE 1890 / 1973
"Am 29. Dezember 1890 massakrierte die Siebte US-Kavallerie bei Wounded Knee über 300 Männer, Frauen und Kinder der
Minneconjou-Lakota-Sioux-Indianer unter Häuptling Big Foot. Dieses Massaker brach den letzten Widerstand der Indianer gegen die
Am 27. Februar 1973 besetzten Mitglieder der indianischen Widerstandsorganisation American Indian Movement (AIM) zusammen mit Sympathisanten aus der Pine Ridge Reservation die Ortschaft Wounded Knee und riefen die unabhängige Oglala-Nation aus. Damit protestierten sie gegen die wiederholten Menschenrechtsverletzungen in der Reservation von Seiten der US-Verwaltung. Die Besetzung dauerte 71 Tage. Am 8. Mai kapitulierten die Aufständischen, nachdem sie von einem Großaufgebot von FBI-Agenten und Armee unter Beschuss genommen worden waren. Bei den Feuergefechten starben der Indianer Buddy Lamont sowie zwei FBI-Polizisten.
Nach dem Ende der Besetzung wurden viele der AIM-Aktivisten und deren Unterstützer angeklagt und vielfach zu Haftstrafen verurteilt.
Dem prominenten AIM-Sprecher Leonard Peltier wurde der Mord an den zwei Polizisten vorgeworfen. Obwohl Peltiers Schuld nie zweifelsfrei
bewiesen werden konnte, wurde er schließlich 1977 zu zwei Mal lebenslänglicher Freiheitsstrafe verurteilt, und befindet
sich bis in die Gegenwart in Haft. Verschiedene auch internationale Kampagnen für die Freilassung Peltiers, der vielen als politischer
Gefangener der USA gilt, blieben bislang ohne Erfolg."
Wounded Knee 1973
On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement, or
AIM, together with a number of local and traditional Native Americans
began their seventy-two day occupation of Wounded Knee. Their goal
was to protest injustices against their tribes, violations of the
many treaties, and current abuses and repression against their people.
The United States government responded with a military style assault
against the protesters. In the end, various officials promised hearings
on local conditions and treaty violations. These hearings were never
- freepeltier.org -
Wounded Knee 1973
"We are the landlords of this country and at Wounded Knee we
showed up to collect. If the country is going to live up to its
constitution then it must live up to its treaty commitments. We
still have to go to the white man to ascertain our rights. Once
again we have to wait on the white man and wait for him to give
us the rights we already have. If he goes against his constitution
and convicts us, we will prove to the world that this is really
a police state instead of a free country. The Wounded Knee trails
are the most important of the century. They will expose how America
practices its funding."
- American Indian Movement (AIM) - November 1973. -
THE BATTLE OF WOUNDED KNEE 1973
Resistance Stories of Lakota People
In the spring of 1973, hundreds of Indian people and their supporters
occupied the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
in South Dakota. They demanded an end to the U.S.-government-backed
murder and intimidation of American Indian Movement (AIM) supporters
and "traditionals" on the reservation. And they demanded
that treaties signed by the U.S. government be honored that gave
the Lakota (also known as the Sioux) the right to self-rule and
to the land surrounding the Black Hills.
Federal authorities surrounded them with an army of over 300--which
included the U.S. Army, FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents,
U.S. Marshals and state police. The Indians refused to back down.
They used weapons to defend themselves and held off the government
forces for 73 days. The courage and militancy of the fighters at
Wounded Knee grabbed the attention of people all over the world
and helped build powerful support for the struggle of Native peoples.
Wounded Knee--the site of the massacre of 300 Sioux men, women and
children in 1890--became a symbol of Indian struggle and resistance.
After this siege, the U.S. government unleashed an intense, murderous
repression against the people of Pine Ridge. And AIM activists,
including Leonard Peltier, came from around the U.S. to help organize
and defend the people of Pine Ridge.
In 1977 Leonard Peltier was framed-up for the murder of two FBI
agents and railroaded into prison-- where he has now spent 23 hard
years. He is respected around the world as a voice for Native people
and an inspiring political prisoner who refuses to be broken.
November 1999 was Leonard Peltier Freedom Month. Thousands of people
traveled to Washington, DC to demand freedom for Leonard Peltier--including
people who took part in the Wounded Knee occupation and the Pine
Ridge struggle. This article is based on conversations RW reporter
Debbie Lang had with these veteran fighters.
"In our family stories we have stories of what happened to
our people. I have a grandma. Her name was Dora Hi White Man. She
survived the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. As a little child, four,
five, or six years old, I remember my grandma Dora. So I'm very
fortunate to know a survivor of the 1890 massacre. And today you
might think 1890 was long, long, long ago. But it's just recent,
because I knew my grandma and my grandma ran from that massacre.
"I live in Oglala. When Wounded Knee 1973 was going on I was
a little girl. I looked that way and the whole sky was pink (from
the flares being shot up by the government). To me Wounded Knee
was just right over the hill there. I was like, Oh right on! Cool!
Keep on doing that, man! I was really happy. Little did I know that
my nation was trying to make war with one of the big power nations
of the world. I was just proud of them. And ever since Wounded Knee
I've always been real happy to be an Indian and I'm proud of the
fact that you mess with us, we'll mess right back."
Arlette Loud Hawk, Lakota, resident of Pine Ridge Indian reservation
In the 1960s, in the midst of the Black liberation movement and
the mass upsurge against the Vietnam War, a great movement of resistance
rose up among the Native peoples in the U.S. AIM drew forward a
whole new generation of Indian youth to fight the powers. They helped
organize a 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco
Bay; occupations of Mt. Rushmore; a Thanksgiving "Day of Mourning"
held at Plymouth Rock; and the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan
to Washington, D.C.--which ended with the occupation of the BIA
(Bureau of Indian Affairs) building.
AIM member Carter Camp told me: "People were waiting for us
to appear on the scene and for some Indians to stand up and say
that we're not going to take this shit no more. We've lived under
this oppression for so many years. We're going to fight back now.
The American Indian Movement is the force that stood for the people
as a warrior society and said we're no longer going to allow you
to roll over our people, to take our land, to pave over our reservations
and dam up our rivers."
The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has a lot of valuable
natural resources including coal, uranium and an aquifer (an underground
water reserve) with millions of gallons of clean water. In 1868,
after losing in battle against the Sioux, the U.S. government negotiated
the Fort Laramie Treaty. Then, right after this, they began breaking
the treaty in order to steal Indian land and resources. The U.S.
government and Christian missionaries tried to force the Lakota
to assimilate into U.S. society. Children were stolen and forced
into boarding schools run by Christians. Lakota language, culture
and religious ceremonies were outlawed. By the 1970s, the Lakota
had lost two-thirds of their land and the government had plans to
steal more--especially in order to get uranium for their nuclear
In February 1972 Raymond Yellow Thunder was beaten to death by two
white men in Gordon, Nebraska. Attacks on Indian people by white
racists and the police were common around the reservation, and the
white people who committed these crimes were almost never punished.
This time, AIM led a caravan of 200 cars to Gordon and forced the
authorities to file serious charges against the murderers. AIM's
actions had an electrifying effect on the reservation. Rosaline
Jumping Bull, who grew up on the res, told me:
"My dad worked for the BIA. He was on the credit board. One
time he came home and said, `You know, a strange thing happened
today. Some real strange looking Indian boys were at the BIA building.
They had long hair. They said they call themselves A-I-M.' We weren't
allowed to have long hair so we didn't know what a long hair was.
I said, this I've got to see. And that's when they killed my uncle
Raymond Yellow Thunder at Gordon. Mom said, `Don't go over there
and get in trouble. Don't you try and go over there. You're always
doing things wrong.' So I sneaked over there. I rushed over there.
The TV and media was there. I was busy hiding because I didn't want
my folks to see me. But I wanted to join AIM's march. Oh, it was
fun, it was really fun. I didn't know we could fight back, you know?
I was taught not to fight back, to obey the white people cause I'll
get punished. That's what my folks always told me. My grandmother
did, too. Then I took my mom and she was right up there with them."
Arlette Loud Hawk was a young teenager at the time and I asked her
what she remembered. She said: "I remember everything graphically,
vividly, with such clarity. One of the reasons why Wounded Knee
1973 stands out in my memories is because of my cousin, Wesley Bad
Heart Bull. Wesley Bad Heart Bull had gotten killed in a nearby
town called Buffalo Gap. My mother's maiden name is Stella Bad Heart
Bull and that was her brother's son who had been killed by white
people. Before that I had a cousin that was named Lesley Bandley.
He was in the United States Army. He was walking along the side
of the road and some white boys just came and ran over him and killed
him. And there was no justice for Lesley Bandley. And there is no
justice for Wesley Bad Heart Bull.
"My mom and my dad, they knew Dennis Banks and they knew Russell
Means who were both with AIM. My uncle was the vice president of
the Oglala Sioux tribe. His name was Dave Long. He always came over
to visit my parents. When my cousin died I could hear my uncle telling
my mom, `Stella, you'd better call in AIM."'
On February 6, police attacked AIM members at a demonstration at
the Custer courthouse where they demanded that the white man who
murdered Wesley Bad Heart Bull be charged with murder. Arlette told
me she watched the TV and saw "Indians had started fighting
back with all those federal marshals" after police attacked
In an attempt to counter the growing influence of AIM on the reservation,
the U.S. government backed the election of Dick Wilson as tribal
chief in 1972. Wilson was a super-patriotic reactionary who hated
AIM. He used tribal funds to hire thugs called GOONs (Guardians
of the Oglala Nation) and began a reign of terror on the reservation
against AIM, the "traditionals" and their supporters.
Hundreds of people were threatened, beaten, shot at or had their
homes burned. Wilson was backed by BIA police and the FBI. Carter
Camp described some of the military force the U.S. government positioned
on the reservation to back up Wilson:
"There was a force of the U.S. Marshals Service there called
Special Operations Group. These people were not your regular law
enforcement that you might see in a city with a suit and tie on,
but they wore combat fatigues and carried M16s. They drove around
in humvees and jeeps and they had APCs. They had helicopters. And
wherever Indian people gathered, it didn't matter if it was a wedding
or a funeral, they came out in force. Then they started telling
the people that they couldn't gather in groups of larger than four
for any reason. Our people were living under this oppression and
they just couldn't stand it any longer. And they came to us in the
American Indian Movement."
Ellen Moves Camp told me how she and other members of the Oglala
Civil Rights Organization turned to AIM for help: "We called
the American Indian Movement because they were already in Rapid
City. They were up in Washington. They went to the courthouse in
Custer. So we invited them down. We wanted to talk to them. We were
with a boy by the name of Pedro Bissonnette, who later got killed
by the GOONs. We were talking to them and they said, "Join
the civil rights movement with us. That's where we belong. We got
them helping us." In a secret meeting, Ellen Moves Camp and
other residents of Pine Ridge persuaded the Sioux elders to invite
AIM to intervene.
"The best, most free time of my life"
"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 eleven hostages, run the BIA cops out
of town, cut most phone lines, and began 73 days of the best, most
free time of my life. The honor of being chosen to go first lives
strong in my heart. That night we had no idea what fate awaited
us. It was a cold night with not much moonlight, and I clearly remember
the nervous anticipation I felt as we drove the back-way from Oglala
into Wounded Knee...We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons
and ammo in the Wounded Knee trading post. I worried that we would
not get to them before the shooting started...
"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 the caravan (or for the fight to start),
I stood on the bank of the shallow ravine where our people had been
murdered by Custer's 7th Cavalry. There I prayed for the defenseless
ones, torn apart by Hotchkiss cannon and trampled under hooves of
steel by drunken wasichu (whites). 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."'
From "Remembering Wounded Knee," written by Carter Camp
Carter Camp says they chose to make a stand at Wounded Knee because
of its history--it had special meaning to Native people and was
well known to millions of others from the powerful book written
by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. He said:
"On the tribal headquarters they put machine gun emplacements
on every corner of the roof with big sand bags and they had these
.50 caliber machine guns. They thought we were going to attack the
Bureau of Indian Affairs in Pine Ridge and the tribal government.
But we knew we couldn't. We were too lightly armed. And when we
agreed to help the Oglala Civil Rights Committee and the traditionals
do something we had to find a place where we could make a stand
without getting totally wiped out too quickly. We thought we might
get wiped out but we wanted a place where people would know about
it." On February 27, a caravan of 200 cars of Indians and their
supporters wound its way through the darkness towards the village
of Wounded Knee. The advanced squad had already liberated it. Carter
described how it happened:
"First, we captured the BIA police and ran them out of town
with no radios or anything and no guns and let them go. Then we
took 12 hostages and put them in a safe place. After we had held
the place for maybe two hours the AIM leadership came with a caravan
of about 400 people. We had set up perimeters around Wounded Knee
and by now the FBI and these people are understanding that they've
been outflanked because now we're there, we're ensconced and we're
starting to build our bunkers. And now they know if they come in
they're putting their own lives at risk, not just our lives. We're
in the defensive position, we're making bunkers and we've got the
high ground. And so they're nonplused. They actually don't know
what to do. So they backed off a while, which gave us time to get
our people situated and that sort of thing and it became a 73-day
Everyone I talked with looked back on the armed siege of Wounded
Knee as one of the best times of their lives. Russell Loud Hawk
helped on the military perimeter around Wounded Knee. He smiled
broadly when he said: "AIM came in to straighten out the reservation
because before that the traditional people were catching hell from
the U.S. government. That's why I was pretty glad that they came.
So I joined them. I was telling one of these ladies here, remember
all the crazy things we did? You people were in, us guys were surrounded.
We pulled some crazy things but I think we outdid the FBI at that
Carter Camp said: "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.
"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 want 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
Ellen Moves Camp remembered: "We had meetings in the morning.
We had prayer in the morning. We'd all go and our negotiations would
start. And then we had sweats every night...When they'd start firing
on us everybody would just sit and wait to see what was going to
happen. Once I went outside and I was standing there watching that
shooting going on, those flares coming in... It was bad and yet
everybody seemed to be happy and everybody worked together. There
was no fussing or anything. Everybody was together there. It was
a good feeling."
On March 11, AIM and the Oglala Sioux elders declared the rebirth
of the Independent Oglala Nation and demanded discussion with U.S.
government representatives over the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie
Treaty. In response, the government brought in reinforcements to
stop food, supplies and new recruits from reaching Wounded Knee.
The phone lines were cut. The major media left. The government announced
dozens of indictments against the people inside. On May 4, the White
House sent a letter promising their representatives would meet with
the Sioux chiefs within weeks to talk about the Fort Laramie Treaty--on
the condition that the Indians lay down their arms. The Indians
agreed to end their occupation.
The government never investigated the BIA as they had promised.
Richard Wilson and his murdering GOONs were never prosecuted. Instead
a new reign of terror was carried out against the Native people
of Pine Ridge. And almost 700 indictments were handed down by federal
authorities in connection with the Wounded Knee occupation.
Ellen Moves Camp was one of the Indian negotiators. She described
the government's attitude: "People would come in from Washington
and they'd lie to us. They didn't do anything they said they were
going to do. We tried to negotiate with them but they just lied
to us all the way through. They promised to negotiate the treaties
and follow the treaties and they never did do it."
Millions of people were inspired by Wounded Knee. Hundreds risked
their lives and hiked many miles over the hills to join the people
inside or to bring food and medical supplies. Doctors and nurses
came to help in the Wounded Knee clinic. Telegrams of support came
in from all over the world. Tens of thousands of people held support
demonstrations in many cities across the U.S. and around the world.
The broad support for the Indians at Wounded Knee made it difficult
for the government to launch a full-scale military assault.
Carter Camp told me: "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. And that wasn't
done in America for many, many generations. 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 push us just too damn far then we'll fight."
Revolutionary Worker - 1038, January 16, 2000
"Today is a good day to fight - Today is a good day to die."
Crazy Horse, Oglala Sioux
Free Leonard Peltier!