A Fire that Burns: The Legacy of Wounded Knee

A Fire That Burns:

The Legacy of Wounded Knee 1973

By Ian Record.

Photos by Ann Pearse Hocker


Native Americas | Akwe:kon's Journal of Indigenous Issues | Volume XV No 1 | Spring 1998 | Akwe:kon Press - Cornell Univ. | Ithaca.

(Featured in the Spring 1998 Edition of Native Americas Magazine)

The howling mid-winter blizzard spoke of the place. The walkers, runners and horseback riders arrived from the Four Directions: Pine Ridge to the south, Manderson to the north, Denby Dam to the east and Porcupine to the north. Emerging slowly from a mirage created by the blizzard, they approached the place the Oglalas refer to simply as “The Knee." They appeared like apparitions of the ancestral past, uniting to commemorate more than a century of struggle and sacrifice, liberation and rebirth. The representatives ascended the slope, gathering at the distinctive arch of the cemetery to pay tribute to their fallen ancestors. The common grave of those who died in the 1890 massacre by the U.S. Army's Seventh Cavalry lay under deep snow speckled by brown flecks of fresh tobacco offerings. An assortment of flowers adorned the nearby headstone of Buddy Lamont, an Oglala fatally wounded in the waning stages of the 1973 seige. The crumbling concrete foundation next to the cemetery is all that remains of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, once one of the most recognizeable symbols of the 1973 occupation of this place called Wounded Knee.

Many Oglalas who call Pine Ridge reservation their home come to Wounded Knee to honor those ancestors who gave their lives to maintain the Lakota (Sioux) Nation traditions. An unprecedented tribal proclamation officially sanctions to this 25th anniversary reunion. The journey known as the "Four Directions Sacred Walk, Run and Ride" commemorated a quarter-century of spiritual and cultural revitalization for not only Lakota people, but for indigenous peoples throughout North America.

It was here in 1973 that a few hundred Oglalas, bolstered by the leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and hundreds more supporters, took over the tiny hamlet in open protest of the intolerable: Pine Ridge’s deplorable living conditions, federal transgressions against tribal treaty rights and Indian lands, and tribal government corruption and intimidation against traditional people. The site the tribal elders chose for this symbolic confrontation sparked fears of a repeat of the atrocities of 1890, when Chief Big Foot and his band of more than 200 starving Minneconjou Sioux were massacred by the Seventh Cavalry in the middle of winter.

The always tense and sometimes deadly 71-day standoff between the occupiers and a conglomeration of tribal police, FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, and U.S. military advisors ultimately ended in the surrender of the protesters. The event itself, however, focused the nation’s attention on the crippling problems Native Americans faced, not just on Pine Ridge, but across the country.

Turning to brace themselves from the frigid gusts of wind, the huddled group raise their various flags, banners and staffs in the air and bellowed a cry, which was answered by the mass of participants gathered in the small valley in front of them. As the group descended the hill to the warming refuge of the semicircle of tipi's, Oglala cultural leader Wilmer Mesteth offered a prayer over the crackling loudspeakers, signaling that the two days of remembering, healing and celebrating has officially begun.

Elmer Bear Eagle did not walk far to take part in the morning’s events. A lifelong resident of Wounded Knee, and veteran of the 1973 occupation of the village, Bear Eagle lives in a clustered housing project less than a half mile down the road in lower Wounded Knee. The string of densely-situated houses is identified only by their weather-beaten colors. It is difficult to miss Bear Eagle’s house, however, thanks to the yellow school bus parked out back.

Inside, bumper stickers with slogans of encouragement, like “Indian Cowboys, Alcohol and Drug-Free, Always Ride High ... Naturally,” cover the refrigerator. As Bear Eagle searched for the words to best describe his own perspective on Wounded Knee, he brewed a pot of banana coffee from Germany, a gift from a friend that he saves for “special occasions.” Despite the nature of this occasion, Bear Eagle was in no hurry to leave his cozy confines just yet. Stressing that everyone else is also running on “Indian time.” He said the coffee will give him some more time to think back on 1973, which was by no means an easy task.

“The anniversary makes me feel ... older,” he said, letting out a chuckle. “Seriously though, the Lakota people have endured every condition imaginable over the last 500 years, but they have always survived. As a Lakota person, you have to take the responsibility to carry on the traditional ways. Wounded Knee [1973] was just a phase, a part of that ongoing struggle.”

Bear Eagle, a bus driver for the Wounded Knee Community Head Start program for 11 years, was 19 when the takeover of Wounded Knee began on February 27, 1973. Then a student attending art school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he was home, visiting his family for the weekend when word reached Wounded Knee that hundreds of traditional Oglalas, led by the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) and Pedro Bissonette, were meeting with AIM leaders at Calico Hall. They were seeking to enlist the national movement’s help to make a last-ditch stand against the intensifying police actions that had been instituted by federally-backed tribal chairman Richard “Dick” Wilson and the associated “Guardians of the Oglala Nation,” (This private police force of largely mixed-blood Oglalas was named the “GOON squad.") Wilson had been accused of spreading the tribe’s federally-allocated resources to his friends and family in Pine Ridge Village while ignoring traditional Oglalas who lived in the reservation’s outlying areas.

When he saw the caravan of vehicles from Calico Hall approach Wounded Knee a few hours later, Bear Eagle joined the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee. This initial gesture of protest quickly turned into the largest armed conflict in the United States since the Civil War.

Bear Eagle, said the event was destined to happen: “It was something we had to do to draw attention to the conditions for Indians in South Dakota, and something I had to join as a young Lakota man. But it got out of control so fast. We had no idea about the kind of tremendous impact it would have on the rest of the country.”

Over the next 71 days, the life of Elmer Bear Eagle and other occupiers would be forever altered. When the protesters issued a public ultimatum declaring the creation of an Independent Oglala Nation, they called for federal hearings on the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the ouster of Wilson as tribal chairman. At the same time, the Wounded Knee compound was being surrounded by a heavily-armed contingent of federal and tribal authorities. For the next two months, Bear Eagle spent most of his days and nights patrolling the perimeter bunkers of the compound. His Wounded Knee comrades, severely out manned and out gunned, endured the full military brunt of what had become a makeshift federal army: barricades of paramilitary personnel armed with automatic weapons, snipers, helicopters, armored personnel carriers equipped with .50-caliber machine guns, and more than 130,000 rounds of ammunition. After several weeks of failed negotiations, short-lived cease-fires, furious firefights, the demoralizing death of Oglala local Buddy Lamont, and with federal authorities threatening an all-out military assault, the hungry and exhausted protesters surrendered on May 8, 1973. Despite the occupation’s many exchanges of intense gunfire, incredibly only two of the occupiers, Lamont and Frank Clearwater, a Cherokee, lost their lives.


Elmer Bear Eagle, 44, an Oglala from Wounded Knee, stands near one of the creekbed routes used by many who slipped into and out of the village during the 1973 occupation.

Although the surrender essentially marked the waning of nationally-publicized confrontations involving the Indian activist movement, it provided a sense of freedom to those who took part in the takeover known as “Wounded Knee II” that most had not experienced before. Or since.

“What I took away from Wounded Knee 1973 was a feeling of freedom, a feeling of real pride, being here with the people, with everybody,” Bear Eagle said. Trying to step back to gain a sense of perspective was difficult, he said, because Wounded Knee II remains such on ongoing part of everyday Pine Ridge life.

“You can’t explain it to somebody who wasn’t here, because it is only on the inside, deep inside your heart, a good feeling. People you knew, things you did, stories you shared, hard times, being cold, hungry, or just sitting around a fire with a bunch of other people, talking and drinking coffee. Sometimes it is just the simple things you remember the best.”

Fellow Wounded Knee resident Leola One Feather, also a teenage participant in the 1973 occupation, was one of hundreds of Oglalas who supported the protesters by helping move supplies and people into and out of the compound during the standoff. Following the standoff, One Feather lived her life immediately evading the authorities with then-husband Stanley Holder, who had served as head of Wounded Knee security. Today, a single mother of five, One Feather knows all too well how Wounded Knee II provided many Oglala people with a renewed sense of spirituality that endures today.

“We showed in 1973 that our spirituality is stronger than the [U.S.] federal government. That the movement still belonged to the people. It was and is the spirit of the people, the breath of the people,” said One Feather, who works to educate the younger generations about Lakota star knowledge and the tribe’s sacred connection to the Black Hills.

Bear Eagle echoed the sentiments of One Feather: “Wounded Knee didn’t stop at 71 days for us. The spirit of the movement — it just kept going,” said Bear Eagle. He believes that the the legacy of 1973 is unity. “In the long run, it taught us more about the importance of unity than anything else, because after the occupation we were divided so badly. The years following Wounded Knee were confusing, chaotic times.”

To say the years following Wounded Knee were tumultuous for the people of Pine Ridge is an understatement. Federal court trials effectively immobilized AIM’s leadership and placed a stranglehold on the organization’s dwindling resources. Violence against the movement’s Pine Ridge supporters erupted as the reservation’s pro-government forces allegedly began to settle the score. From May 1973 through the end of Wilson’s time as tribal chairman in 1976, 60 people reportedly died — many under mysterious circumstances — in a period best remembered for its lawlessness. Among the most notable victims were Oglala leader Pedro Bissonette, killed in a shootout with BIA police in October 1973; and Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a young Micmac woman and AIM activist found murdered near Wanblee in February 1976. On April 12, 1973, the 45th day of the occupation, Pictou Aquash and a young man, Noo-ge-shik, were married in a traditional ceremony inside the compound. It was the first marriage conducted under the banner of the "Independent Oglala Nation," and offered a determined gesture of normalcy in an otherwise tense situation. The still unresolved circumstances of her death continue to trouble the residents of Pine Ridge.

No one was immune from the violence and terror.

In one of the many appalling incidents from the period, 7-year-old Mary Little Bear lost an eye when someone in a neighboring house strafed the car in which she was riding with gunfire. Little Bear, who still lives in Wounded Knee, said her ordeal was typical of the kind of arbitrary and senseless brutality on the reservation in the mid-1970s.

“They were just going to shoot someone that night, and it happened to be me,” Little Bear said. Her assailant has never been apprehended. Little Bear said she at first blamed AIM forces for the shooting, and later the supporters of Wilson. She moved away from Pine Ridge for a time, but has returned, determined to no longer view herself as a victim. “I try not to think about it too much. We are all Lakota, and we all have to live together,” she said.


Dennis Banks, AIM Co-Founder and one of the leaders of the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973, enjoyed a welcome reunion with his daughter, Tokala Banks, in front of the 1890 Massacre Gravesite.

As the caravan of several hundred vehicles crawled away from Wounded Knee, the announcer’s voice on Pine Ridge’s KILI Radio urges on the sacred procession, reminding everyone that these were the same conditions that Big Foot and his band of Minneconjou endured during their forced march to Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. As the group reached the ridge en route to the village of Porcupine for an evening Wacipi (powwow) and honorings, the blinding snows that have been wreaking havoc in Wounded Knee suddenly ceased.

Later, more than 2,000 people warm up in the Porcupine School gymnasium with a traditional buffalo feast and listened to (later Hollywood actor) Oglala Russell Means: “We must never forget that we were once free. For if we forget, then we are no longer Lakota, we are no longer Indian,” In the hallway, a group of nine young Native Americans from Minneapolis tried to keep up with the rhythmic poundings of AIM co-founder Dennis Banks, who has spent the week teaching the drum to the youths in preparation for a performance that evening.

AIM'S Legacy

A casual observer could easily mistake the weekend’s activities for a celebration of AIM. The organization’s presence was hard to miss. There were the various entourages of external “AIMsters,” clad in AIM jackets with AIM patches and the trademark red berets, to a multitude of local Pine Ridge youths serving as event security, decked out in red AIM T-shirts. AIM flags and banners hang from the walls. The official AIM song routinely resonated throughout the building.

The uneasiness surrounding the weekend’s return of AIM’s national leadership, including Banks, Means, and Clyde Bellecourt, illuminated the divisiveness that still pervades Oglala life. 25 years after Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge social status is still largely determined by whether one is pro-AIM or anti-AIM, and for or against the traditional Lakota ways. There are no shortages of opinion about the extent of AIM’s role in Wounded Knee II and whether the movement’s presence has done Pine Ridge more harm than good.

Hildegard Catches, who helped form the Oglala Interdistrict Council in the early 1970s , the forerunner to Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization, said AIM’s presence on Pine Ridge hurt Oglala people.

“All Wounded Knee [1973] did was leave a lot of orphan AIM, who today terrorize their own people,” said Catches, now a special judge for the tribal court and part-time teacher at Oglala Lakota College. “They [AIM] haven’t changed anything, but those who are trying to save our own people and preserve our culture — we are still here.”

Roger White Eyes, a Red Cloud High School teacher, understands firsthand about the conflicting feelings the Pine Ridge people have about AIM and Wounded Knee II. Eleven years old in 1973, White Eyes watched as his father, a member of the goon squad, refused to participate in the confrontation when he learned that his brother had joined the occupiers inside the Wounded Knee compound.

Now, at the age of 36, White Eyes works diligently to bridge the gap that once threatened to devastate his family. In preparation for the weekend’s celebration, White Eyes separated his senior classes into two groups to facilitate a discussion about AIM’s continued presence on the reservation. Students read two articles, one written by Mona Wilson, daughter of the late Dick Wilson and a vehement AIM critic; and a second article that hailed AIM’s involvement on Pine Ridge. The goal, according to White Eyes, was to make students understand both perspectives.

“The debate really illustrated the division between the viewpoint that AIM brought a lot of our culture back and made us proud to be Lakota, versus the viewpoint that AIM was a violent group who was simply seeking attention,” White Eyes said. Senior Shane Espinosa, a mixed-blood Oglala, termed the debate an “eye-opening” experience.

“Everybody had something to say. The debate made us think about more than just the issues, but also about the people who were there 25 years ago,” Espinosa said. “It really demonstrates the kind of positive messages that are being passed on to the younger generation.”

According to Joe Blue Horse, who was a member of the goon squad in 1973, the occupation of Wounded Knee was initiated by AIM, in his words a group of “people living in the streets in the cities that just needed someplace to go to raise hell.

“I don’t think they [AIM] accomplished anything as far as I’m concerned. The only thing they accomplished was to go down and wipe out a thriving community at Wounded Knee. And ruin these people’s homes and lives,” said Blue Horse.

Although Bear Eagle disagrees with the Blue Horse’s feelings, he admitted that “a lot of people on the reservation think that all Wounded Knee 1973 did was help make a name for AIM, because AIM didn’t stick around to help rebuild.” He does believe, however, that the majority of people who were inside the compound during the occupation were in fact Lakota.

“The books try to make it seem like it was mostly outsiders,” Bear Eagle said, “but the heart and soul of AIM in 1973 was the Lakota nation, right here with the Lakota people. It was us.”

This was a point of historical perspective not lost on AIM co-founder Banks.

“AIM’s position has always been to create the seed, plant the seed, develop it a little bit, and then move on," Banks said. "We have to plant the seed to bring about change. There will always be people who are leery of AIM. I don’t think it does any good to dwell on trying to change those people’s minds. I am going to go forward, like I did with those nine kids on the drum. To me, that’s how AIM has to be viewed — we can make change and create some pride in the people, but we are going to move on.”

"[It] was the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) which called upon us,” something people often forget, Banks said. “And we responded. In fact, Pedro [Bissonette] said, ‘Dennis, You have got to take the lead on this. Our people have been beaten — they are strong — but they have been beaten. The traditions are still there, the language is very strong, and the music is still strong, but the people have been subdued.’ AIM took the leadership at that point. And once the strength was reawakened with the Oglalas, they became the principal negotiators — especially the women. Because it was their future. From there AIM took a backseat. The further we stepped back, the further the Oglalas stepped forward.”

One of those women was Ellen Moves Camp. Her struggle illustrates how Pine Ridge’s internal strife can tear at even the most hallowed of family relationships. A respected tribal elder and traditional leader, Moves Camp’s impassioned plea to AIM and the Oglala men assembled at Calico Hall helped prompt the takeover in 1973. She played an integral role during the occupation, serving as negotiator for the protesters with the Justice Department. Then, in 1974, during the federal government’s prosecutorial assault against the occupation’s leadership, Ellen Moves Camp watched in disbelief as her son, Louis, took the stand to testify against Means and Banks — testimony that was later alleged to have been coerced by the FBI. The courtroom debacle left Louis estranged from his family and painfully damaged the relationship between mother and son.


Ellen Moves Camp, a member of the original group of Lakota who demanded action at the fateful meeting at Calico Hall in February of 1973, greets old friends during a memorial service for Joe Stuntz and Anna Mae Aquash, both of whom were killed in the turbulent years following the takeover.

Ellen said her story was just one episode from an ongoing struggle where traditional Oglalas and supporters of AIM continue to be perceived as militant threats to the reservation’s political and social harmony.

“We are still paying the price. The situation is really not any better for those who were involved in the movement. After this weekend, when everybody leaves, it is going to be the same story all over again,” she says. “It’s getting back to the way things were right before and after Wounded Knee took place. Things were good for a while, but they’re not anymore.”

As the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Wounded Knee Liberation moved north to Kyle, the snow returned. Despite the late conclusion to the previous night’s festivities, the parking lot of the Little Wound School was filled to capacity in response of the all-day educational symposium underway inside. With discussion topics ranging from tribal sovereignty to the restoration of the Black Hills to the Lakota people, the symposium promised to shift the celebration’s focus from healing the wounds of the past to finding ways to create a better future.

Inside one of the many trucks parked in the lot sits Native American cultural leader and philosopher John Trudell. Although the evening concert in which Trudell is slated to perform did not start for several hours, the former AIM national spokesman arrived early to reunite with old friends. With the engine running and the heat on high against the cold, Trudell contemplated the state of affairs on Pine Ridge 25 years after Wounded Knee 1973.

“I think the people on this reservation are still paying politically for what happened here in 1973. The people of Pine Ridge are hit the hardest, because whatever economics the government sends in here, it doesn’t send enough to make it work,” said Trudell. “There are ways that the government could be helpful to the people here, but the government is not helpful, and I think it has got to do with repercussions. Look at the unemployment, and the poverty, and the lack of real programs that would help the people to develop the social and economic base that would be real to their needs.

“All of those things that we brought up as issues 25 years ago, many of those things still exist. The form has been altered a little bit, but the essence of the problems remain. The struggle continues to take place. The people are holding their own. The counterbalance to all of this is that I see that the spirit of the people is strong.”

The strong spirit of the resilient Oglala people is often the only viable defense against the despair of the daily reservation existence, where the poverty is unparalleled and dying of natural causes or old age is a rarity.

For the Oglalas, sparsely situated on the vast prairie land, leading a “normal life” is almost unheard of. Pine Ridge, sitting on the poorest county in the country, possesses no viable industry. The rigid ground bears little in the way of crops or natural resources. Nearly four out of every five adult Oglalas are unemployed, and many residents live in dilapidated housing without electricity or indoor plumbing. The tribal government is the largest employer on a reservation whose geographic isolation causes many to move away in search of work.

The apathy and idleness caused by the reservation’s rampant destitution seriously affects the people’s long-term spiritual and cultural wellness which routinely falls prey to the basic physical need to make it through the day. Estimates reveal that close to half of all Pine Ridge residents — including a growing number of teenagers — battle alcoholism, which contributes to high rates of suicide and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and an increasing incidence of abuse of the elderly. Drinking and driving, mixed with the many treacherous, unpaved roads on the reservation, results in a rate of fatal car accidents four times higher than the national average.

Bear Eagle believes alcoholism to be the most destructive obstacle to the survival of the Lakota culture because, he says, “it is so against our way of living and everything we believe in. We lose so many people every year, young people.”

The Pine Ridge population’s insufficient diet, heavy drinking combined with smoking, and a general lack of health care, has produced a near epidemic rate of adult onset diabetes. Most Oglalas depend almost exclusively on the federally- financed Oglala Sioux Tribal Food Distribution Program’s monthly commodities, which have traditionally consisted of canned goods high in fat and sodium.

“It’s a known fact in Indian Country that coming from the diet that our ancestors had to where we are today is totally poisonous to the system,” said Vern Donnell, service unit director for the Indian Health Service (IHS) on Pine Ridge. “The commodities program has been important, but the commodities historically have not been that nutritious. We also have to change the way of thinking, a lot of lifestyles. The depression that people experience, with the socio-economic problems facing the reservation, is a major factor.”


Joe Trueblood [Blue Horse], former "GOON" and ardent Wilson supporter, now works as head of a program to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to Lakota families, in an effort to stem the high rate of diabetes on the reservation.

Blue Horse, directing the tribal food distribution service, said his program is working to prevent diabetes by changing what Oglalas eat. A few years ago the service began a fresh fruit and vegetables program, that Blue Horse said was “beginning to take effect.

“We’d been trying to do this program for a long time. I think with our fresh fruits and vegetables, everything’s changing. We’re more diabetes-conscious now,” said Blue Horse, a diabetic who has lost his father and a sister to the disease.

The most successful weapon against diabetes is proving to be education. Donnell said the village of Porcupine made some important strides last year with the help of a grant program. Funded by a small grant, the Porcupine Clinic, run by Ted Means, spent three months identifying children with high risk factors for diabetes, and works to educate the people there about the preventative benefits of exercise and a proper diet. A nutritionist on Donnell’s staff also regularly appears on KILI Radio, giving advice about healthy eating.

Donnell said the old way of doing things simply wasn’t working. “The old government adage used to be that ‘We’re here to help,’ and it hasn’t helped. I think a lot of people would agree that the government really hasn’t fixed things. The government has always had a lot of money here, but the best way I can see health care for Native Americans is for Native Americans to decide what they are going to do for their health care. And taking whatever resources are available, and having some input. It’s charting their own destiny.”

Considering the severity of the problems Oglalas face, it is no surprise that a recent study by Harvard University found that the people of Pine Ridge die younger than any other group in the United States. Research showed the average life expectancy to be about 56 years for men, 66 years for women.

“There’s a common saying among Lakota men that once you pass the age of 44, you are living on borrowed time,” jokes Bear Eagle, 44, who has had two siblings pass away in the past two years, neither of whom saw their 50th birthday. “I guess after this year I will be living on borrowed time.”

Pine Ridge’s battle for day-to-day survival also threatens to divert attention away from preserving the long-term vitality of Lakota culture and spirituality. The reservation is plagued by a long history of land fractionalization, which is slowly eroding the Lakota extended family structure known as “tiospaye” (see "Its all About The Land” in these pages). The last few years also have seen an alarming increase in the number of Oglala teens joining reservation gangs. Generations worth of boarding-school education has severely diminished the number of Oglalas fluent in the Native tongue, as less than half of the reservation population over 30 years of age speaks Lakota.

“When I was growing up, we were discouraged to speak our own language in school. There are so many parents of my generation that don’t speak it nowadays, so most children don’t speak Lakota at home,” said Bear Eagle, who serves as a teacher’s aide in addition to his duties as Head Start bus driver. Bear Eagle and his colleagues teach the pre-schoolers basic Lakota numbers, colors, and songs, but he said it is an “uphill fight.”

“The reality is that if children are going to learn Lakota they need to learn it in school,” he says. “We try to get the parents and grandparents involved in the teaching process. We are always passing the torch to the younger generation — not just this weekend. We pass the torch everyday.”

Oglala cultural leader Wilmer Mesteth says that by honoring and celebrating the Wounded Knee occupation, young people can begin to learn to carry that “torch.”

“We have had many struggles here. We will have many more,” said Mesteth, the grandson of Pedro Bissonette. “This celebration is about showing the younger generations the importance of carrying on our culture and traditions.”

Leo "Earl" Tail, confined to a wheelchair since losing a leg to diabetes, believes the young people can come to understand what it means to be Oglala by learning about Wounded Knee.

“A lot of our people are still fighting. We want to give the youth the kind of experience we had at that time. We want to give them a sense of purpose and an opportunity to learn,” says Tail, one of the original Porcupine Singers.

The legacy of Wounded Knee 1973 ultimately rests with the young people of Pine Ridge, who are charged with transforming the spiritual and cultural revival that was created 25 years ago into tangible social and economic progress for the future. The key, according to Trudell and Banks, lies in self-determination.

“Pine Ridge was the place where the stand was taken that caught everyone’s imagination. Wounded Knee caught the world’s attention in ways that the other ones didn’t,” says Trudell. “I know that none of what happened here has been forgotten. Because if you have been in a war, you don’t forget. You may try, but you never forget. It brought something back to the heart, to the spirit, to the mind. But because it was something that we were rekindling, we really didn’t have the answers. We had the questions and the complaints, but we didn’t really have the answers.”

“The socio-economic situation on Pine Ridge is going to be whatever it is going to be. The attitude and how the people approach it is what has changed tremendously,” Banks says. “Instead of waiting for a handout....the attitude now to develop your own path, your own course, and your own way. The attitude of the young people is to reach greater heights and see beyond the day-to-day problems of Pine Ridge. A lot of them leave Pine Ridge and then come back with a determination to try to make a real change.”

Robert Quiver Jr, who packed food to be smuggled into Wounded Knee during the occupation of 1973 when he was four years old, is just one of many young Oglalas who has pledged to carry on the torch. Quiver helped found the Lakota Student Alliance, a local chapter of AIM, in 1995. In what Quiver calls a “tribute to the warriors,” the Lakota Student Alliance organized the silver anniversary celebration.

As Quiver expressed it, the answer to the future of Pine Ridge rests in the young people “learning to become strong hearts on the warrior path,” and then coming together to strengthen the traditional ways of life that were perpetuated by Wounded Knee 1973.

“Young people need to understand there is more to life than gangs. If a young person wants to join a gang, they should join our gang,” said Quiver. “In our gang you'll have grandparents, aunties, uncles all over the country who can lovingly help you return to your ways. Our weapons are the pipe, sage, sweetgrass, the sundance, and the sweat. That is what our gang is about.”

Ian Wilson Record is a freelance writer and editor of the National Museum of the American Indian's member publication Runner.

Ann Pearse Hocker was a freelance news photographer during the 1973 takeover. She later worked for KMGH-TV in Denver, CBS news in Washington, and ABC News in Washington. She currently resides in Virginia.





Related Article:

Its All About the Land: The Issue behind Wounded Knee.

By Ian Record and Anne Pearse Hocker



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