1973.03.01: Return to Wounded Knee (Red Tide)

Red Tide, #9 [Vol. II, No. 5], March 1973
Return to Wounded Knee
[By Karen Pomer and Michael Letwin]

83 years ago, the U.S. 7th Cavalry murdered about 300 Oglala Lakota (Sioux) at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, for refusing to go to the reservation that the U.S. had ordered them to, and for performing a ceremony known as the “Ghost Dance”. This, it is said, was the last major act of resistance to the U.S. domination of the Indian people and their lands.


Since February 27th, several hundred Indians and non-Indians have been holding the hamlet of Wounded Knee, which is composed of a church, a “trading post”, and a general store. Soon after the people occupied the area in order to bring attention to the plight of Native American people, some 300 FBI agents and U.S. marshals surrounded the area. Shooting has broken out on many occasions, almost always initiated by the Government.

The U.S. has tried in many ways to get the Indians out of Wounded Knee. Many times the Government has tried to arrest people in an undercover manner, such as the time when the Indians found two men who called themselves “Postal Inspectors” inside their perimeter. These men were found to be Government agents. The Indians found four handguns, two boxes of ammunition, handcuffs and fingerprint kits in their cars. Ploys such as this, and the Government’s tactics of starvation, lies, and force have not at this time succeeded.


The Occupation reached a different level, when on March 11th, the Inter District Council (IDC) which represents 6 of the 8 districts of the near by Pine Ridge Reservation, declared themselves the Independent Oglala Nation (ION) and asked the American Indian Movement (AIM) to be its army, and to take part in its leadership. The ION issued the following statement:

1. The Independent Oglala Nation will never submit to negotiations or cease the present border hostilities in a position of surrender.

A. We will not disarm.

B. We will not submit to arrest.

C. We will not leave our country under threat of duress.

II. Any negotiations will deal with the issue of our sovereignty and our separate government’s relationship to under our treaties.

III. The ION requests that all people of the world take necessary actions to prevent the further aggressions of the U.S. Government against this new nation.

IV. The ION further requests that the United Nations, International Red Cross, World Court, World Council of Churches, and other international bodies take immediate steps to prevent the planned massacre [and] conquest of the ION by the U.S. armed forces.

The people at Wounded Knee, and the vast majority of Sioux at Pine Ridge, feel that since the Oglala Sioux share a common language, culture, history and life, and since they have been victims of the same oppression by the U.S. Government, that they constitute a nation, and therefore have the right of independence. It is this very right, along with other local and national demands, for which they now fight.


But to understand why the incident at Wounded Knee is taking place, or rather why Native Americans have felt it necessary to take up arms to defend their rights, we must understand what has happened over the past few hundred years.

If we look at our history books, we can see that in the late 17th Century, white settlers began landing in small numbers on the Eastern coast of what is now the U.S. They were, for the most part, greeted warmly by the Indians that occupied the land, and in fact, had it not been for the Indians, the passengers of the Mayflower would not have lasted their first winter.

As time went on, the white colonizers proceeded to eliminate or to drive out the Indians from the land that they (the settlers) wanted. This is interesting, for at that time, the Indians were willing to share the land with all who wished to use it. There was no conception of “owning” land among the Indians. However the whites had a different conception: that of “Manifest Destiny”.

This was a philosophy that stated that since whites were superior to all around them, they had the right to go around the Western Hemisphere (at least) stealing, killing and exploiting people, to fulfill their “historical mission”. This was much the same as the whites’ justification for slavery. It was a moral rationale which basically was created to justify the expansion of capitalism at an enormous and profitable rate. It is this economic fact that caused the near genocide of the Indians, and countless other wars etc.

So as the U.S. moved Westward, it continued to annihilate or transplant to “reservations” all Indians.

Since 1672, the whites have signed at least 411 official treaties with different Indians tribes. Almost none of them have ever been observed by the U.S. Government. This treachery on the part of the whites was met with fierce resistance by the Indians. But they could not win against superior numbers and advanced technology. It was this situation that led up to the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.


Since that time, many Indian groups have tried to work peacefully to achieve reforms and to make their problems known. The standard of living for Indians is probably the lowest in the country. At Pine Ridge reservation (reservations are often referred to by Indians as “concentration camps”) for instance, out of 11,350 residents, only 900 are employed, an unemployment rate of about 94%.

Those with jobs are employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which we will talk about later. The infant mortality, suicide, and alcoholism rates are many times the national norm, and until recently, the life expectancy of an Indian was 45. These conditions do not exist due to laziness, or natural inferiority, but rather due to the lack of jobs, the corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and institutionalized racism in the government.

The Indians have made no headway over the years. The media and government have never brought these problems to the attention of the American people. Only in the past few years with the Indian occupation of Alcatraz, the BIA in Washington, and now Wounded Knee, have their problems and demands become partially known. It is for this reason that even if the Indians do not win at Wounded Knee, they have still succeeded in informing people as to their struggle.


The struggle of Native Americans today is led nationally by the American Indian Movement (AIM). They have a list of 20 demands, which they are working for. Some of them deal with replacing cattle to the Indians since the whites wiped out their buffalo. Other reparations involved giving Indians machinery for resuming their farming activities which had been curtailed with the steady confiscation of their lands, live stock and grain.

One demand is that the BIA be abolished by 1976, and replaced by an all Indian organization. The BIA is composed of about 50% whites and 50% Indians. However the Indians, according to Archie Fire, the Western Region Coordinator of AIM, and son of an Oglala Sioux chief from Pine Ridge, “are Indians indoctrinated in the bureaucracy”. He also said that “Every year the BIA gets $500 million. But when it comes down to individual Indians, we’re lucky if we get a nickel out of the whole thing, because 75% of it is used in administration.”

That means that only $175 million is actually spent on Indians each year, while in comparison, the U.S. has allocated $89 billion to the Pentagon, to kill and devise ways of killing people around the world. Not only has the U.S. government successfully stolen this country from the Native Americans, but they now are making almost no effort to help people whom they have robbed.

Another demand, since ION has declared its independence, is that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigate all broken treaties and specifically the 1868 treaty with the Sioux that the U.S. broke almost immediately after signing.

A major demand of the people at Wounded Knee is that Dick Wilson, the tribal chairman of the Oglala Lakota, be subject to a new election, as he ran on a false platform, and he is not serving the interests of the people whom he rules. This is the same man who said that he had “900 armed Sioux” who would storm the occupiers of Wounded Knee, but when he called a demonstration for March 5th, only 8 people showed up. Rumor has it that the number has grown to 20 or 30. To most Indians these traitors are known as “Uncle Tomahawks” or “Apples” (red on the outside, white on the inside).


In describing the aftermath of the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, one woman, Black Elk, said, “Then they took them up and buried them in the trench. Then the white people said ‘here’s a place to make some money’. So the Catholic Church came along and built a church right on the grave. These people weren’t Catholics, and had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. Yet the church is there and there is a cross on top of their graves.

“Then some more people came along and said ‘let’s put up a trading post and a museum and make money from the thousands of tourists who’ll come to the massacre site.’

“See, they’re making money off those dead people that are there. Now those of us who are here wonder if 50 years from now they’ll put up a highway sign to come see the ones killed in 1973.”

In describing the situation on the reservation, one Indian said, “The white man has the slums, the blacks have the ghettos, the Chicanos have the barrio, and the American Indians have the reservation, this is just as simple as that.

“American Indian Movement started way before anyone can remember. I imagine it started during the time of Crazy Horse (Lakota leader of the late 19th Century, murdered by soldiers in 1877). This is when the American Indian Movement started. When the Indians started fighting for their rights and their land. . . . And today the AIM is still fighting for the same things.”


George McGovern, senator from South Dakota, has surprised a lot of people in this episode. During his presidential campaign, he had stated that he was sorry that he had not done more for the Native Americans than he did, but now on the negotiating team with the Lakota at Wounded Knee, he has proved that he is no different on this question than Nixon. He has taken sides with the Government, again showing that whether it be putting down strikes or Native American revolts, he has a consistent position. He has suggested that the solution to the problems of the Indians is to build a $10 million monument to the people who were murdered in 1890. The reason for his behavior is obvious. He is faced with reelection to the senate, for which he relies on the capitalists who own South Dakota, the large miners and ranchers.


The press has somewhat successfully played upon the racism against Indians that has been in Hollywood movies and on T.V. for years. The Native Americans have been portrayed, in this whole episode (pardon the pun), as rampaging savages who may have some just grievances, but whose tactics of resistance are “not in good taste”. This was brought out in the open when Marlon Brando refused to accept his academy award on March 27th, in protest of the treatment of Indians in the media, and the role that this has played in the racism against the Indians.


Hundreds of FBI and other kinds of cops, including BIA tomahawk police still surround Wounded Knee. After a period of rumors about there being a split among the Indians, and these rumors being dispelled by members of AIM, it is still not extremely clear what is now happening at Wounded Knee. The reports that are coming out on the subject are often not true and incorrect. What is clear is that they have not been massacred at this point, because of the attention and support that they have received from all over the country.

The government has been faced with a serious problem. On the one hand it knows that if it openly wipes out the Indians, that mass criticism will flood it, not to mention revolts of all sort. This is why, over he weeks, the government has tried more subtle methods: starvation, pleadings, offers of amnesty, etc. They have not succeeded. But on the other hand, if they allow Wounded Knee to succeed, they have shown again, as they did in Viet Nam, that the U.S. Government, and the huge capitalist empire that it represents, can be defeated. That fact has, and will, provide inspiration for all people who are oppressed by U.S. domination to resist, and to win.

The Lakota have reaffirmed themselves as a separate nation, and we hope that they will be able to fight for and win that right. It is a fight that has not ceased since 1890, and it is a fight that AIM says will not be ended. And hopefully they will have the support of all people in their fight for freedom.

“As long as there is no negotiation we will continue to demonstrate, and if we do not get the 20 demands, then there will be more Wounded Knees all across the country.”

*LA Times, March 1973.
*KPFK Radio, March 1973.
*New York Times, March 1973.
*Free Press, March 1973.
*The Militant, March 1973.
*Time Mag., March 19.
*The New Yorker, March 24.
*Akwesasne Notes, Early Win. 1973

The Great Border Crossing

This article was written by two RED TIDE staff members who were involved and arrested in connection with the “Great Border Crossing”.

On Friday, March 16th, at about 6:45 p.m., a caravan (3 vehicles) filled with food and medicine for the Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota left L.A. These supplies were being taken to Wounded Knee at the request of the National Council of Churches and the Quaker organizations, to be taken to the Episcopal Church at Pine Ridge, S.D. There were no arms or narcotics involved. The caravan contained 16 people, 12 Indians, 1 Chicano, and 3 whites traveling in one van, one station wagon, and a rental truck.

The caravan traveled through the desert, hitting Barstow at about 10:30. It was a couple hours before this time that we noticed that several unmarked cars were following us. Every time we got off the highway, they would too.

Meanwhile, one of the vehicles in the caravan had gone far ahead of the others. Later we learned that they were stopped on the California side of the Calif./Nevada border by FBI agents, taken over to the Nevada side, and then told that they were busted in Nevada! The other two vehicles continued on, and crossed the Nevada border at about 1:40 a.m., at which time, about 1 mile across the border, we saw flashing lights and heard sirens behind us.

We had been half-expecting to be stopped and hassled for a while, as the caravan hadn’t been a secret. The press had been notified, and channel 7, “Eyewitness News” had covered it.

The first sound we heard was “Get out of there or we’ll blow your heads off!” We did. And when we did, we saw numerous shaking deputies with shotguns pointed in our direction, while continuing to threaten to blow our heads off. As each of us got out, they cocked their guns. They lined us up against their cars. After this, all the people were moved up the road where we were informed that “this is a federal arrest, and federal officers will inform you as soon as possible of the details”. There were 29 federal and state cars holding up to 3 to 4 people each.

Soon we were on our way to Las Vegas, about 40 miles away, in FBI and sheriffs cars (having no idea what the charges were). When we got there, we were all taken to the FBI headquarters where we were interrogated. They decided not to use the rubber hose tactics on us that night. Instead they tried to get information out of us by being “Mr. Nice Guys”.

The adult men and women were then taken to the County Jail, while the two minors were photographed and fingerprinted, and then taken to the local juvenile hall. This was at about 3:30 a.m.


Being behind bars is a strange experience to someone who has been brought up to think that only “hardened criminals” are arrested and put in jail. At about 4:30 a.m., I was put in a holding cell in the women’s section of the Clark County Jail. The cell was about half the size of a classroom in my high school, and had the same color walls. I was told to sleep on one of the empty ‘bunk beds”. The “bed” was a hard mat placed across a metal frame. I was also given a rough scratchy blanket to sleep on. The one other woman in the caravan was placed in the same cell. We were woken up at about 6:30 that morning and given “breakfast”: dehydrated eggs, powdered milk with ice, fried fat that was supposed to be sausage.

My cellmates were some of the nicest people I’ve met. There were women arrested for armed robbery, trespassing (those women were prostitutes, and since prostitution is legal there, they were harassed in other ways), forgery, and possession of narcotics. Each of them had amazing stories to tell of their hard lives.

I was in jail for 2½ days. Each minute seemed like an hour with nothing to do but talk and read the 3 “Glamour Magazines”.

Monday morning I was handcuffed and chained to the other woman, and taken to court.


After we were taken from FBI, two of us (the minors) were taken to “Clark County Juvenile Detention Center”, where we were again booked, again searched, and eventually, after being in a holding cell for a while, placed in a cell. Juvenile hall does not have the same kind of cells that regular jail has. It doesn’t have bars, just big locked doors.

For the first night, the two of us were kept in the same place, but on Saturday morning, we were separated, and from this time on, we were on “closed status”, which in English means “Solitary Confinement”. Both of us received visitors or phone calls on Saturday, and it was at this point that we were first told the charges against us: “Crossing State Lines to Aid a Riot”. We also found out that we would not get out of jail until at least Monday.

So since we were “hardcore” federal prisoners, we were kept in our rooms to read, except on Sunday when we were allowed to play basketball with the other “hardcores” of the institution, for about 45 minutes.

They kept us in solitary so we would not “contaminate” the other inmates. This we were very sorry for, because we had looked forward to meeting and talking with the people who were locked up in the same place as us. We only got to talk to others when they brought us our “food”.

Meeting other people made us realize that they were not horrible criminals, like you’re supposed to believe on “Dragnet” or the “FBI”. They are just other people, mostly poor, who may have done something against the “law” — and were caught. Many of them are there simply because their parents don’t want them at home. We saw that jail did not help, but rather hurt these people. We saw that as long as there is a system which exploits people, that there are going to be jails.

So all through our stay, we tried very hard to remember that we were, in a very real sense, political prisoners. We were in jail for doing something right, not wrong.


On Monday morning, the 16 of us were arraigned before a federal magistrate and told again the charge.

The three whites were brought into court separately and were arraigned ahead of the others. This displeased us immediately, for it meant that either the government, or one of the lawyers who had been hired for us, had tried to show that “these well-to-do white kids are different than these militant Indians”, (although the news had consistently referred to all of those arrested as Indians).

Two of us were released without bail, while one was released on $1,000 bail. The reason for this was given that he had been arrested before. The whites were taken to the holding cell, while the 12 Indians and 1 Chicano had their hearing. At this hearing, bail was set from nothing to $10,000, depending on how many arrests they had or how involved or were. It took until the next morning to raise the 10% of the bail that had to be put up.


We got back to L.A. on Monday night, and proceeded to raise bail for the others still there. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that we found out that the government had dropped all charges — only against the three white middle class members of the original 16. This both relieved and infuriated us, for while we did not like the idea that we had been charged with a federal crime, we liked even less the fact that we were released, while others as innocent as we were of any crime, had been indicted.

“Border Crossing” is taking place to frighten people into not supporting the people at Wounded Knee, and for that matter, all struggles that are opposed to this system, and are for the democracy and independence of anyone that the government stands against. These tactics must not succeed. We must take harassment such as this from almost the opposite viewpoint; that when these type of things happen, we know that we are doing something right.

The government’s case against the 13 remaining defendants is so weak that we do not believe, even if it comes to trial, that anyone will be convicted of anything. The government’s charges consist of attempting to take food and medicine to Wounded Knee. But how can this be a crime, even in their own corrupt terms, if at the same time, the LA Times was stating that food and supplies were being allowed in on many occasions by the government. And on March 27th, a federal judge gave a court order forcing the government to allow a certain amount of supplies in daily. Is the only difference between our “crime” and the judge’s order that we “crossed state lines”? If so, what’s the practical difference?

Whether or not supplies have been allowed in before is only part of the issue. If we had gotten to Wounded Knee, broken through a federal roadblock to get in supplies, perhaps then the government would have a case. However we did not even get into South Dakota, and therefore no “crime” could conceivably have been committed. But these are all legal arguments.

We believe that there is something deeper, much deeper involved. We believe that law or no law, the Independent Oglala Nation has the right to independence, and that the American Indians in general have the right of self-determination as a nation, that they do not now enjoy. We will support their rights in any case. For that is the real issue here. We will not submit to the government’s intimidation, nor will we obey laws that are oppressive and undemocratic. We will fight to make sure that to the best of our abilities, the U.S. government cannot play a repeat performance of Wounded Knee, 1890.

All together, 114 people have been arrested in various caravans and charged with “Interstate Riot”. At least one person has been killed in relation to the support of Wounded Knee.

Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/

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