Opinions are divided in the Native American community over an offer by movie star Johnny Depp to buy land at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre and give it back to the Lakota.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe said Wednesday that it had been contacted by Depp, who plays Tonto in the recently released movie "The Lone Ranger." Depp is offering to purchase a 40-acre parcel put on the market by James Czywczynski, 76, Rapid City.

For months, Czywczynski's sale plans have riled emotions on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Czywczynski wants $3.9 million for the parcel, where the U.S. military killed 300 Lakota men, women, and children in 1890. He wants $1 million for an additional piece on Porcupine Butte, which he said is a package deal.

Tribal officials have repeatedly called Czywczynsk's price inflated to the point of extortion. Shannon County has appraised the combined value of the parcels at $14,000 by county appraisers.

But now Depp's offer has caused the Oglala to reassess their position.

"You see these celebrities with a lot of money and a lot of times you hear about the useless spending they do, this is something different, something that's unbelievable," said Garfield Steele, a council representative for the Wounded Knee District, who believes the tribe should take Depp's offer.

But others were less convinced. Nathan Blindman, a descendant of the survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre, said that, although Depp's offer is well-intentioned, the hearty profit that Czywczynski would make from the sale would be disrespectful to those who died.

"The bottom line is it's still selling the tragedy and violence," he said. "It's still making money off it, no matter who buys it."

In a profile for the Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, Depp said he was deeply interested in Native American issues and he was saddened, given the atrocities that occurred at Wounded Knee, that the Sioux didn't own Czywczynski's parcel.

He told the newspaper that he was doing his "best" to return the land to the Sioux.

Toni Red Cloud, a tribal spokeswoman said Thursday that president Bryan Brewer had met that morning with one group of descendants of the survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre to discuss Depp's offer. The tribe now plans to set up a meeting with Czywczynski.

Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, based in Minnesota, also expressed concerns about Depp's offer.

He said that if the tribe accepted, it could encourage other non-native landowners to inflate their prices when dealing with the tribe, especially if their land has historical value.

"Now every owner under the sun is going to think if you have land on the reservation that tribes are going to step up and pay through the nose for it, or someone's going to step up and pay through the nose for it," he said.

Similar fears were stoked in 2012 when Lakota tribes spent $9 million to purchase Pe' Sla, a sacred site in the west central Black Hills, from a non-native landowner. The site is crucial to Lakota cultural and spiritual beliefs. Stainbrook said he had hoped the Pe' Sla purchase was a one-off situation.

While he agreed that Depp has good intentions, Stainbrook said Depp's best approach would have been to privately offer a contribution to the Oglala and ask them how they could best use the money.

Instead of 80 acres, he said, the Oglala could use $4.9 million to buy thousands of acres of reservation land from non-natives.

"There's plenty of land not in Indian ownership that they could have used," he said.

Czywczynski, who lives in Rapid City, didn't return repeated calls on Thursday, but he told the Journal on Tuesday, before Depp's offer, that he was in negotiations to sell the land to one of two anonymous parties on the West Coast.

Czywczynski first put the land up for private sale on May 1, but offered the Oglala Sioux first right of purchase in February. The tribe rejected the offer because they didn't have the money and they were morally opposed to Czywczynski's high price.

Czywczynski has argued that the price is justified because of the tourism potential of the land and because it compensates him for property damage he suffered during protests in 1973. In that incident, drawing national media attention, Native American activists occupied land at Wounded Knee for 71 days, trading gunfire with a swarm of federal agents.

Czywczynski bought the land from a non-native couple in 1968. The couple purchased it from Lakota owners in 1930.

(17) comments


My opinion as of being part of the future generation of 'America' is that Mr. Christopher (Depp) should buy the land and give it back to the tribe. The OST does not need any more money, because all the money given to the Tribe does not go towards the community or the youth, instead it tends to disappear.
I'm speaking on behalf of the younger generations that, in the future would be so thankful for Depp buying the land and returning it.
But this is just my thought!


why isn't wounded knee massacre sight a historical monument such as the battle of the little big horn instead of being owned by some greedy guy...

Roger Cornelius

Unless you are an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, your opinions and comments are irrelevant!


lol really

Roger Cornelius


Yes, really!


but roger, since you aren't an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, you opinion about my opinion counting, doesn't count.

the whole truth

If Mr Depp gives cash to the Tribe, it would disappear into the pockets of the Council and their cronies. There would be no improvement to the Lives of most Tribe Members, history has shown us that without question. Perhaps making it a tourist attraction, like the Custer Battlefield would make some sense. Then there would be some Job opportunities created, and give some Tribe Members a chance to improve their lives, while helping the tourists understand the plight of the Sioux.


Czywczynski is a greedy sob. Depp should give the amount of money that Czywczynski wants for the land, to the Lakota. Maybe they could use some of it to fix up the reservation and keep the rest for future use.


In all honesty, do you think the tribe would really put that kind of money to good use?
I mean as being part if the younger generation I have not yet seen the tribe do anything to better the community. My thought is that, yes Depp should buy and return the land. At least us, the future generation would appreciate it! But that's just my thought. :)


This reminds me of the commercial where the little girl says we want more, we want more. Let Mr. Depp buy the land and give it back. Say Thank You and move on.

Rapid city girl

It appears that Depp is interested in helping the Lakota obtain that land, not other land, so him just giving them the money is ridiculous. They already said they wouldnt pay that price for the land even if they had the money.


lol just give them money..it seems to me that would be the worse case. natives been getting money but it seems it hasn't been getting put to good use"Sorry for being blunt",,but if mr depp wants to buy this and just GIVE it to the tribe then the the tribe should be greatful and honor the memorial/fix it up/take care of it..

boing boing

Did you actually read the article?? Don't know much about the tribal ways, do you.

boing boing

I agree with the dude from MN who suggesting having Depp give money directly to the tribes. But how should he do that? The State would then, somehow, manage to filch some of that for themselves and there's absolutely NO question about that. Depp is probably savvy enough to know that much about politics and playgrounds.

I think Depp should meet directly with Bryan Brewer and other Lakota Tribal Council members and talk it out and come to a decision that will benefit the tribal people as a whole. Let the guy from Rapid sell his land to someone for that inflated price, because he will anyway. Just let the Tribe stay out of it if they want no part of that type of transaction.

The only person who really makes money off a deal like this is the realtor.


Your wrong Roger. The deal will affect everyone in the vicinity. By paying such a huge price for land that is not worth anywhere near the asking price, all property in the vicinity will be taxed at a rate that the current landowners can't pay. They have to sell and some other rich sob comes in buys it for a song then turns around and tries to sell it for an inflated price. The interloper wins, the rancher, be native or white who worked and preserved the land gets nothing. The state will get a windfall and has no responsibility to use it to improve your situation. The carpetbaggers stuff their pockets and the tribe has land worth $14,000.00 that cost over 3 million. The deal is not good for the tribe or the ranchers in the area. The donation could be used in a more wise way that will help the living while preserving the Lakota way of life. Maybe Depp would be interested in buying Whiteclay and bulldozing it.

Roger Cornelius


First of all, I am not an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe so the "improve your situation" does not apply, people assume too much.

Land owned or purchased by the tribe or tribal members is not taxable, if land is taken out of trust by a non-member it would become taxable. Taking land out of trust is a difficult process and the federal government has an obligation to protect all transactions.

This is not a precedent setting purchase, not all land on the reservation has the historic significance as Wounded Knee or the greed of Mr. Czywczynski



When land is purchased, all land in the vicinity correspondently rises. The state than charges property taxes to reflect the inflated value. Most of the current owners of that land will not be able to afford the increase, so they will be forced to sell or forfeit part of their land to the state for unpaid taxes. The state then auctions the parcels off to the highest bidders: aka carpetbaggers for a fraction of the inflated cost. The state then adjusts the property tax to reflect the new sale price and the new owners than call sell the land for two or three times what they paid for it, then pocket a tidy profit. Meanwhile those that have lived and tolled on the land are left with nothing.
Wounded Knee is not going anywhere. It will always be there if not in the physical form, most certainly in the spiritual form. No price can erase that. Is it not the Native Americans that say: "no man owns the land, they are just stewards of the land".

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