Friday, May 8, 2009

Day 106/365 An Anniversary

On May 8, 1973, 36 years ago today, the second occupation of Wounded Knee came to an end.

Doesn't ring a bell?

It would have if you were living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, if you were a member of the American Indian Movement, if you were living in Minnesota or South Dakota, or if you caught any of the evening national news broadcasts for the prior 70 days.

I won't even pretend to go into the history behind the Wounded Knee occupation. It's detailed and involved -the American government does not come out looking good in any way, shape or form, and whatever the Native American complaints are, they are more than likely not half of what they are entitled to be.

But the mission of the occupation was simple: the return of the Great Sioux Nation, a sovereign land base, consisting of the entire western half of South Dakota, recognized by the United Sates in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

In 1973, I was a freshman at Macalester College (actually a transfer student but admissions was still sorting that out at the time), and Macalester being the hotbed of liberal radicalism it was (and still is) it offered many opportunities for internships, one of which was stuffing envelopes at the St. Paul office for AIM, or the American Indian Movement.

That's how I came to meet Dennis Banks and Russell Means, the leaders of the American Indian Movement, fresh from occupying the island of Alcatraz for 19 months, and two of the most well-known radicals in country. Actually I didn't "meet them" so much as both of them yelled at me for not stuffing envelopes correctly. Not at the same time. I was gifted, in that I managed to irritate both of them at different points over the three month period I helped in the office. I doubt that either of them ever knew my name, or that of any of the other bleeding heart liberal white kids that helped. (Think of all those old westerns where the cast list reads "Indian #1, Indian #2; except in this case it would read "White Kid #1, White Kid #2).

Nevertheless I kept going back,doing my part to aid in the stuggle and soothe my white guilt.

At the same time, on our dorm floor, among the 300+ occupants were three Native American students, all Oglala Sioux tribal members from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They lived on the opposite end of the dorm floor from me, and I have absolutely no idea what their names were, being that 296 people lived in between us.

But I do remember the night when I was sitting with friends in the lounge, and the elevator doors opened up, and two young men who were very obviously Native American stepped out. They headed down the hall towards the opposite end, and within 20 minutes or so, returned with the three native students, each with a back pack.

They stepped into the elevator, and never returned. Left everything except whatever they could carry in their back packs. Later the next day, we learned they had gone to join the occupation at Wounded Knee, and for the next 71 days, from February 27, 1973 through May 8, 1973, the evening news was the center of our attention.

I always wonder what happened to those three. I hope they weren't among the wounded, or the dead. I have read opinions on Pine Ridge have been splintered since the occupation - some feel it was a turning point and a beginning to the resurrection of traditional life. Others had families that were split apart (not unlike white families were split by the Vietnam War, and black families split by the Black Panthers and Black Muslims). Revolution has the tendency to do that.

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