THE BLOG

A Holiday That Should Never Be

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET
  • Tim Giago Founder, Native American Journalists Association

For some odd reason, and I will explain what I mean by odd later, the tribal government of the Oglala Sioux Tribe celebrates a reservation-wide holiday on February 27.

On Feb. 27, 1973, a group of American Indian Movement members occupied the Pine Ridge Reservation village of Wounded Knee. The village soon became "The Knee" to the occupiers.

In the 71 day occupation an entire village was pillaged and destroyed and more than 30 families, the original inhabitants of Wounded Knee, mostly Lakota people, were left homeless. A trading post, actually more of a grocery store than trading post, was burned to the ground and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church was also destroyed.

The Village of Wounded Knee was never rebuilt. A Lakota woman named Pinky Plume built another store and gas station in the community of Manderson, a village very near Wounded Knee that was a life saver to the people that had lost the services provided by the Trading Post at Wounded Knee.

The ousted citizens of Wounded Knee Village have tried without success to have their homes rebuilt. In the interim, the leaders of AIM have raised millions of dollars for its projects and legal defense funds, but have not contributed a single dollar to rebuild the village they helped to destroy.

I am not the only member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to find the adoption of a holiday to commemorate the destruction of a historical village not only odd, but enraging. President John Steele of the OST is not only on unstable ground for encouraging this bogus holiday, but his logic flies in the face of reality. In fact, some of the individuals behind this charade call Feb. 27, 1973 the day that Wounded Knee was liberated. Liberated? How about destroyed, burned to the ground, demolished. Some liberation.

Any news reporter who wants to find out about the reality I speak of should track down some of the former residents of Wounded Knee and see if they are celebrating this reservation holiday.

I lived in Wounded Knee when I was a child. My father worked as a store clerk for Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve, the owners of the Wounded Knee Trading Post. One of my childhood playmates was Joan, the daughter of Clive and Agnes. The Gildersleeves were taken as hostages by AIM members on the night of Feb. 27, 1973. The business they had operated as the Wounded Knee Trading Post since 1930 was destroyed as was their home.

I would like for President Steele to tell me and hundreds of other members of the Oglala Lakota Nation why Feb. 27 is a day to celebrate. Many of the people that occupied the Village of Wounded Knee that night weren't even members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the agony after that night brought nothing but poverty to the people. That day did absolutely nothing to improve the conditions of the Oglala Lakota people. In fact, it probably set us back by 20 years. Is that a reason to call this day a holiday?

Seven years after that day the U. S. Census Bureau proclaimed Shannon County, the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, the single poorest county in America. All of the empty promises made by AIM amounted to nothing but words.

Pine Ridge still has one of the highest infant mortality rates in America, some of the shortest life spans for adults, and one of the highest rates of unemployment in America. February 27 should not be celebrated as a holiday, but as a day of mourning. Every member of the tribe should wear black armbands. If Wounded Knee is to be celebrated as a tribal holiday, the date of that celebration, nay - commemoration - should be changed to December 29, the day the real martyrs of Wounded Knee stood tall.

To learn about the other side of the occupation of Wounded Knee get a copy of the book "American Indian Mafia" by Joe Trimbach. It is a pretty detailed description of what happened inside of Wounded Knee in 1973.

There is a trial to be held starting June 17, 2008 in Rapid City. John Boy Graham, a member of AIM, has been accused of murdering Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. Her body was discovered near the village of Wanbli on Feb. 24, 1976, just three years after and three days short of the takeover at Wounded Knee. Suspected by AIM of being an FBI informant, this wonderful lady's life was taken by AIM and I think every member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, and President Steele, should be seated in the courthouse in Rapid City as many of the horrid details about the death of Anna Mae and the destruction of Wounded Knee come to light.

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 can be reached at najournalist@msn.com

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