Editorials about Native Americans’ Wounded Knee Occupation
Long-simmering tensions on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation exploded into violence on Feb. 27, 1973, when local Lakota Indians, joined by activists from the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. This historic site had been the scene of a massacre of more than 150 Lakota by U.S. troops in 1890, and was chosen for its symbolic value. This began a tense, 71-day stand-off that did not end until the town was evacuated on May 8, 1973.
The Indians were protesting a 300-year history of broken treaties and promises by the U.S. government, as well as the harsh and corrupt rule of Richard Wilson, head of the reservation’s tribal council. The protesters took 11 hostages at the outset of the occupation, but they were soon released unharmed. There was gunfire from the activists and government forces throughout the Wounded Knee occupation, resulting in three deaths (two Indians, one U.S. Marshal).
The following four newspaper articles were all published in the early stages of the occupation. The first three are editorials—two of which are sympathetic to the Indians’ grievances while nonetheless lamenting their resorting to violence, while the third editorial bluntly condemns the occupation. The fourth article, while not an editorial, still expresses an opinion: that of U.S. Senator James G. Abourezk, a Democrat from South Dakota, who said the U.S. government was to blame for the Wounded Knee occupation for “not being responsive to the needs of the Indians.”
This copyrighted editorial was published by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on March 1, 1973:
Wounded Knee Reprise
Wounded Knee, S.D. (population, 100 or so) was back in the headlines Wednesday for the first time in more than 80 years. It was there in 1890, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, that federal troops massacred about 200 Indian men, women and children in an attempt to disarm Indians protesting the killing of Chief Sitting Bull while he was resisting arrest. This was the last significant conflict of the Indian Wars. Such is the background of the statement by a band of Oglala Sioux tribesmen that their holding of white hostages to enforce their demands against the U.S. government was “symbolic.”
One massacre—and the Battle of Wounded Knee was that—does not justify another. The American Indian Movement, which takes credit for the action at Wounded Knee, also led the “Trail of Broken Treaties” caravan last fall, which resulted in the sacking of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. Indians, whatever the merit of their grievances, will not obtain justice by such tactics.
That American Indians do have valid grievances cannot be denied. For example, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the largest in the nation (2,500 square miles) almost half of the work force in the Indian population of about 11,350 is unemployed. Moreover, the Indians have not had opportunity to select their own tribal leaders. One of their demands is that they be granted the power to do so.
The American Indian Movement is a relatively new organization. It was formed in Minneapolis in July, 1968, by militant Indians determined to gain “total Indian self-determination of Indian affairs.” A large percentage of its membership is in urban centers, not on the reservations. The “movement” has taken its tactics from the militant members of other minority races in the big cities. In that sense, AIM must be reckoned with. But it is obviously not the kind of organization that will achieve a reasoned program to improve the Indians’ condition.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has unquestionably been too paternal over the decades in dealing with tribes on the Indian reservations. It need not be. There is good Indian leadership if it is given the opportunity, as witness the economic initiatives of the Warm Springs Indians of Oregon.
Violence and threats of violence will not help American Indians regain their heritage. No more American hearts should be buried at Wounded Knee.
This copyrighted editorial was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on March 4, 1973:
With all possible sympathy for the American Indian peoples who, without question, have suffered major injustices at the hands of the Caucasian majority, it must be said that the little group which has been engaged in violence at Wounded Knee, S.D., adopted the wrong approach.
Treaties during the past 300 years, it seems, have been made by the government in Washington, only to be broken. Lands have been assigned, only to be taken away. Buffalo herds were wiped out, destroying a primary source of food. Education has been provided on a basis that denies the Indian child the dignity of his own culture, but at the same time does not prepare him to compete in the white man’s culture. Health needs have been flagrantly neglected.
But for all that, the remedy is education, persuasion and legislation, as recognized by the Indian Rights Association which points proudly to the fact that most Indians have lived their lives “with dignity and grace.” This constructive attitude governed tribal chiefs who, only hours before the group of militants seized hostages and started shooting at low-flying aircraft, refused to adopt the violent way.
Rebuffed, the militants—members of the radical American Indian Movement—yielded to the temptation that casts its false allurement before unhappy members of any disadvantaged minority. Venting pent-up bitterness, they struck out with illegal force, which will in the long run have the unhappy effect of hurting their cause more than it helps.
We hope their objectives, insofar as they serve the cause of justice, are all achieved. We believe, however, that those goals will be reached best and quickest by vigorous but peaceful efforts.
This copyrighted editorial was published by the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) on March 2, 1973:
Terror at Wounded Knee
The Indian activists who have taken hostages and staged a violent replay of the “battle” of Wounded Knee are engaged in a dangerous game. If the first battle was a massacre, the second is also a crime. Certainly it will not help the Indians’ cause with the great majority of Americans.
We have had too much experience in this country with those who fantasize with high-powered rifles and who dramatize themselves with violence against others.
After a decade of riots, mass murders and assassinations, Americans no longer are moved to sympathy by twisted souls who believe that they can win votes with gunpowder and extortion.
The activists in this case have made the usual demands and already some politicians are talking of acceding to those demands. Let us hope that this line of official acquiescence to blackmail will not be followed.
The first priority must be to get the hostages back to safety; then there must be no official move later to reward the kidnapers or excuse their crime on the grounds that it was politically inspired.
We should have learned by now that the casualty of a politically motivated crime is just as dead as the victim of any other crime. Political terrorism has no place in this country. Those who engage in it must be dealt with as terrorists, not as a new brand of political promoters.
This copyrighted article was published by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on March 5, 1973:
S.D. Senator Blames U.S. for Fight at Wounded Knee
By Alma Kaufman
The government caused the Indian fight at Wounded Knee, S.D., U.S. Sen. James G. Abourezk, D-S.D., charged here last night.
“Wounded Knee is not the result of militant Indians going in and stirring up somebody,” he said. “It is the result of a government not being responsive to the needs of the Indians.”
Abourezk walked in past loaded guns, he said, to talk to the tribal elders. He spoke at a dinner for Ohioans of Arabic descent at Hotel Sheraton-Cleveland.
About 1,000 persons attended the dinner.
“They said they had been abused and mistreated for so long that nobody would listen to them and had invited the radicals in,” he said.
Tribal self-government he called a farce.
“Any time the tribal government makes a decision the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not like, the BIA overrules the tribal government. It has made those people ashamed of being Indian,” he said.
Negotiations between the government and the Indians are hard because there is “no communication” between them, according to Abourezk.
“So far I’ve been able to talk to both sides,” he said. He is in frequent telephone communication with Wounded Knee, he added, and might have to return there early today.
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