February 27, 1973
After being invited to the Pine Ridge Reservation by Oglala Elders..."a 200-person AIM contingent was sent to the symbolic site of Wounded Knee to prepare for an early morning press conference.
"The intended press conference never occurred...as roadblocks on all four routes leading into (or out of) the tiny hamlet were established by GOON's [Guardians of the Oglala Nation]
The Governments' response...
"Documents later subpoenaed from the Pentagon revealed Colonel Potter [a special warfare expert] directed the employment of 17 APC's [tank armored personnel carriers], 130,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition, 41,000 rounds of M-40 high explosive[s] [for the M-79 grenade launchers he also provided], as well as helicopters, Phantom jets, and personnel. Military officers, supply sergeants, maintenance technicians, chemical officers, and medical teams [were provided on site. Three hundred miles to the south, at Forst Carson, Colorado, the Army has billited a fully uniformed assault unit on twenty-four hour alert.
"Over the next 71 days...more than 500,000 rounds were fired" in Wounded Knee...
"Communicate this to whoever is in charge. We are operating under the Provisions of the 1868 Sioux Treaty. This is an act of war initiated by the United States. We are only demanding our country..."
I arrived at the airport in Chadron, Nebraska to bitter cold and blowing snow. It was a far cry from the 65 degree temperature that I had left in Phoenix, Arizona only hours before. Bundled up as best I could, I ran outside to the waiting pickup that took me to meet Robert Quiver, Jr. in the town of Chadron. I attempted, in vain, to put my mind in the right place for my participation in the upcoming events that I knew would be historically significant.
I met Robert at a gas station in Chadron, and we made the trip to Pine Ridge, talking. We were catching up on each other's lives since we had last seen each other in November and talking about all the plans and events that were facing us over the next couple of days. We pulled into the driveway of a house in Pine Ridge and met with the Harmony Keepers, who, earlier that evening, had arrived from Los Angeles to provide their special brand of security, (what they refer to as "harmony") to the events that were to take place. The radio was tuned to KILI Radio, "Voice of the Lakota Nations", and the announcer was dedicating a recording of the AIM song in memory of Buddy Lamont, from members of his family. The room got quiet for a few moments, as I was sure everyone was reflecting on Buddy and his ultimate sacrifice, as the first few drum beats came over the air. Also present here were members of the Iroquois Confederacy who had traveled to South Dakota from New York to take part in the celebration. I remember thinking that the last time I saw "Mohawk"-style haircuts they were on the heads of some punk-rockers, but now, here they were adorning the scalps of these Northeastern Warriors.
It was about 11 p.m. by this time and people were visiting and preparing for some sleep when Robert and I headed out again. On our way to Porcupine for some rest also, we stopped at Wounded Knee, so that I could meet the Oglala Warriors that were there, setting up tipis, and maintaining the fire. A huge cooking pot was perched upon a horizontal wagon wheel over the fire, the steam from the cooking coffee inside creating a large cloud that drifted with the wind on this sub-zero night. A drum group, inside one of the lodges, was singing Lakota songs, as they would be, I was told, throughout the night. The snow was blowing and visibility was so low that even the lights around the grave site at the top of the hill were barely visible.
When we reached Porcupine, we were welcomed into the home of Floyd and Beldine White Eyes, Robert's Uncle and Auntie. We sat at the kitchen table, sipping hot coffee, enjoying the warmth of the wood stove, and talking and sharing laughs until near dawn.
Sleep was short, but excitement about the day's events, along with more of Beldine's coffee, got us going. KILI was again on the radio, but this time the voice of Edgar Bear Runner was on the air, reading a list of names of the veterans and supporters of the Wounded Knee Liberation. It was an honoring to them, and the names were read in alphabetical order, first those of the ones who had journeyed to the Spirit World, and then those who were surviving today.
Many of these names I recognized from stories, books, films and personal accounts shared with me about those days. Two names seemed to stick with me...Raymond Yellow Thunder and Wesley Bad Heart Bull. My first thought was why are these names being mentioned as they were not part of the occupation. Then it dawned on me with crystal clarity...these two men were part of the reason that AIM came to South Dakota in the first place; to demand justice in the judicial handlings of their respective killers' cases. It was appropriate that their memory be honored in this way.
The Sacred Runners had already begun the run to Wounded Knee after ceremony in Oglala at the graves of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash and Joseph Stuntz. The Memorial Riders had gathered in the four directions and the Four Directions Walkers had also begun to gather to start their walks and rides to Wounded Knee from their respective areas.
It was an incredibly cold day, this morning of February 27th. The temperature was 19 degrees and winds were at 35-40 miles per hour, blowing stinging snow and dropping the wind-chill factor into the negative 20's. Over the radio came advice reminding all within the sound of his voice that these were nearly the same conditions that Big Foot and his band of Minneconjou had been force-marched through by the Seventh Cavalry on their trek from present-day Porcupine to Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. Encouragement was offered to the walkers, riders and runners to not give up and to pray for and remember their ancestors who had suffered these conditions, themselves.
Upon my arrival at Wounded Knee the runners, riders and walkers were converging on this gathering of the people. At the grave site, on top of the hill, banners and streamers mixed with AIM flags and upside-down US flags stood, board-stiff, in the hard wind. People were gathering there, and above the howl of the blizzard, strong voices carried the AIM song down from the hill. I trudged my way up the hill and added my voice to song. When the song was finished, and the war cries, and trilling died off, the people began the descent down the hill to where the tipis were set up and where the speakers would be addressing the crowd.
I stayed on that hill for some time, alone, looking out over the landscape, saying silent prayers for the people, for those resting in this sacred place, and for my family. I made a tobacco offering in the name of my niece, Seipe Flood, in memory of her Grandmother, Elsie Flood, known to many Lakotas as the "Turtle Woman", and a strong supporter of the AIM and the Independent Oglala Nation.
Joining those at the bottom of the hill, I could hear the voices of the speakers as they stepped up to the microphone. Although I did not hear them all, the voices of Dennis Banks and Chief Oliver Red Cloud came through loud and clear. Chief Red Cloud told us that this was a beautiful day, with beautiful weather to celebrate this anniversary. A shiver that did not originate from the cold went up my spine when a dozen Oglala Warriors fired a rifle salute into the air for the veterans of the '73 liberation.
I thought to myself then, as I looked around at the crowd, that I would never forget this moment. I was 11 years old in 1973, what some of the elders call an "AIM baby", and I felt so honored to be in this place, with these people, at this time, that I felt my heart would literally burst.
When all had been said, people began to disperse to the warmth of their vehicles and drive to the Porcupine School where the Wacipi and Honorings were to take place. Hot food was served and the gymnasium at the school quickly filled to capacity. Among those being honored were Margaret Kuntsler, widow of AIM attorney, William Kuntsler, all living and deceased members of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee, and all veterans, living and deceased, of the Wounded Knee Liberation of 1973.
I sat, for most of the rest of that day, with the family of Edgar Bear Runner in the bleachers watching this event grow more and more throughout the day. I looked around at the crowd of people and smiled as I saw the faces of people I recognized. Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Dennis Bank, Russell Means, Grandma Ellen Moves Camp, Leonard Crow Dog, Rick Two Dogs, Charlene Teeters, Don Messec, Viola Hatch, Dorothy Ackerman, Edgar and Dennis Bear Runner, Steve Robideau, Regina Brave, Allen "Honky Killer" Cooper, Bill Zimmerman, Jim Stewart, Larry Leventhal and hundreds more that took part, in some way, in the Liberation of Wounded Knee, 25 years earlier were all in attendance. Talking, laughing, crying, singing and dancing to the traditional songs of the four drum groups who came and played for the wacipi, this was a place, indeed, where the healing of the Oglala Lakota Nation would begin.
On Saturday, February 28th, the people again gathered at the Little Wound School in Kyle, for an educational symposium and grass-roots musical tribute concert. The symposium was very successful, drawing a standing-room-only crowd. Speakers included many of the people mentioned from the gathering on the previous day, as well Lenny Foster, Winona LaDuke, Corrie Trimble, Robert Quiver, Jr., and a great many others.
As day turned again into evening, my place in this celebration came up. I had been asked by the organizers to function as the master of ceremonies for the AIM for Freedom Concert there. I gladly accepted their kind invitation and started to work with Margo Thunderbird and Lisa Ballinger in getting the line-up prepared. The concert, in itself, was outstanding. Music and spoken word filled the gymnasium at Little Wound to the cheers of approval from the approximately 1500 in attendance there.
Troubadours John Lurie, Dave "Redbird" Baker (a Wounded Knee Veteran), and the great Jim Page performed political songs of defiance, healing and love; the words of Margo Thunderbird and John Trudell brought remembrance and thought to the people; the statements, on behalf of Leonard Peltier, by Steve Robideau, Russ Redman, Dennis Banks and Marquetta Peltier renewed our strength in dedication to gaining freedom for our brother; Steve Emery and the band Golden Warrior brought the floor to life with the dancing of nearly all in attendance; the fluid guitar work of Nakeya was reminiscent of Carlos Santana; the International AIM Drum Corps, playing traditional Okinawan drums, brought thunder into that room; and the music of Apache rapper, Redsoul, not only drew the screams and dancing of the young, but also nods of approval from the older generations there, for his powerful and inspiring lyrics.
The concert was opened with a prayer for the people by Lakota Holy Man, Rick Two Dogs, and the smoking of the Sacred Pipe, loaded by the Societies of the Anishinabe Nation, and brought to South Dakota by Clyde Bellecourt. In this way, the spirituality ever-present in Indian society and life, was not forgotten. Welcomes to those in attendance were given by Corrie Trimble of the Lakota Student Alliance and Milo Yellow Hair, Vice-president of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
On this same night, another traditional wacipi was held in Manderson, with over 600 people in attendance. I am still amazed at the dedication and love of the over 2000 people who attended these events, from all over the world, in blizzard conditions.
I returned to my home in Arizona from this event renewed. Renewed in my dedication to the AIM and the struggles of the Indian people. Renewed in the faith that the healing of our Oglala relatives has begun. Renewed in the true spirituality and culture of Indian people, that is so often, these days, bought and sold by people who will never understand it.
I would like to thank Robert Quiver, Jr., the Bear Runner family, the White Eyes family, and everyone on the Pine Ridge Reservation who showed me the warmest hospitality that I could imagine. I pray for the brothers and sisters who could not be in attendance at this gathering, but whose thoughts and prayers were felt among those of us who were there. To my mentor and brother Vernon Foster...thank you for supporting me in this trip and thanks for all you continue to do for the people. To Raina....thanks for everything. To Wind...I hope you are well and safe.
To the people of the four directions and four colors...I have seen the beginnings of the healing. Help it continue....REMEMBER WOUNDED KNEE!
To the Independent Oglala Nation and their friends at Wounded Knee:
Your struggle for freedom and justice is our struggle. Our hearts are with you.
To the people of America:
The delivery of these packages of food to the courageous people in Wounded Knee is being carried out by a number of Americans who have worked, and continue to work, to end American agression in Indochina.
The buffaloes that gave life to the Sioux were killed by American rifles, just as the rice that gives life to the Vietnamese was destroyed by American chemicals and bombs. But the people of Indochina are moving steadily toward freedom and independence and so too are the people who were the first Americans.
Wounded Knee 1973 _ A Resolution
Wounded Knee 1973 _ A Commemoration
First Nations Cumulative Index
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