Tim Giago: The destruction of Wounded Knee by AIM in 1973

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Unity South Dakota

In a couple of weeks flyers will be strewn across the Pine Ridge Reservation asking the residents to honor the “Liberation of Wounded Knee in February of 1973.” Those who would celebrate and hand out flyers have a delusional recollection of the past.

Wounded Knee was a small village on the Pine Ridge Reservation. There were homes where approximately 35 families dwelled and there was a so-called Trading Post which was the only grocery store for miles to serve the residents of Wounded Knee and the nearby village of Manderson. Wounded Knee was also the historical site of the horrible massacre of 300 Lakota men, women and children on Dec. 29, 1890.

In February of 1973 members of the American Indian Movement forcibly occupied the village taking hostage some of the residents and Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve, the elderly owners of the Wounded Knee Trading Post. Clive was a white man and his wife Agnes was a member of the Ojibwe people of Minnesota.

The Trading Post and the homes of the mostly Lakota people living in the village were looted and eventually destroyed. Neither the Trading Post nor the homes that once made up Wounded Knee have ever been rebuilt. This was a liberation?

Liberation means to set a path to freedom. The freedom of the store owners and of the villagers at Wounded Knee was taken from them. They were freed of their homes and all of their earthly possessions.

The occupation of Wounded Knee was a serious blunder by the American Indian Movement. From the moment they set foot in Wounded Knee and took the first hostages they set themselves on a path of violence that did not end until one of their members, Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, was violently raped and murdered near Wamblee a few years later by members of their own organization.

Two of the “liberators” of Wounded Knee are now serving life sentences for the murder of Anna Mae. Someone in the upper echelons of AIM determined that Aquash was an FBI informant and ordered her execution. The two foot soldiers who carried out that sentence are the only ones convicted of her murder and to this day, no one knows, or no one will admit, who gave the actual order to take her out. Arlo Looking Cloud and John “Boy” Graham probably know the answer to that, but they are behind bars and not talking.

Whenever I hear an ignorant reporter on the radio or on television talk about the “uprising” at Wounded Knee, I call them immediately and inform them that it was not an “uprising” but it was an illegal “occupation.” The residents of Wounded Knee and the owners of the Trading Post did not rise up, but instead were beaten down by the occupiers.

It has been 122 years since the massacre at Wounded Knee I am still puzzled as to why the government of the Oglala Sioux Tribe would celebrate an illegal occupation that damaged the lives of so many of their own and not celebrate and honor the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Now those were the real heroes of Wounded Knee and not the cowards who came into the village in the middle of the night to terrorize the elderly Gildersleeves and the residents of the village by pushing them from their homes with guns at their heads.

As I have written in the past, my father Tim, worked for the Gildersleeves as a clerk and butcher at the Trading Post. A fluent Lakota speaker, he knew many of the Lakota from and around Wounded Knee. When some of the Lakota elders came into the store, even if the Gildersleeves were not busy, they would wait patiently for my father to finish waiting on the customer in front of them and then bring their groceries to him. As a boy I remember standing in the store and listening to these elderly Lakota laugh and joke with my father. He always had a story or a joke to share with them. We lived in one of the cabins at Wounded Knee that was eventually burned to the ground during the occupation. The Gildersleeves were not only the employers of my father, they were also his friends.

Although the history of Wounded Knee is filled with sadness, I know that when I was a boy living there, those were happy times for me. I used to ride on a tricycle with my friend Joan Gildersleeve, the daughter of Clive and Agnes, on the cement sidewalk that ran in front of the cabins and all of the way to the store front. Wounded Knee was a quiet and peaceful village and it was my home.

The village is now gone, burned to the ground. The homes and the Trading Post were never rebuilt and the empty streets and burned out homes are stark reminders of the day Wounded Knee was “liberated.”

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at Unitysodak1@knology.net

More from Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: 'Wiping away the tears' after Wounded Knee 1890 (12/31)
Tim Giago: Incompetence overwhelms at Bureau of Indian Affairs (1/7)

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