1973.11.01: Indian Leader Murdered (Red Tide)

Red Tide, Vol. III, No. 1 [Issue #11]
November 1973

Indian Leader Murdered
[By Michael Letwin]

“There has now been more violence, more killings, more beatings, more deaths, more threats, since the Wounded Knee occupation on the Pine Ridge Reservation than during the whole siege of Wounded Knee.”

So said Russell Means, national leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in a press conference on October 19. The conference was called in response to the assassination of Pedro Bissonette by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Police, two nights before on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Bissonette was a leader of the Independent Oglala Sioux Nation, formed during the Wounded Knee occupation, an officer of the Oglala Civil Rights Committee, and member of the American Indian Movement. He was also one of the seven major defendants in the government prosecution of about 600 people for the occupation of Wounded Knee earlier this year.

The Assassination

A woman who witnessed the shooting, said Means, claimed that Bissonette was “shot in the chest and while he was down, was shot six more times in the chest with a 5 inch by 5 inch pattern.”

Attorneys for the American Indian Movement who viewed the body before the Bureau of Indian Affairs secretly moved it out of the state of South Dakota against the family’s wishes, said that the shots were fired at such close range that there were powder burns on the body. (Powder burns occur only when a person is shot within about a two-foot range.)

Pedro was murdered by the federally paid police while driving on his way to visit his mother. The BIA has already lied. They have claimed that Bissonette was only shot once, in some sort of self-defense, and that the body was being “examined” by the BIA pathologists.

Chief Witness for the Defense

Bissonette was also one of the key witnesses of the defense, not only because he was Oglala and from Pine Ridge Reservation, but because he was a member of the Civil Rights Committee who invited the American Indian Movement to Wounded Knee on the basis of the 1868 Sioux Treaty.

Dual System of Justice

Means said that non-Indian people working with the Wounded Knee defense, many of whom were involved with civil rights struggles in the South and the Chicano areas of Texas, have observed that the racism and the dual system of justice under which the Indian people live is worse in South Dakota than anywhere else they have seen.

For instance, the federal authorities have refused to investigate the killing of people on the Pine Ridge Reservation, including the shooting of a nine-year-old girl Mary Ann Little Bear, who had her eye shot out, while 20 people signed statements to that effect.

Government Plan

Russell Means continued, “We believe that it’s a conspiracy by the federal government in collusion with state and local governments around the country, specifically in the State of South Dakota, to continue to break the back of the American Indian Movement. As L. Patrick Gray stated in testimony before Congress, the White House had definitely ordered the FBI to disrupt and destroy the American Indian Movement.”

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