The Wounds from Wounded Knee


“The reason Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were indicted for the murder of Anna Mae was because someone who was investigating her murder was getting too close to the truth aboutFBI complicity in her killing.”

From “The Place Where Spirits are Eaten” for Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, by Antoinette Nora Claypoole.

In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty promised that the sacred Black Hills would forever be reserved to the “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the Lakota Nation. In 1874, gold was discovered and the white man’s words were discarded like pulp fiction.

In the ensuing years, the Lakota Nation was divided between the “friendly” Indians and the “renegades,” including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. When the renegades embraced the Ghost Dance toward the end of the 1880s, federal troops were called in to crush the “uprising.” In 1890, their efforts were crowned by the Wounded Knee Massacre.

By 1900, the US Census estimated the indigenous population at just over 237,000, down from an estimated ten million before the Europeans set foot on American soil. The North American Indians were at the edge of extinction.

In the 1970s, uranium was discovered in the Black Hills and the Lakota Nation was once again divided. On one side was the established order of friendly Indians in the Pine Ridge tribal council; on the other were the new renegades of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Alarmed by the new activism, federal agents were summoned to crush the AIM “uprising.” A series of arrests, beatings, shootings and terrorism culminated in the Wounded Knee siege of 1974. While media attention may have prevented a second massacre on those hallowed grounds, the aftermath of that event has never allowed closure.

In 1977, on the strength of falsified evidence and coerced testimony (a matter of public record), Leonard Peltier was convicted and imprisoned for the murder of two FBI agents. There was great hope that Bill Clinton would find the courage to free Peltier in the waning days of his presidency but a public demonstration by over 500 agents (never before or since has any federal agency taken to the streets in protest) precluded that possibility.

Today, the wounds of Wounded Knee are open once again. David Graham is being extradited from Canada to face charges in the 1976 murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. As seems to be the case with all matters concerning Wounded Knee, there is no shortage of controversy within or without the Lakota community in regard to this case. The facts are disputed and the truth may forever be obscured.

What is not in dispute is that this nation has never settled the account with its native peoples. It is no longer disputed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs stole literally billions of dollars from indigenous tribes while consistently proclaiming that the Indians were incapable of managing their own affairs. What should not be disputed is that, under the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Black Hills remains the property of the Lakota Nation, as did all the gold, silver, copper and uranium extracted from them. Indeed, the faces of the Great White Fathers carved into the sacred mountains, within a few miles from where the Crazy Horse Monument is slowly reaching completion, belong to the Lakota.

Before we send our troops to foreign lands, ostensibly to fight for the liberation of indigenous peoples, let us turn our attention to our own back yard. While we can never return to the Indian people what is rightfully theirs, we can return to the table of negotiations with an honest and open heart. We can make real and just reparations. We can return sacred lands to the people who spilled their blood defending them.

Until we do so, all our claims to the crowning glory of the world’s liberator will be as empty as the promises we gave to the indigenous nations. Until we settle the account, we will bear the mark of hypocrisy in all that we do.

Free Leonard Peltier and let the wounds of Wounded Knee finally begin to heal.

JACK RANDOM is the author of the Jazzman Chronicles, the War Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press). He can be reached through his website: www.jackrandom.com.

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