"My people are being slaughtered..." Leonard Peltier is in jail. The two charged with him were acquitted of murder many years ago. The FBI has admitted that it does not know who killed their agents. It has been undeniably established that Leonard was unjustly convicted and his appeal for clemency is before President Clinton.
But, somehow, I think most-those not directly involved anyway-have lost sight of what was going in the days of the Pine Ridge fire fight.
I herein post some excerpts from "Loud Hawk-The United States Versus The American Indian Movement" by Kenneth S. Stern (ISBN 0-8061-2587-X, University of Oklahoma Press) and "Indians Are Us-Culture and Genocide in Native North America" by Ward Churchill (ISBN 1-56751-020-5, Common Courage Press) specifically excerpted so as to establish a "mood." Please forgive any typo's. This wasn't scanned.
"Loud Hawk is a fascinating and gripping account of one of the most important instances of judicial repression in recent years-the thirteen years trial of Dennis Banks, a founder of the American Indian Movement. Kenneth Stern, a lawyer in the case who now works for the American Jewish Committee, tells a story of FBI misconduct and governmental vindictiveness whose importance lies precisely in the ways that it is not unique, but reflective of the ongoing problems facing American Indians in the United States...This book should be required reading in Introduction to American Political Science courses at universities, and for every lawyer and judge in the U.S."-Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine.
Excepting for conversation, I have not used quotation marks but, note that everything below is indeed quoted from each of these books.
Excerpt start from Loud Hawk, pp. 303-306:
As we drove through the Badlands, which were serene covered in white, I dug the front tires of our rental car into the small paths blazed by a few pickup trucks an old cars that had come before. The underside of our Oldsmobile scraped snow. The car became muddy. I was glad. Only the FBI drove shiny cars on the reservation.
Sue (not her real name) and Candy Hamilton (legal worker for the Wounded Knee Legal defense Fund), both in their thirties and both with blond hair, had been living on the reservation during the mid-1970's.
"Shit, everyone was armed back then," Sue said, as Candy nodded in agreement. "You'd be nuts not to. The Goons [Guardians of the Oglala Nation] were getting people tight and left. Even kids were getting shot. And the FBI's were just as bad. They didn't do shit to stop the Goons. Especially after the two [FBI agents] got killed, they just went ape shit."
"Maybe I should add you to our witness list?" I asked. Her message was good, and I could control her language.
"Shit," she said, "you know the bombings after June 26?"
"Uh-huh," I answered. "You mean the Rushmore bombing ad the bombing of the BIA headquarters in Pine Ridge?"
"Yeah," she said, with a twang in her voice. "We had teams. The night of the BIA bombing, there were teams of us on the res. One bomb was for [Tribal Chairman and chief Goon] Dickie Wilson. We were going to blow him up in his house. But while we were getting ready to set the bomb, some woman or kid got up and was walking around. It was 3 o'clock in the morning. Wilson never knew how close he was to buying it," she said, chuckling.
I said, "Uh-huh," sat silent for a moment, then changed the subject, not wanting my discomfort to become obvious. As I drove I thought again about what might have been. The only people the American Indian Movement had killed were the two FBI agents, in what was clearly a firefight. A jury in Iowa had ruled that self-defense. What would the defense had been if Dick Wilson, for all his terror tactics and Goons, had been blown to pieces along with his family?
I knew what Sue would say. "Maybe Byron DeSeresa and Anna Mae would be alive." Maybe. Or maybe Anna Mae had died from the same revolutionary rationalizations that had lead a "team" to Dick Wilson's house with a bomb?
I felt relief after dropping Sue near the town of Porcupine. Rather than concentrate on how easily events of a decade earlier might have been different, Candy, Tom, and I searched for potential witnesses to what had really occurred. We drove to the isolated houses and knocked on doors. There were few telephones to call ahead to. Charlene was a woman in her forties, living in post-Wounded Knee prefab, decomposing housing. Nothing-inside or out- had been painted in a decade. The floor was once shoddy white linoleum squares. Now, most were either missing or broken, exposing the graying plywood below.
Charlene greeted us warily. We pounded the snow off our boots at the door, removed them inside, and walked up the half dozen stairs to the living area. She sat at her cracked formica kitchen table, having collected the four usable, mismatched, metal or wooden chairs she owned. She served Indian coffee, thick as I remembered, in old, stained, blue plastic teacups. She smiled now and then but never looked directly at us. She talked with Candy, who was gently prodding her, interspersing questions about the old days with ones about friend and their children.
Candy had told us about Charlene. She was not AIM. She was simply and Indian who wanted to live in the tradition of the old ways as fully as the demands of the new allowed. She was quiet, religious, and respectful.
Two weeks earlier, Candy had talked with Charlene and asked if she would sign an affidavit. Charlene had said yes with a yes that meant yes. But when Candy returned with a typewritten draft, Charlene said yes with a yes that meant no. This had happened with ten other witnesses. People would talk privately, wanting to help. But to sign a piece of paper dredged up old fears.
"The FBI's will come," Charlene had said.
Candy had replied, "We can give you a piece of paper, like in the old days, telling them that you insist on your rights and that unless they have a warrant to search or arrest, they have to leave."
Charlene had looked down and said, apologetically, "But that won't stop them from coming."
Steenson and I were here to listen and to urge her to come to Portland to testify. She would do well; she was straightforward, honest, simple, soft-spoken, sincere. After an hour, she started to open up. The she stopped abruptly, looking at Candy.
"Are you sure these guys aren't FBIs?" she asked.
Candy laughed. "If they were, we'd have found out a long time ago. They're okay, Charlene."
"Well, you know what it was like," she started. "Them FBIs was every place, and they never come alone. Always three, four, five cars of 'em, all dressed like soldiers, carrying guns, running around like they owned the place.
"I got shoved around by them many times. Many times they come here, asking questions about people, pushing, threatening, pointing guns. Even at the kids. Four and five and six years old, had guns pointed at them. "One time, I was in a sweat, and them FBIs come, ripped open the lodge in the middle of a ceremony! It was cold. All we had was towels. They pointed their big guns into the sweat lodge and ordered everybody out. I don't know if they were looking for someone or just wanted to be mean. But they had no respect for our ceremonies. They come in, pointed their guns, laughed. If they just wanted to freeze naked women in the snow, at least they should have waited until we finished praying."
This was not the only incident of religious harassment I would hear, nor was it the only story of the FBI's fondness for cold as a weapon. Oscar Bear Runners son had been forced to take off his T-shirt and stand, rigid, in ten degree below zero weather until he was frostbitten.
We heard more horror stories as we traveled around the reservation the following days-about the Goons shooting at old people driving down the road, about the FBI invading Oglala as if it were a battle front in Vietnam. Everyone had lived in constant fear of death. So many years later, the trauma was still fresh. Young adults pulled up their shirts and pant legs, showing us wounds they received as children-from bullets that scared their arms, legs, and chests. People as exhibits...
4.17.73-Frank Clearwater-AIM member killed by heavy machine gun round at Wounded Knee. No investigation.It should be noted that, using the preliminary figure of only 61 homicides of AIM members and supporters during the same period, researchers Bruce Johansen and Roberto Maestas, in their book "Wasichu:The Continuing Indian Wars (New York:Monthly Review Press, 1979, pp. 83-4), arrived at the following analysis of its implications: Using only documented political deaths, the yearly murder rate on Pine Ridge Reservation between 1, 1973 and March 1, 1976, was 170 per 100,000. By comparison, Detroit, the reputed murder capital of the United States, had a rate of 20.2 per 100,000...An estimated 20,000 persons were murdered in the United States during 1974. In a nation of 200 million persons, a murder rate comparable with that of Pine Ridge between 1973 and 1976 would have left 340,000 persons dead for political reasons alone in one year; 1.32 million in three...The political murder rate at Pine Ridge between March 1, 1973, and March 1, 1976, was almost equivalent to that in Chile during the three years after a military coup supported by the United States deposed and killed President Salvador Allende...Based on Chile's population of 10 million, the estimated fifty thousand persons killed in three years of political repression in Chile (1973-1976) roughly paralleled the murder rate at Pine Ridge.
4.23.73-Between eight and twelve individuals (names unknown) packing supplies into wounded Knee were intercepted by Goons [Guardians of the Oglala Nation] and vigilantes. None were ever heard from again. Former Rosebud Tribal President Robert Burnette and U.S. Justice Department Solicitor General Kent Frizzell conducted unsuccessful search for a mass grave after Wounded Knee siege. No further investigation.
4.27.73-Buddy Lamont-AIM member hit by M16 fire at Wounded Knee, Bled to death while pinned down by fire. No investigation.
6.19.73-Clarence Cross-AIM supporter shot to death in ambush by Goons. Although assailants were identified by eyewitnesses, brother Vernal Cross-wounded in ambush-was briefly charged with crime. No further investigation.
4.14.73-Priscilla White Plume-AIM supporter killed at Manderson by Goons. No investigation.
7.30.73-Julius Bad Heart Bull-AIM supporter killed at Oglala AIM supporter killed at Oglala by "person or persons unknown." No investigation.
9.22.73-Melvin Spider-AIM member killed Porcupine, South Dakota. No investigation.
9.23.73-Philip Black Elk-AIM supporter killed when his house exploded. No investigation.
10.5.73-Aloysius Long Soldier-AIM member killed at Kyle, S.D. by Goons.No investigation.
10.10.73-Phillip Little Crow-AIM supporter beaten to death by Goons at Pine Ridge. No investigation.
10.17.73-Pedro Bissonette-Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) organizer and AIM supporter assassinated by BIA Police/Goons. Body removed from Pine Ridge jurisdiction prior to autopsy by government contract coroner. No investigation.
11.20.73-Allison Fast Horse-AIM supporter shot to death near Pine Ridge by "unknown assailants." No investigation.
1.17.74-Edward Means, Jr.-AIM member found dead in Pine Ridge alley, beaten. No investigation.
2.27.74-Edward Standing Soldier-AIM member killed near Pine Ridge by "party r parties unknown." No investigation.
4.19.74-Roxeine Roark-AIM supporter killed at Porcupine by "unknown assailants." Investigation open, still "pending."
9.7.74-Dennis LeCompte-AIM member killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
9.11.74-Jackson Washinton Cutt-AIM member killed at Parmalee by "unknown individuals." Investigation still "ongoing."
9.16.74-Robert Reddy-AIM member killed at Kyle by gunshot. No investigation.
11.16.74-Delphine Crow Dog-sister of AIM spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog. Beaten by BIA police and left lying in a field. Died from "exposure." No investigation.
11.20.74-Elaine Wagner-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by "person or persons unknown." No investigation.
12.25.75-Floyd S. Binais-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
12.28.74-Yvette Loraine Lone Hill-AIM supporter killed at Kyle by "unknown party or parties." No investigation.
1.5.75-Leon L. Swift Bird-AIM member killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. Investigation still "ongoing."
3.1.75-Martin Montileaux-killed in a Scenic, S.D. bar. AIM leader Richard Marshall later framed for his murder. Russell Means also charged and acquitted.
3.20.75-Stacy Cotter-shot to death in an ambush at Manderson. No investigation.
3.21.75-Edith Eagle Hawk and her two children-AIM supporter killed in an automobile accident after being run off the run by a white vigilante, Albert Coomes. Coomes was also killed in the accident. Goon Mark Clifford identified as having also been in the Coomes car, escaped. Investigation closed without questioning Clifford.
3.27.75-Jeanette Bissonette-AIM supporter killed by sniper at Pine Ridge. Unsuccessful attempt to link AIM members to murder; no other investigation.
3.30.75-Richard Eagle-grandson of AIM supporter Gladys Bissonette killed while playing with loaded gun kept in the house as protection from Goon attacks.
4.4.75-Hilda R. Good Buffalo-AIM supporter stabbed to death at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
4.4.75-Jancita Eagle Deer-AIM member beaten and run over with automobile. Last seen in the company of provocateur Douglass Durham. No investigation.
5.20.75-Ben Sitting Up-AIM member killed at Wanblee by "unknown assailants." No investigation.
6.1.75-Kenneth Little-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. Investigation still "pending."
6.15.75-Leah Spotted Elk-AIM supporter at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
6.26.75-Joseph Stuntz Killsright-AIM member killed by FBI sniper during Oglala firefight. No investigation.
7.12.75-James Briggs Yellow-heart attack caused by FBI air assault on his home. No investigation.
7.25.75-Andrew Paul Stewart-nephew of AIM spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog, killed by Goons on Pine Ridge. No investigation.
8.25.75-Randy Hunter-AIM supporter killed at Kyle by "party or parties unknown." Investigation still "ongoing."
9.9.75-Howard Blue Bird-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
9.10.75-Jim Little-AIM stomped to death by Goons in Oglala. No investigation.
10.26.75-Olivia Binais-AIM supporter killed in Porcupine by "person or persons unknown." Investigation still "open."
10.26.75-Janice Black Bear-AIM supporter killed at Manderson by Goons. No investigation.
10.27.75-Michelle Tobacco-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by "unknown persons." No investigation.
12.6.75-Carl Plenty Arrows,Sr.-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by "unknown persons." No investigation.
12.6.75-Frank LaPointe-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
2.76-Anna Mae Pictou Aquash-AIM organizer assassinated on Pine Ridge.. FBI involved in attempt to conceal cause of death. Ongoing attempt to establish "AIM involvement" in murder. Key FBI personnel never deposed. Coroner never deposed. [depose-to remove from power...to testify or bear witness, especially on oath in court]
1.5.76-Lydia Cut Grass-AIM member killed at Wounded Knee by Goons. No investigation.
1.30.76-Byron DeSersa-OSCRO organizer and AIM supporter assassinated by Goons in Wanblee. Arrests by local authorities resulted in two Goons-Dale Janis and Charlie Winters-serving two years of five year sentences for "manslaughter." Charges dropped against two Goon leaders, Manny Wilson and Chuck Richards, on the basis of "self-defense" despite DeSersa having been unarmed when shot to death.
2.6.76-Lena R. Slow Bear-AIM supporter killed at Oglala by Goons. No investigation.
3.1.76-Hobart Horse-AIM member beaten, shot, and repeatedly run over with automobile at Sharp's Corners. No investigation.
3.26.76-Cleveland Reddest-AIM member killed at Kyle by "person or persons unknown." No investigation.
4.28.76-Betty Jo Dubray-AIM supporter beaten to death at Martin, S.D. No investigation.
5.6.76-Marvin Two Two-Aim supporter shot to death at Pine Ridge. No investigation.
5.9.76-Juia Pretty Hips-AIM supporter killed at Pine Ridge by "unknown assailants." No investigation.
5.24.76-Sam Afraid of Bear-AIM supporter shot to death at Pine Ridge. Investigation "ongoing."
6.4.76-Kevin Hill-AIM supporter killed at Oglala by "party or parties unknown." Investigation "still open."
7.3.76-Betty Means-AIM member killed at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
7.31.76-Sandra Wounded Foot-AIM supporter killed at Sharp's Corners by "unknown assailants." No investigation.
Excerpt start from Loud Hawk, pp.312-316. Once again, remember that everything below this should be in quotes:
Ellison had come to Indian Country right after Wounded Knee and never left. Although Jewish, his dark hair had grown out long and straight, and he kept it in a ponytail, the fashion of the Lakota male. He represented AIM members in South Dakota, although when they wandered, so did he. He had represented Dino Butler (one of the two AIM members acquitted of killing two FBI agents) on another murder case in Oregon. He continued to represent Leonard Peltier, now serving two consecutive life sentences in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Steenson and I had arrived in early afternoon. "I have a lot to show you," Ellison said. He handed each of us a beer, pointed to his living room couch, and turned on his VCR. One tape feature stories about Peltier from Canadian television. Another had interviews after the June 26, 175, firefight. But most impressive was one with raw NBC News film footage of the FBI occupation of Pine Ridge in the summer of 1975. I had to get this before a jury. It was Vietnam, just as I remembered on television growing up, except that the combat soldiers were FBI agents and the Vietnamese were Sioux. The footage was not cut, not edited for television, not in any order, not all focused. It captured rather than presented.
FBI Special Agent Joseph Trimbach, in combat gear, speaks to the press, saying,"Two of our agents...ran into some gunfire...I don't know if they were alive when they were shot in the head."
"What's your total force?" a reporter asks.
"We have between 125 an 150 agents," Trimbaugh answers.
Cut to nighttime. A road. A dark green bus, huge, with ARMY NATIONAL GUARD stenciled in small white letters near the front door, license plate US ARMY 1M5153.
"Stack 'em up!" someone hollers. "Stack 'em up over there somewhere."
Through the bus door, sliding onto the concrete, come gun cases. One, two, three, four , five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, on and on, endless. The camera catches the sound of the Samonsonite-like cases, black with little metal balls underneath, dropped on the ground and then a crackling, running sound as the agents slide them along the roadway.
Out come boxes of ammo. More boxes. One agent in a blue blazer with a khaki shirt underneath it instead of a dress shirt and tie, carried more ordnance. More boxes. One large one is labeled "MEAL COMBAT INDIVIDUAL C." Did they plan to stay a while?
Two agents strain, each carrying a strap of a heavy duffel bag. Another gingerly transfers a cardboard box to another vehicle. This box has been taped shut. Large letters say "DO NOT DROP." Another such box, handled with equal care, follows. More ammo boxes. Another heavy duffel bag. And another. Footsteps of agents marching on the roadway, two at a time, crunch in rhythm.
Cut. Agents, dressed for battle in flack jackets, carry rifles. It is almost dawn. They check out their rifles, M-16s, hold them up, look at them, then walk to trucks and cars.
"Okay, are we ready?" one asks.
Cut. An agent peers over a hill, careful not to expose his head. Another joins him and squints through a rifle scope.
"Hi," the new arrival says, "what're we going to do, make a sweep.?"
"Yeah," the other agent replies.
More green-clad figures run on the edges of a field, making a sweep, ready to attack. Birds chirp. Someone screams something unintelligible but frantic in the background. Diesel trucks drown out the birds. A helicopter overhead drowns out the diesel trucks. The militarized FBI is at war.
Cut. A sunny, windy day, in a shaded structure made of tree trunks. An Indian man reads the beginning of a proclamation: "We the undersigned members and supporters of the White Clay District, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, do hereby request the removal of all alien law enforcement personnel..."
Cut. An older Indian woman, crying, picks up the corner of an orange tent as though it had been her only worldly possession.
"They ripped down the tents and everything!" she sobs.
Cut. A news conference. "I haven't heard of the petition," an FBI agent says. "We certainly don't plan on leaving the area until we have completed our assigned job here."
Cut. A young Indian man speaks to a reporter. "About fifty of 'em," he says. "They surrounded our house! They were all armed with M-16s, battle fatigues. There was nobody at the house except women and kids. They came down and were all flashing around and everybody got scared. What would have happened if I hadn't gone down there to talk to them? My grandfather, he was pretty scared. They came without a warrant. When they ask to search the house, there's not much you can say with fifty guns pointing at you."
Cut. An older Indian woman dressed in black stands in front of her house, with her family. An FBI agent stands to the side. The camera focuses on the woman, her face wrinkled, her anger fired with a rage that does not fit her age or her grandmotherly stature. She is under five feet tall. The camera looks down at her. "He come in!" she yells. "He come to the front door. He accused me of killing two FBI men..."
The agent interrupts. "As a matter of fact, Ma'am, no one said anything about that."
She tugs at her shirt as she spoke, in quick jerks, in rhythm with her words, as if in mourning.
"I've got plenty of witnesses!" she yells. "Your lying days are over! Don't push no more lies down my throat! My people! My people are being slaughtered...-beaten and killed every day! Don't you have any conscience?"
The agent walks away, his back to the camera.
Watching the tape, I wondered [Stern wondering]. How do I get this in front of a jury? How many of these witnesses are now dead or no longer compelling, their attractiveness to a white jury ruined by the effects of poverty and time? "I don't know how to sort all this," I said to Steenson, who also seemed overwhelmed. "We'd better collect all we can and figure out what we can use later."
Ellison nodded, turned off the VCR, and popped an audio cassette into his tape recorder.
"A reporter named Kevin McKiernan was actually there the day of the shootout and recorded it," Ellison said. He pushed the play button.
Feet marching. Metal clanging, in step. Foot. Foot. Foot. Foot.
Foot. Foot. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop pop pop pop. Pop.
An excited, rapid voice, "Now you can hear the fire. The BIA agents are going to their trucks."
Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop pop.
"High caliber bullets."
Pop pop pop pop.
"There it is again!"
Pop. Pop. Pop pop pop.
"Ricochet. Automatic fire!"
Vrrrrrm! An automobile accelerated, hard, as if in a drag race.
"There goes a car with an Indian family in the area, temporarily leaving it. A very heavy volley of shots just before that."
Pop pop pop pop..."
"There they go again!...Federal cars continue to race up and won the roads, over the ridges, rolling plains. Yet, from where I am I can see little Indian children playing by these tarpaper shacks, and horses contuinued to play in the meadows all around. The FBI plane has moved out of gunshot range, There's some firing now!"
Pop. Pop pop pop...
"Some of the shots sound like firecrackers. There are a couple now! Those are more than firecrackers."
An unidentified white male voice: "It was up to me to make a final decision. I made the decision that we would assault." An elderly Indian woman, speaking over the sound of a baby coughing in the background: "It looks like they're trying to kill all us Indians. Some girls were sitting there, and some marshalls or FBIs turned around and said, "We're going to kill some more Indians before we leave."
Pop pop pop...
A voice that I recognize as John Trudell's:
"FBI agents that grew up watching John Wayne and cowboys and Indians come out here and want to play cowboys and Indians, then they gotta suffer the consequences, just as we do. They are the aggressors. We will make no apologies for the deaths of two pigs who did not belong there in the first place."
pp. 195: John Trudell, one of AIMs most articulate spokesmen, led a protest for Peltier on the steps of the Supreme Court Building (1979). As a symbol, he burned an American flag. Hours later, [on Feb. 12] his wife, Tina, Tina's mother, and their three young children were incinerated when their house burned, on Nevada's Duck Valley reservation. The FBI, according to Trudell, would not investigate.
Loud Hawk excerpt end.