Who Should We Believe?
Tribal Councils,Traditionals, Survivors Associations, Newspapers, or Others?

by Wanbli Sapa

According to Indian Country Today, Lakota Times section, in the May 18, 1995 edition, the Wounded Knee National Park and memorial is the idea of the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Sioux Wounded Knee Survivors Associations. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was the lastest group to voice their support for the project. Cheyenne River Chairman Gregg Bourland is quoted as saying "We support this legislation and believe the park should be set up as a sanctuary. We don't want any tourist traps. We're opposed to that kind of behavior." The article also says that the messages showing up on the Internet in oposition to the bill are from Gerald and Pamela Ice, who have their own commercial interests in "exploitation". The article says that the Ice's are trying to raise $2.9 million to develop their own Cultural Center and Campground.

This could seem terribly confusing, so, let me make some sense out of this for you.

First, Indian Country Today's reporting tends to be rather biased in a number of areas, just as any newspaper's reporting can be, depending upon the opinions and ideas held by the management of the newspaper. Hopefully, you take this possibility into consideration as you read articles in Indian Country Today and any other newspaper. Also, Indian Country Today tends to be an avid supporter of tribal council. Read on to understand the implications of this.

Second, there tends to be a division on the rez (Pine Ridge not being the only rez that has this division) which dates back to the pre-rez days when leaders like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull refused to give up their traditional ways of life and so refused to settle down near the agencies. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull led their bands in the ways that they felt were best for their people and in accordance with the wishes of the people in their bands. Because these bands lived in remote areas and maintained the old ways of living, they received little to nothing of the government aid that was promised in the treaties.

Other leaders felt that what was best was to settle near the agencies (like Pine Ridge), depend upon the treaties being fulfilled, and try to adopt the new life dictated by the dominant culture. These leaders led their bands in the ways that they felt were best for their people and in accordance with the wishes of the people in their bands. Because these bands lived next to the agencies and tried to live like members of the dominant culture, they were rewarded by receiving the best and most of government aid.

As time passed and the reservation system became forced upon my Lakota ancestors (and other nations), these two ways of living became more separated and looked down upon by those of each group. Those who held to the traditional ways of life and belief became the "traditionals", and that term became a contemptuous epithet used by those who were trying to live the ways of the dominant culture. Those who were adopting the dominant culture's ways became the "hang-around-the-fort Indians", and that term became a contemptuous epithet used by those who were trying to live the traditional ways of the Lakota culture.

Today, this division is still present and still strong, though there are many in each group who are trying to bridge the gulf that separates the two ways and reach out to Lakota brothers and sisters on the other side of the gulf. However, because tribal council is not a governing body that was in place in the traditional Lakota culture and was forced upon the Lakota people by the dominant culture, tribal council often is filled with folks who would prefer to live the dominant culture's way and not the traditional Lakota way. Tribal council tends to often have its own private agenda. Many who live near the agencies maintain the ways of the dominant culture, too, and are still the best provisioned of those Lakota living on the rez. This tends to put tribal council and non-traditional people at odds with traditional people. Traditional folks tend to not become members of tribal council and tend to live out in the districts away from the agencies. Those out in the districts are among the poorest of the poor and have the least provisions. This tends to put traditional people at odds with tribal council and non-traditional people.

[In fact, two weeks ago, impeachment of the current tribal council was being considered because actions they took were in opposition to the desires and needs of the Lakota people on the rez, traditionals and non-traditionals alike].

This situation was highly publicized in the 1970s when the tribal council of Dick Wilson openly abused and trampled on not only traditional Lakota ways, but also on those who held to those ways. Dick Wilson created the GOON Squad, who maimed, harassed, and murdered many traditionalists without hesitancy. It was that situation that led the traditional elders to ask AIM for help and ultimately led to the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. It was also this situation that led to the death of the 2 FBI agents and the wrongful incarceration of Leonard Peltier. [This harassment continues today, though it does not receive the publicity it should.]

Today, this division is in evidence in the issues surrounding turning Wounded Knee into a national park. Tribal council, who stands to make financial gains by occupying seats on the advisory committee required in the bills before Congress (the bills, by the way, were drafted solely by the tribal councils and survivors associations), and who stands to loose none of their own land holdings support the creation of the national park. The Wounded Knee Survivors Association no longer contains the majority of survivors descendents because the majority of descendents did not like the actions and postions taken by the Association, which were contrary to the respectful remembrance of the 1890 Massacre and its victims. Hence, the Survivors Association no longer represents the opinion of a majority of descendents. Like the tribal council, the Survivors Association stands to make financial gains by occupying seats on the advisory committee. I refer your attention to Section 8 of the bills (both the House and Senate versions are exact duplicates of one another), which elaborates the role of the members of the advisory committee and the financial remuneration associated with it.

The vast majority of land acquired for the park will come from the land at Wounded Knee - 1800 acres, to be exact. This land will be taken in such a way that traditional landowners will lose their land and be forced to relocate. Consequently, all construction will be focused at Wounded Knee (the bill calls for a visitors center, an amphitheater, the relocation of the three main roads that intersect near the existing memorial (which was created by the survivors....), the creation of a new memorial, the reconstruction of several buildings that were in existence at the time of the 1890 massacre, and the removal of any structures not found to be historically consistent - possibly including the burial ground adjacent to the existing memorial, and finally, trails and interpretive displays). All disturbance, therefore, will be focused on the area containing the existing memorial and 5-6 mass grave sites. Virtually no land will be taken for the park on the Cheyenne River rez and no disturbance except increased tourist spending will occur in Pine Ridge.

The Wounded Knee Landowners Association is composed of the landowners that would be directly or indirectly impacted by this land taking, and the Association also contains a goodly number of descendents of the survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre (who do not belong to the Wounded Knee Survivors Association for reasons I discussed earlier). The Association and/or its members were never consulted regarding this legislation, and had no voice in drafting it. There was one Congressional hearing on this issue, and again, the Association and/or its members were not invited or notified. Gerald Ice is a survivor descendent, a member of the Landowners Association, and one of the landowners who would lose his land if the park is created. He and his family have lived on this same land for generations; in fact, the cabin that Gerald and his brother were born in still stands on his property. Gerald walks the traditional way though he has a college degree from the California university system, and though he has a goodly number of experiences in the world of the dominant culture, he chooses to live as traditionally as possible on the rez, which means he lives in poverty.

The Cultural Center you refer to is the dream of the traditional members of the Wounded Knee community, who have formed Wapaha Canku Luta, Inc., to bring this dream to life. The cultural center is intended to help Lakota people rediscover their traditional culture and the strengths and benefits it provides. This is all I can speak to regarding the cultural center because it is all I know. I suggest you contact Gerald and Pamela directly for more information.

I hope that this helps clear up some of the confusion caused by the various reports and opinions that are circulating regarding the creation of Wounded Knee National Park. If not, feel free to contact me and I will do what I can to get your questions answered:

Wanbli Sapa
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