2016 marks the 43rd anniversary of the 1973 occupaton of Wounded Knee.
This information is provided as a tool to help the user determine the historical context and significance of the events discussed. Information has been aggregated from academic journals, reference books, online databases, and newspaper articles.
Originally intended as a peaceful demonstration for Lakota rights, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) staged a protest in the town of Wounded Knee, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.1 For the organizers, the Lakota people, and historians, the community has great significance. Eighty-three years earlier, in 1890, Wounded Knee was the site of a major clash between the Lakota and the United States Army. This original event is considered the end of the Indian Wars.
In 1973, the community on the Pine Ridge Reservation was deeply divided along political and cultural lines. Some community members asserted that the tribal chairman had abused his power by placing the tribal police force under his direct command and using violence and threats to intimidate community members who opposed his vision. The chairman's supporters argued that he was working to preserve law and order on the reservation. At the time, AIM members had occupied several other towns to protest racism and discrimination against Native Americans. When invited to Pine Ridge hundreds of AIM activists responded.
From what I understood at the time, there were many people passionate about making a dramatic stand at Wounded Knee that would highlight everything we as Oglala Lakota and generally, Indigenous people everywhere, were suffering with and fighting against. --An excerpt from an oral history entitled, "Grassroots Memories of a Teenage Girl 1973" provided by Ethleen Iron Cloud-Two Dogs.
Declaring themselves representatives of the leaders of the Oglala Nation, AIM members seized the town of Wounded Knee in February 1973. Heading the protest were AIM leaders whose goals included recognition of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty with the Sioux Nation, the removal of the tribal council, and new elections. The 71-day occupation attracted national media coverage and reawakened a national debate over the treatment of American Indians throughout the United States.
Government officials and members of the Guardians of the Oglala Nation secured roadblocks to prevent access to the area declared by the protesters to be an Independent Oglala Nation. Escalating tensions led to gunfire and violence. Two people were killed from gunshot wounds, 15 were wounded, and one federal officer was injured.2 After a series of negotiations, the occupation ended on May 8, 1973 with 237 arrests as well as the arraignment of AIM leaders.
On May 5th, an agreement was reached calling for a meeting on treaty rights between Native American leaders and government officials. A meeting was held on May 30th, but officials from President Nixon's administration declined to hold further discussions. The subsequent trials of AIM leaders attracted national attention.
The occupation of Wounded Knee was a significant moment of Native American activism. Decades after the siege, the story remains controversial among many Native Americans.
1. Kessel, William B., and Robert Wooster, eds. "American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee." Encyclopedia of Native American Wars and Warfare. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. American Indian History Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. Feb. 2013.
2. Blackhawk, Ned. "Wounded Knee (1973)." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 8. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 560-561. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. Feb. 2013.
Links & Resources
-Digital Archive of Wounded Knee news and media coverage, organized by date
-Wounded Knee Collection in the digital archives - includes historic newspaper articles
-Denver Public Library Archives Photo Collection of black and white photographs
-Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement - article from The Atlantic by
-Occupation of Wounded Knee Is Ended - newspaper article from the New York Times by Andrew H. Malcolm
-The FBI Files on the American Indian Movement and Wounded Knee
We Shall Remain Episode V: Wounded Knee (documentary film)
They Called Me Uncivilized : the memoir of an everyday Lakota man from Wounded Knee by Walter Littlemoon
American Indian Mafia : an FBI agent's true story about Wounded Knee, Leonard Peltier, and the American Indian Movement (AIM) by Joseph H. Trimbach and John M. Trimbach
Viet Cong at Wounded Knee : the trail of a Blackfeet activist by Woody Kipp
A Tattoo on My Heart: warriors of Wounded Knee 1973 (documentary film)
Like a Hurricane: the Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee by Paul Chaat Smith & Robert Allen Warrior
Wounded Knee II by Rolland Dewing
Renegades : the second battle of Wounded Knee by Susan L.M. Huck
Wounded Knee 1973: a personal account by Stanley David Lyman
Airlift to Wounded Knee by Bill Zimmerman
Voices from Wounded Knee, 1973: in the words of the participants