Wounded Knee II Redux

Charles Trimble

I read with great interest the Lakota columnist Tim Giago’s column on the 1973 American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee village (WKII), and the militants’ nearly three months standoff with the FBI, U.S. Marshals, Tribal police, and the vigilante Goon squad. (See "Wounded Knee occupation was serious AIM blunder," Indianz.com)

There are two books that I think present the most accurate and least biased accounts of WKII. One is Wounded Knee II by Rolland Dewing, a well-researched and dispassionate account of the events leading up to, during, and following WKII. The other is Like a Hurricane by Native authors Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior.

What caught me in the Chaat Smith/Warrior book is the Preface: “We came to write Like a Hurricane out of a profound dissatisfaction with the existing narratives of this crucial period in Indian and American history, one that we believe too often saw Indian people as mere victims and pawns. Our focus is not on the U.S. government’s failed policies or on police repression, but on how Indian people, for a brief and exhilarating time, staged a campaign of resistance and introspection unmatched in this (20th) century. It was for American Indians every bit as significant as the counterculture was for young whites, or the civil rights movement for blacks.”

This, to me, is what Tim Giago continues to miss: the widespread exhilaration among Indian people, and the significance of their resistance and revolution. I was able to witness some of it when I went to Pine Ridge as NCAI Executive Director to offer technical and political assistance to the tribal government (which was essentially President Dick Wilson). Although I was disheartened at what I saw happening in what was left of tribal government there, I also saw and heard a new sense of pride among the people, and much praise for AIM.

I have never been a supporter of the AIM, or an apologist for their actions. But, I do have an appreciation for what AIM meant to do and what they did, in fact, accomplish.

There was indeed much destruction at Wounded Knee during WKII, by the AIM occupiers as well as by the federal and Goon forces. Dewing’s book provides the BIA’s financial estimates of the losses and damage to the homes that were occupied by the militants, who in many cases were invited by local people to share their homes. And he also includes government reports on recovery of household items that were missing. Nothing that I have read or heard gives credence to Giago’s telling of AIM occupiers evicting families, looting their homes, then setting them afire when they left. Even the burning of the Gildersleeve’s trading post, it appears, was the result of an accident with a kerosene lamp, when the village’s electricity was cut off by the Federal siege. It was not a torching of the building.

In 1981, Giago had a different view of WKII. Dewing’s book tells the following: “Looking back on Wounded Knee II from the perspective of ten years, Tim Giago, editor of the Lakota Times, saw some positive outcomes. According to Giago, the confrontation focused national attention upon the ineptitude of the BIA and the Interior Department. ‘It caused the Indian people themselves to demand changes within these bureaucratic structures and put bureaucrats on notice.’ Giago also said the encounter made reservation inhabitants more aware of whom they selected to fill elected office.”

I appreciate the objectiveness and fairness of the Chaat Smith/Warrior book. It tells of how the campaign of resistance was carried out. And the telling includes anecdotes of Oglala Sioux Tribe President Dick Wilson that are not demeaning but show him as an embattled and frustrated tribal leader. And they tell of inflated egos of certain AIM leaders and how their internal bickering threatened to tear apart the movement.

Both of the above books will give important historical perspective to the 1970s era, which was the most exciting and troubling, yet the most productive era in Indian history.

The Indian story was smothered in the excitement of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the anti war movement of the 1970s. Love them or hate them, AIM put Indian affairs on the front pages of newspapers and in prime time on TV.

I recall testifying before Congressional committees during those years, and seeing the change in attitudes of Senators or Representatives. I could see that they appreciated NCAI for presenting positive approaches to helping solve the problems of poverty and federal colonial control of reservation life. But AIM provided a dramatization of what we were trying to tell Congress and the White House. The pressure they applied to the United States and world consciousness helped in getting the most significant positive legislation in Indian history.

This is the kind of perspective and context we need in telling our history, especially to our young people. As the Chaat Smith/Warrior book says, Indian people were not “mere victims and pawns,” but were active participants in carrying out a revolution, in the trenches and on the streets and in the halls of Congress.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble, Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970 and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He can be contacted at cchuktrim@aol.com. His website is iktomisweb.com.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




chico2dc's picture
Disenrollments of Indians because of casino greed, demands the same response AIM showed in WK11.
notnek's picture
Last night on the CNN web site they featured the gang activity on Pine Ridge. If Pine Ridge were some small country, the media would be all over it. Now here is my problem. South Dakota in all it's wisdom elected a republican representative. We can be assume no help there. However we have two, count then two, (Tim Giago and Charles Trimble) very gifted and brilliant writers, who collectively could tell the story of Pine Ridge to this nation. I for one could care less about the personal grudges.. It is long past time for the story to be brought to the national debate. I for one believe these two could do that. How is it that every time the AIM story gets told no one ever notices how many were Vietnam Vets????? That too is another story.
dwain's picture
Thank you for your brief overview that nither romanticizes nor condemns the American Indian Movement.For those that didn't live through those times, I can truthfully tell you it was a special time for native people. The world watched and waited as the U.S., poised and ready,could not choose between annihilation,negotiation or other remedies as Tricky Dick and Co. kept inadvertantly getting in the line of fire.While the tribal chairmen made sure no sympathetic noises came from their direction,native people of all description were searching and finding ways to help.To say simply there was a rebirth of native pride lessens the overwhelming positive impact of the 71 day seige.It was and will remain a benchmark in our history.I was there. Dwain(Buck)Camp, Ponca Elder
thunderstone's picture
are you saying that AIM,raped and murdered anne mae? If so you got you facts seriously wrong.!!!!.and yes we do need AIM again.maybe you never heard about White Clay-the booze town..this town town needs to be destroyed... Aim did alot of good for the people when they needed it the most...they fed the elders what have you done? all thought AIM isnt what it use to be...like it was back then
thunderstone's picture
further more what happened there on Pine Ridge was THE FAULT OF DICKIE WILSON AND HIS "GOONS" and the FBI,BIA ARMY..other wize there wound'nt havent been any problems on pine ridge to the extent of a war zone in 73..Dickie Wilson wanted to kill every traditionalist living at that time. So i support the AIM MOVEMENT OF THAT ERRA..not so much of the AIM of today..all they do is TALK and wave flags on a streets in protest
thunderstone's picture
right on...yes there were a number of vets there...and can i add to your comment why is it every time the aim story comes out people dont mention how many elders were helped by members of AIM they did a lot of good in a short amount of time they fixed homes with what ever they had,and the women get left out of the story too...they did more than the men did way more..
thunderstone's picture
i salute you Dwayne(buck)camp for being there for the people you see when we sun dance it is what we do on the other 355 days that count and when wounded knee happened it became your sun dance cause you and the others who needed to be helped..metakawahpe(our relitives)
montanamiddle's picture
Indeed, our young people don't need some 'romanticized' version of AIM fed to them such as the patronizing propaganda found in the novel, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse." However, for all the "the widespread exhilaration among Indian people" Giago missed, one thing Giago did do was mention the ending legacy of AIM that haunts them to this day: "Anna Mae Pictou Aquash was violently raped and murdered near Wanblee two years later." The disappearance of Civil Rights activist Ray Robinson at the Wounded Knee occupation is also a question that must always be brought up, lest we conveniently white wash history to conveniently mold to our POV. Not that Mr. Trimble did so, but to dismiss what Giago was conveying as not having any merit would be a mistake. Otherwise, passing on intellectual dishonesty is not the "kind of perspective we need in telling our history, especially to our young people" just so we can pretend to feel good about AIM without questioning some of the things they did. We young people - I was born years after the siege - must also learn from the previous generations accomplishments as well as mistakes. If we don't it will cloud our better judgments, and we'll all begin to think that what AIM did to Annie Mae is excusable because she was a "pawn" in an endgame for promoting social injustices, and we won't be able to look past the irony of how Native women are still being treated the same way in our midst today.

Read more