It all centered around an effort to oust Oglala Sioux tribal President Richard Wilson, whom other members of the tribe accused of corruption and abuse of opponents and voted to impeach. The protests took place at the settlement of Wounded Knee in Custer South Dakota. The site of the takeover was symbolic, as it represented the exact place the massacre of Oglala Sioux and Chief Crazy Horse by U.S. Agents on December 29, 1890. Along with protests against Wilson also came protests of the U.S. government’s treatment of American indians in general and the conditions prevalent at most of the reservations around the country. And how the government, via the Bureau of Indian Affairs, consistently violated terms of treaties between the U.S. and the tribes.
One thing led to another and a confrontation ensued and the settlement of Wounded Knee at Custer South Dakota became the flash-point for a struggle, with the seizure and occupation of the settlement by some 200 armed Oglala Sioux.
For 71 days, the members of the tribe held and occupied the settlement, while U.S. Marshals, FBI Agents and various law enforcement agencies and National Guard descended on the area and sealed off all access to it.
Shots were exchanged; one Agent was wounded and two tribesmen were killed. The standoff, extensively covered by the media, galvanized tribes and viewers all around the country as protests regarding the treatment of the Oglala Sioux tribe was intensified.
What the protest did was bring light to a subject which had been largely glossed over and ignored for a very long time. That was the almost perpetual state of violations of treaties, corruption and abuse since the Bureau of Indian Affairs was formed in 1849.
With the formation of The American Indian Movement (AIM) as an avenue to address those grievances, the tribes banded together to act as a unified force in making a case for serious Reservation reform between the government and the Indian nations and address the extensive list of abuses the government took part it.
This interview, done several months after the conclusion of the Wounded Knee standoff, features Dennis Banks, national Field Director for AIM and Ramon Rubidoux, general counsel for AIM.
In it, Banks explains the events which led up to the confrontation and the standoff. He also mentions that, even after a ceasefire and a treaty had been agreed to, the Agents arrested the 200 occupants and that, once again, the government didn’t live up to its word.
The incident touched off a national debate on the plight of the American Indian, and cast a glaring light on the horrendous injustices inflicted on them over the years, something the current state of standoffs by self-proclaimed “patriots” just doesn’t even come remotely close to.
So in case you forgot about Wounded Knee and AIM, or weren’t around when it happened, here is that interview with Russell Banks from the Impacto series of August 19, 1973.