February 21, 2011

Wounded Knee II's positive effects

Wounded Knee occupation had positive effects

By Charles TrimbleWhat caught me in the Chaat Smith/Warrior book is this statement in the Preface: “We came to write “Like a Hurricane” out of a profound dissatisfaction with the existing narratives of this crucial period in Indian and American history, one that we believe too often saw Indian people as mere victims and pawns. Our focus is not on the U.S. government’s failed policies or on police repression, but on how Indian people, for a brief and exhilarating time, staged a campaign of resistance and introspection unmatched in this (20th) century. It was for American Indians every bit as significant as the counterculture was for young whites, or the civil rights movement for blacks.”

This, to me, is what Tim Giago continues to miss--the widespread exhilaration among Indian people, and the significance of their resistance and revolution. During WKII I was able to witness some of it when I went to Pine Ridge as NCAI Executive Director to offer media and political assistance to the tribal government (which was essentially President Dick Wilson). Although I was disheartened by what I saw happening in what was left of tribal government there, I also saw and heard a new sense of pride among the Lakota people, and much praise for AIM.

I have never been a supporter of AIM, or an apologist for their actions. But, I do have an appreciation for what they meant to do and what they did, in fact, accomplish.

There was indeed much destruction at Wounded Knee during WKII, by AIM occupiers as well as federal and Goon forces. Dewing’s book provides BIA financial estimates of the losses and damage to the homes that were occupied by the militants, in many cases at the invitation of local people. And he also includes BIA estimates on recovery of household items that were missing. Nothing that I have read or heard gives credence to Giago’s telling of AIM occupiers evicting families, looting their homes, then setting them afire when they left. Even the burning of the Gildersleeve’s trading post, it appears, was the result of an accident with a kerosene lamp, when the village’s electricity was cut off by the Federal siege. It was not a torching of the building.

Back in 1981, Giago had a different view of WKII. In his book, Dewing wrote the following: “Looking back on Wounded Knee II from the perspective of ten years, Tim Giago, editor of the Lakota Times, saw some positive outcomes. According to Giago, the confrontation focused national attention upon the ineptitude of the BIA and the Interior Department. ‘It caused the Indian people themselves to demand changes within these bureaucratic structures and put bureaucrats on notice.’ Giago also said the encounter made reservation inhabitants more aware of whom they selected to fill elected office.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see AIM's Misdeeds Too "Complex" to Cover? and Debate Over Wounded Knee.

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