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Native Americans continue historic battle ... Demand self-determination at Wounded Knee

Published Jun 8, 2008 9:23 PM

Editor’s note: Workers World is in its 50th year of publication. Throughout the year, we will share with our readers some of the paper’s content over the past half century. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, organizing was going on in Indigenous communities across the United States, as is described in the article in this issue on the passing of Ellen Moves Camp, a Wounded Knee veteran. As Mahtowin wrote in Workers World in March 1998, “The elders asked AIM warriors to come in and help them. So on Feb. 27, 1973, a couple hundred Native people—men and women, youth and elders—went to Wounded Knee, site of the 1890 massacre. They had incredible courage, some guns for self-defense and an unshakable belief in the future. ... They had refused to disappear and instead were rising up to defend Native sovereignty.” The following article was the lead on page 1 of WW in the March 16, 1973, issue.

MARCH 14—Over two weeks ago, 200 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) liberated the village of Wounded Knee. With this one act they created a historic symbol of the struggle for self-determination of Native Americans.

Inside Wounded Knee, 1973.

The eyes of the entire world are now focused on the tiny besieged village, encircled by U.S. federal agents who are armed to the teeth with armored personnel carriers and machine guns. But the strength of the Native Americans themselves, combined with the sympathy and support their action has won from all oppressed and progressive people, has so far prevented the U.S. government from once again carrying out a massacre at Wounded Knee.

On March 11, after negotiations with the U.S. government broke down, the Oglala Sioux militants declared themselves to be a sovereign nation. They put the area under a state of war readiness and declared that if any U.S. government agent entered the boundaries of the newly declared nation, the action would be “treated as an act of war and dealt with accordingly.”

The U.S. government responded to the declaration by resealing the area with roadblocks and some 300 armed federal troops and government agents. A 21-member grand jury in Sioux Falls was convened on March 12 to investigate the occupation of Wounded Knee and to bring down indictments against the AIM leaders.

An ominous note was added to the resealing of the area when the chief of tactical operations for the 300 armed federal officers said on March 12, “We are going to be a lot more hard-nosed about this than we were before.” So far, one FBI agent and several Native Americans have been wounded, none seriously, in sporadic gunfire.

The U.S. federal marshals and FBI agents are armed with M-16s and other high-powered rifles, have about 15 armored personnel carriers, and are loaded down with pistols, machine and submachine guns, flak jackets, and other Vietnam War era paraphernalia. They seem to be itching to force an entry into the Indians’ territory.

The brothers and sisters at Wounded Knee began their action on February 27 as an attempt to draw world attention to the 500-year-old policy of genocide, of slow but sure physical, moral and cultural annihilation by the racist European colonizers who later set up the U.S. government. This foreign domination over Native Americans has resulted during less than 86 years in the loss of more than 90 million acres of their land, under the watchful eye and helping hand of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On the 2,500-square mile Pine Ridge Reservation (11,000 Native Americans live here, making it the second largest in the country), per capita income is $1,500, infant mortality is three times the U.S. average, and life expectancy is a little over 40 years.

In an interview with this reporter at the March 7 demonstration sponsored by the American Indian Movement and Youth Against War & Fascism, Mrs. Mary Ann Red Cloud, direct descendant of Chief Red Cloud, one of the Oglala Sioux’s great leaders, spoke of the bleak life for her people at the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Having recently come from the scene of armed confrontation at Wounded Knee, Mrs. Red Cloud pointed out that “the industry at Pine Ridge is token and inadequate, consisting of a moccasin factory which employs few people. And although the average resident of Pine Ridge Reservation makes $1,500 yearly, more than one-third of that $1,500 comes from leasing Indian land to white ranchers.”

The Native Americans at Wounded Knee are demanding their right to determine their lives free from the oppressive, racist, capitalist government. They are also demanding that the U.S. government honor the terms of the hundreds of treaties with the Native American people which it has broken.