Tim Giago: No winners at Wounded Knee 1973
AIM activist Bill Means asserts that “Each year I have to respond to the annual negative interpretation of Tim Giago against Wounded Knee 1973.”

Needless to say several times a year I must write something to bring clarity to the outdated, historically inaccurate and mundane claims of the American Indian Movement as regards Wounded Knee 1973. So let me start with that premise.

Means writes, “Remember the Gildersleeves told Senators McGovern and Abourezk when they visited Wounded Knee that they agree with the issues the Oglala Civil Rights Organization and AIM were presenting.” He adds that the “overwhelming number of people inside of Wounded Knee were Oglala People who supported the organization. Wrong on both counts. The majority of the occupiers were not Oglala People, but outsiders with no ties whatever to the Pine Ridge Reservation. These are facts that can be checked quite easily. And the majority of Oglala Lakota did not support the occupation. When Russell Means ran for OST president against Dick Wilson he was soundly defeated. Does that sound like the majority of Oglala people supported the occupation?

Anyone still gullible enough to believe this fabrication and needs further confirmation of what I wrote needs to Google “Agnes Gildersleeve” and read what Mrs. Gildersleeve and her family had to say about this big lie. Her article begins, “When the AIM terrorists took over the Indian village of Wounded Knee in February 1973, they robbed Agnes and Clive Gildersleeve’s Trading Post and held them hostage. Agnes was a 68-year-old Chippewa Indian; her husband was white. They had spent most of their lives in Wounded Knee.”

She goes on to tell how she and her husband were threatened with death. She recalls that an Indian woman came to the basement were they were being held captive and said, “You have orders to shoot all hostages.” You see, even members of AIM called them “hostages.”

Means goes on to say that I was “on the other side.” On the other side of what? Violence in the name of justice? If the truth be known there were several thousand Oglala Lakota opposed to the takeover of Wounded Knee and the ensuing violence. Means would have you believe that if one was not for AIM then they were against them. It was politically astute for AIM to attempt dividing the Oglala people by creating a line between them that said “our side and their side.” There were many sides to the Wounded Knee occupation and most of them did not approve of the occupation.

And it is really getting old to hear some of the arguments that have been disproven time and again. AIM claims that the Gildersleeves operated the Trading Post without a government license. Not true. But is that a reason to destroy the store and the village?

There were no winners at Wounded Knee 1973. Poverty is still rampant on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the unemployment rate is around 75 percent. Babies are still dying at birth at a rate far and above the national average and diabetes is epidemic.

Bill Means and other AIM members have turned to working within the system to bring about positive change. I respect that. I found new friends and respect for AIM members like Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Ted Means, Madonna Thunder Hawk and those now working within the system to bring positive change to the poorest people in America.

The occupation of Wounded Knee was a low point in the history of Indian America simply because nothing good came from it. But many AIM members picked up the pieces and moved on and I hope that they will set aside the rhetoric that is a constant reminder of a violent time that pitted tribal member against tribal member and continue to work in a peaceful and cooperative way to bring positive change in Indian country.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Lakota Journal. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com.

More Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: The real victims of Wounded Knee 1973 (3/2)
Tim Giago: No outrage over abuse of Natives (2/23)
Tim Giago: A perspective on the fairness doctrine (2/16)
Tim Giago: Throwing Tom Daschle under the bus (2/9)
Tim Giago: Native people out of sight, out of mind (2/2)
Tim Giago: Native veteran loses fight against VA (1/26)
Tim Giago: The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness (1/19)
Tim Giago: The stolen generations in the U.S. (1/12)
Tim Giago: Indian Country looks to Tom Daschle for help (1/5)