Wounded Knee Anniversary Celebration 2024
~ Mary Burrows


“It's not revolution we're after; it's liberation.

We want to be free of a value system that's

being imposed upon us...”
          ~ John Trudell, We Are Power,

          July 18, 1980; Intercultural

          Survival Gathering

 

February 27, 2024, was a snowy, blowy day in which to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the American Indian Movement's (AIM) occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, to protest conditions on the Pine Ridge reservation, now known as Oglala Lakota Nation.

However cold and windy the situation, there was no comparison to the conditions that Big Foot's band of Miniconjou Lakota endured when the U.S. Army bombarded them with a Hotchkiss gun from a nearby hilltop as they camped on the prairie in a bend of Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890. Scholars estimate that 250-300 Miniconjou were murdered, almost half of whom were women and children. This was, supposedly, the last hurrah of the Native culture, at least in the government's estimation.

Almost since Europeans came to Turtle Island, there have been concerted efforts by various religious and governmental entities to assimilate Indigenous peoples into what was becoming the dominant culture. The boarding school system began in the mid-17th Century and continued into the 20th Century, pursuing the primary objective of “civilizing” Native American youth and children. Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was opened in 1879. Brainard Indian School in Cascade, South Dakota, operated into the 1980s. Recent finds of children's remains in Canadian boarding school cemeteries again raised the spectre of abuse in American boarding schools, where Native children were forced to take new names, punished for speaking their own languages, and brainwashed into conversion to “Christianity.” The after-effects of this generational trauma are just now becoming known.

Further efforts to decimate Native cultures came with the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 and the Adult Vocational Training Program, when Native people were encouraged to leave reservations and traditional homelands and migrate to cities where there were more “opportunities.”

Instead, what ensued for Natives was poverty, minimal/menial work opportunities, sub-standard housing, and racism and violence at the hands of law enforcement.

In 1968, a group of men who had been imprisoned together began discussing the formation of a group that would address the plight of so-called Urban Indians in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was a direct result of federal policies. Initially, they planned to patrol the streets and provide protection for their people. Social activist Reverend Paul Boe (1915-1990) of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) was instrumental in bringing awareness of Native issues to the ALC and to the American public. Financial assistance from the ALC at Reverend Boe's urging helped in the formation of the new civil liberties Red Power group: American Indian Movement (AIM). Clyde Bellecourt, an original AIM warrior, told that three elder women from the Red Lake community named the group, because “you aim to do something about housing, you aim to do something about our lost children, you aim to do something about police brutality, you aim to do something about the high school drop out rate. Your name is AIM. It means American Indian Movement.”

What began as a neighborhood patrol to protect Native people in Minneapolis grew into a unifying entity that “civilly disobeyed,” marched, occupied, and fought for the inalienable rights of Indigenous Native cultures throughout Turtle Island, and, indeed, throughout the world.

On September 13, 2007, in a triumph of justice and human dignity, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, after more than 20 years' negotiations between Indigenous peoples and governments, welcomed the General Assembly's adoption of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The vote was 144 in favor, 11 abstentions, and four against: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, all with extensive Indigenous people and cultures. Some members have changed their attitudes and votes in the meantime, including the four against.

AIM raised hackles and divided families, but over the ensuing years, legislation inspired by it's activism, such as the Indian Self-determination and Education Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and UNDRIP, came about because of AIM's influence, despite efforts of the FBI and the CIA to crush it. AIM also inspired a visible resurgence of cultural practices and ceremony and the embrace of Traditional ways. The return of some parts of ancient Native homelands and increased Tribal Sovereignty attest to the strength of what happens when the People speak. KILI radio, the Voice of the Lakota Nation, was also supported by AIM.

In 1973, Lakota Elders from Pine Ridge, Oglala Lakota Nation, contacted AIM because of corruption in Tribal government, goon tactics from Tribal leadership against Tribal members, and financial corruption at Tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs levels.

Organizer Pedro Bissonette of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) called a meeting at Calico Hall for February 27, 1973. Approximately 600 Natives were addressed by AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks. Demands were made for investigations into vigilante incidents, for hearings on their treaties, and for permission from Tribal Elders to make a stand at Wounded Knee.

Subsequently, for 71 days, armed activists and Oglala Lakota occupied the town of Wounded Knee against armed US government forces. The standoff ended May 8, 1973. During the occupation and siege, two people were killed, 12 were wounded, and 1200 arrested. Most importantly, the event drew world-wide attention to the appalling conditions in Lakota country. The state of Minnesota later prosecuted AIM leaders, but after an eight-months trial, they were acquitted due to court improprieties.

According to Rudolfo Red Dog, organizer of this year's AIM anniversary, the celebration was in honor of a Chicano teacher, Luis Junior Martinez, who was killed during a 1973 school bombing in Denver as direct retaliation for the Chicano community's support of their Red brothers and sisters and for humiliating the government by landing an airplane loaded with supplies during the siege at Wounded Knee.

2024 AIM marchers gathered and marched to the Wounded Knee Massacre Site from the Four Directions. Marchers then ascended Cemetery Hill, from where the Hotchkiss gun was fired at a struggling people, and said prayers, cheered for victory, and fired off round after round of gunfire.

The celebration then moved to Wounded Knee District School in Manderson, where recordings of AIM leaders like Russell Means were heard. Lillias Jarding of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance spoke of the dangers to the sacred water that mining for minerals has created in Paha Sapa. She also iterated that originally the group was called the Clean Water Alliance, started by AIM. Current Lakota AIM causes include advocating for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, protecting the sacred water, fighting the scourge of Uranium, and confronting systemic racism in Rapid City.

During the speeches, a feast was served, and there was drumming, as always in Lakota Country!

 

Storied 1968: American Indian Movement (youtube.com)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLh3gw0kVhQ

1989 - American Indian Activist Russell Means testifies at Senate Hearing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVANRroxuOo


UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples | OHCHR
https://ohchr.org/en/indigenous-peoples/un-declaration-rights-indigenous-peoples


Wounded Knee Massacre | Facts, History, & Legacy | Britannica
https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre#Massacre


Madonna Thunder Hawk — + + + + (indigenousgoddessgang.com)
https://www.indigenousgoddessgang.com/matriarch-monday/2018/11/26/madonna-thunder-hawk


Warrior Women: #WARNRidesAgain (lakotalaw.org)

https://lakotalaw.org/news/2020-01-24/warn-rides-again




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