Johnny Depp interest in purchasing portion of Wounded Knee causes a stir
For months, questions have swirled about whether developers, activists or tribes would be willing to plunk down millions to buy a portion of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark. Now there's a new potential buyer in the mix: Johnny Depp.
By Kristi Eaton
The possibility of the celebrity purchase is generating debate in Native American communities. Some question Depp’s motives due to the timing of “The Lone Ranger” release, which debuted with a dismal $19.5 million in ticket sales on its opening weekend in early July. Depp, who plays the part of the Native American character Tonto in the film, has been accused of playing into stereotypes and misappropriating Native American culture. Tonto speaks broken English, wears a stuffed crow on his head and has a face painted with white and black stripes. Some Native Americans view the character as a parody.
Depp’s also been criticized for saying that he does have Native American ancestry, but he’s unsure if it’s Cherokee or Creek.
“People I’ve talked to think he’s in it for redemption because he’s gotten bad reviews,” said Oglala Sioux tribal member Dawn Moves Camp, 30.
Tribal members have disagreed over the years about how to commemorate the lives lost at Wounded Knee. While there is a small monument listing some of the names of those killed in 1890, some tribal members think a larger statue or structure is needed to educate the public.
Sonny Skyhawk, a Sicangu Lakota actor and founder of American Indians in Film and Television, said although he was not a fan of Depp playing Tonto in "The Lone Ranger," purchasing the land would be a "great opportunity" for Depp to step forward and do something for Native Americans.
"If it's from the heart, we accept it. If it's not from the heart, we'll accept it anyways because it's such a meaningful undertaking when you look at the significance of what the sacred ground next to it is," he said.
By Daniel Simmons-Ritchie
But now Depp's offer has caused the Oglala to reassess their position.
"You see these celebrities with a lot of money and a lot of times you hear about the useless spending they do, this is something different, something that's unbelievable," said Garfield Steele, a council representative for the Wounded Knee District, who believes the tribe should take Depp's offer.
But others were less convinced. Nathan Blindman, a descendant of the survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre, said that, although Depp's offer is well-intentioned, the hearty profit that Czywczynski would make from the sale would be disrespectful to those who died.
"The bottom line is it's still selling the tragedy and violence," he said. "It's still making money off it, no matter who buys it."
Instead of 80 acres, he said, the Oglala could use $4.9 million to buy thousands of acres of reservation land from non-natives.
"There's plenty of land not in Indian ownership that they could have used," he said.
By Taté Walker
So, yes, thank you for this gesture, Mr. Depp. But, please, look into how you can really help us. Pump some funding into programs trying to dig us out of crippling poverty and unemployment; advertise and promote ventures trying to get traditional foods back into our diets; talk to the dozens of kids who contemplate suicide every day; visit our underfunded schools and hospitals. Don’t want to get too deep too fast? That’s OK. Produce a Native-led film project. Start an arts program. Protest Big Oil with us. Be #idlenomore
By Peter Harriman
Perhaps not coincidentally, Depp has a movie in theaters this summer in which he plays the Lone Ranger’s iconic sidekick. In interviews, Depp has said he might be a descendant of Cherokee or Creek ancestors, and in New Mexico last year, where “The Lone Ranger” was in production, Depp was adopted into the Comanche Nation.
But Depp has not traded on a tribal past until now, and his painted-face portrayal of Tonto has raised eyebrows. Is his Wounded Knee offer in the nature of appeasement?
Economic development at Pine Ridge is nearly impossible, in part because of its remote location. But the Black Hills are thriving. A cursory check of Rapid City realtors’ commercial listings shows a 10-building tract with an accompanying liquor license and 300 slot machines on Deadwood’s Main Street is available for $4.5 million.
There is an ice plant in Rapid City for sale for $3.2 million. A 105-room Rodeway Inn on the road to Mount Rushmore is being offered for $2.25 million. About 200 acres of development land near Sheridan Lake can be had for $1.59 million. Any or all of these would be of greater tangible benefit to the Oglala Sioux in 2013 than overpriced rangeland at Wounded Knee.
By Leslie Reed
“I think it's very generous of him, but there are quite a number of people who wish he wouldn't do this,” Trimble said. “If he wants to give millions, he should give it to a cause, and not pay it to a man who is holding the Wounded Knee site for a price—and it's very questionable how he got it in the first place.”
“The sore just won't heal,” he said. “Poor Johnny Depp. He's still trying to sell his Tonto role and hoping there won't be a backlash from Indian country. He's doing his best—he meant well. He still means well.”
Indians to Johnny Depp: 'Keep Your Word, Buy Wounded Knee'
"Keep your word. Promises to indigenous people are frequently made and broken. You promised to buy Wounded Knee and give it to the Sioux Nation. The owners want to sell. Keep your word. Buy Wounded Knee and gift it freely to the Sioux Nation."
The more cynical among us thought, "If Depp wants to purchase Wounded Knee, why doesn't he pick up the phone and do it? In fact, why didn't he do it in June, when the property went on the market? It's a mighty big coincidence that he mentioned this idea only after The Lone Ranger started tanking."
For more on Johnny Depp and Tonto, see Why The Lone Ranger Flopped and Ranger too Racist to Reboot.