Lakota activists: Buy Wounded Knee, face protests

2013-04-28T18:30:00Z 2013-05-01T12:59:08Z Lakota activists: Buy Wounded Knee, face protestsDaniel Simmons-Ritchie Journal staff Rapid City Journal

The potential sale of one of the most historically notorious sites in South Dakota history could come with the state's biggest caveat: buy Wounded Knee and plan to build there, and face the wrath of protesters.

That message is being sent by Native American activists as a Rapid City man prepares to sell a 40-acre parcel at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. The property, located in the heart of the Pine Ridge Reservation, is in the vicinity of where 300 Native Americans were killed by the U.S. military on Dec. 29, 1890.

Tensions have been simmering in Indian Country ever since the landowner, James Czywczynski, 75, announced his plan to sell the land two months ago. Czywczynski offered to sell the parcel, and another in Porcupine Butte, to the Oglala Lakota Nation for $4.9 million dollars. If they didn't buy before May 1, he warned, he would sell to the highest private bidder.

Tribal officials have consistently scorned the price and deadline, which they view as bordering on extortion. The properties have a combined value of about $14,000, according to an appraisal by Shannon County.

Now, with the May 1 deadline only days away and no tribal deal in sight, some Lakota are offering their own warning to Czywczynski:

"This is our backyard; this is our homeland," said Garfield Steele, a tribal representative. "This has historical value for our people, not to any non-Indian. We will fight to keep it, as is, by all means."

Steele said that opposition could include protests to stop the land from being converted into a tourist attraction. Many Lakota oppose commercial development because they see it as an exploitation of a tragedy.

Protests promised

The land is currently desolate prairie, but it formerly hosted a trading post and several houses owned by Czywczynski before they were burned down during a protest by Native Americans in 1973.

Don Cuny, 61, a member of the American Indian Movement and a protester in 1973, pledged to stage a sit-in if the land was developed. "I'm totally against it," he said. "And I know I'm not the only one."

Czywczynski's offer, and the controversy surrounding it, has attracted national and international attention. Over the past month, he has conducted interviews with the New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Asked on Friday whether he was concerned about protests, Czywczynski was nonchalant. "Let them protest," he said Friday. "I don't care."

Czywczynski reiterated that he believed the tribe had ample money to meet his $4.9 million list price.

He said that the price was fair given the potential for the tribe to convert it into a commercial venture. Before his trading post was burned down in 1973, he said, it was a profitable endeavor that attracted busloads of tourists each week.

"They just wanted to see Indian land, the mass grave, they wanted to buy arts and crafts," he said. "A lot of people are just interested in Indians and Indian culture."

Czywczynski said he has been contacted by five parties who want to purchase his parcel: Two California investment groups, an overseas investor, an American who offered $1 million in cash, and a group in Wall that wants to raise grant money to buy the land and gift it to the Lakota.

Czywczynski said he told each party that he won't consider any offers until after May 1. He also said he would only sell the Wounded Knee parcel and the other parcel, located at Porcupine Butte, as a package deal and for no less than $4.9 million.

Legal action possible?

Beyond protests, some Lakota hope to stop the sale by different means. Nathan Blindman, a descendant of one of the survivors of the 1890 massacre, wants to take it to the courts.

Blindman said the Bureau of Indian Affairs made a mistake when it approved the original sale of land from its Lakota owners to a non-native couple in 1930. That couple, the Gildersleeve family, sold the property to Czywczynski in 1968.

The agency is required to approve sales of Indian land to private buyers. Blindman, pointing to documents from the 1930 sale, said that the agency neglected to consider the property's historical value and didn't consult tribal leaders.

"It's always been suspicious how part of the Wounded Knee Massacre site fell into the hands of non-Indians," he said. "That's always been a question."

He said the federal government should step in to return the land to the Lakota.

But Frank Pommersheim, a law professor at the University of South Dakota, said the courts are unlikely to be convinced by that argument.

Pommersheim said if the Bureau of Indian Affairs incorrectly appraised the value of the property in 1930, it was likely that too much time had passed to challenge it under the statute of limitations.

"Even assuming that to be true, it's difficult to know what could be done in the year 2013," he said.

Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, based in Minnesota, also believes that Blindman's legal challenge would be a long shot.

However, he said he believes the commercial potential of the property has been heavily over-hyped. He doubts that Czywczynski will ever get the $4.9 million he is seeking.

"He's done everything he can to pitch the thing and keep the media hype up," he said. "Don't get me wrong, Wounded Knee is an important site for Lakota people, at the same time, lets get real, it's not as though this is a developable property in any significant way."

Fears were high that a buyer would convert the land into a casino or hotel. But Stainbrook said, given the site's proximity to a mass burial, he just couldn't see it.

"If someone's going to make a Disneyland type of attraction, what's the theme going to be?" he said. "I'm trying to envision who would be so crass to make much of a tourist attraction."

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(35) Comments

  1. Troy_H
    Report Abuse
    Troy_H - June 27, 2013 2:02 am
    By the way, my name is Troy Hendrickson, I come from a town called Boone, Iowa.

    I know you believe that whites have no place on your land or world, and I respect that.

    But this white man agrees with you, my only desire for your land is to return it to you to do as you wish. I have an interest in learning about your culture, but I am not so foolish as to believe I could become one of you, but we can always grow in our understanding of each other.
  2. Troy_H
    Report Abuse
    Troy_H - June 27, 2013 1:45 am
    How could the government sell something that was stolen? Can I steal your car and sell it? How about we sell the grave your parents lie in for development, that wouldn't be any different would it?
  3. Troy_H
    Report Abuse
    Troy_H - June 27, 2013 1:42 am
    I had never been ashamed to call myself an American until I went to Wounded Knee. Nothing in my world has been right since returning. I am sorry for what was done to your people, I know that sounds hollow and meaningless to you, but it comes from my heart. If I could, I would give you back your lands, and the wealth that was ripped from it and return it to you, and if the time came, I would stand with you, and die with you if allowed that honor.

  4. Troy_H
    Report Abuse
    Troy_H - June 27, 2013 1:00 am
    I have never heard anyone state that the Big Horn site is sacred to America before, and to try and call it such is just plain stupid. There was no honor for America in any of it's dealings with the native peoples, it's one of the most depraved, revolting periods in our nations history for which we have never repented and most certainly have never atoned for. Any American who thinks what we did and are doing to the native people is honorable or just, or tries to make excuses for it represents a mind that is wholly given to evil.
  5. Magaska
    Report Abuse
    Magaska - May 09, 2013 3:24 pm
    Ignorance is bliss before the whiteman came over here no one owed any land..thats concept came here with the white man...tribes, bands familys occupied areras but ownership was an unknown mentality...Natives dont have the same value system whites do...That land is sacred land...those 7th calvery soilders had it comming to them...We will fight to protect or sacred site...PS not all people on the Noth American continet came across the bering straight...
  6. nobodyspecial
    Report Abuse
    nobodyspecial - May 05, 2013 4:58 am
    @IronShield

    I'm not debating whether or not either side was right or wrong, but now that you bring it up, as history shows there were men in the 7th attempting to escape and were summarily executed.

    But the Little Big Horn site is sacred to us. The reservation in MT is making money hand over fist off the tourists. In the case of the WK site, the time for debating title to the land is long over. The man rightfully owns it and whatever he does with it or whomever he sells it to is his choice. If someone agrees to buy it at the price he asks, fine. If not, fine. Either way it is his decision alone. Obviously the government is not worried about the sale or else they would eminent domain it and turn it into a national memorial like LBH.

    The Sioux claim their land was stolen, but if I'm not mistaken the Sioux were not the original owners of the land. How did the Sioux come upon the land? Did they trade beads or buffalo hides for it? Did they otherwise barter for it? OR did they fight another tribe for it? If we want to get into the title of the land, let's not just stop at the 1930s. Let's go back further, say to the time of the Bering Land Bridge and archeologically figure out who originally settled the land.
  7. Ironshield34
    Report Abuse
    Ironshield34 - May 04, 2013 5:43 am
    @nobodyspecial well first Custer met his end against warriors as for wounded knee and that seventh Calvary massacred women and children and old men who were basically unarmed as for the battle of greasy grass was both had guns!! As u should know though Custer was called son of the morning star which he received for attacking in the morning he always massacred women and children when he finally met real warriors he was demolished!!
  8. nobodyspecial
    Report Abuse
    nobodyspecial - May 02, 2013 10:22 pm
    One more question... if the tribe is in such poor financial condition, why are they not legalizing alcohol and taxing the sale... after all White Clay doesn't sell 5 million cans of beer a year to White Clay residents. The tribe has to deal with the problems with alcoholism, why not make a profit off it and then when something like this comes up, they can go to the landowner with a check for $3 million and after a while sitting on it, he will give in.
  9. nobodyspecial
    Report Abuse
    nobodyspecial - May 02, 2013 10:18 pm
    Anyone ever been to the Crow Indian Reservation, just south of Crow Agency, MT? Nothing special, kind of a bland, plain, flat area. Nothing really grows there other than tumbleweeds and sagebrush. Typical southern Montana landscape. But this happens to be the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, or the Custer Battlefield.

    The battlefield itself is actually a national monument, but the area around it is reservation land. This reservation land around the battlefield is dotted with presumably tribal/native owned businesses. There's even a casino nearby.

    The elimination of the 7th Calvary was a massacre. Everyone in Custer's regiment died. Now some 135 years later, the ancestors of his killer(s) are making a killing on the tourists that come through to the monument.

    Now my question is this: Why the double standard? Why is it acceptable for tribes in Montana to make a profit from that massacre, but if a non-native attempts to make a profit off the Wounded Knee land, he faces protests and rebuke.

  10. BHHorse
    Report Abuse
    BHHorse - May 02, 2013 3:14 pm
    Wounded Knee is already exploited. Money is being made off it from Indian people who live in that area. They sell their goods to the tourists. They depend on the tourists money. How is that different from this guy trying to sell his land to investors?
  11. Black Hawk
    Report Abuse
    Black Hawk - May 02, 2013 10:08 am
    After reading your reply, I didn't see an answer to my question. How many acres should be set aside? Where is the boundary? Would a portion of his 40 acres be satisfactory? These are questions that need to be discussed and negotiated with the landowner. Perhaps, that could bring the price within reach. While your points are well written, what troubles me that they boil down to a native vs. non-native narrative. I don't see how that advances your cause. Change is the only constant, in the universe. I'd like to point out that the Black Hills Crazy Horse Memorial has a gift shop and is being created by non-whites.
  12. Magaska
    Report Abuse
    Magaska - May 01, 2013 5:52 pm
    Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality


    WHEREAS we are the conveners of an ongoing series of comprehensive forums on the abuse and exploitation of Lakota spirituality; and

    WHEREAS we represent the recognized traditional spiritual leaders, traditional elders, and grassroots advocates of the Lakota people; and

    WHEREAS for too long we have suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian "wannabes," hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled "New Age shamans" and their followers; and

    WHEREAS with horror and outrage we see this disgraceful expropriation of our sacred Lakota traditions has reached epidemic proportions in urban areas throughout the country; and

    WHEREAS our precious Sacred Pipe is being desecrated through the sale of pipestone pipes at flea markets, powwows, and "New Age" retail stores; and

    WHEREAS pseudo-religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony "sweatlodges" and "vision quest" programs; and

    WHEREAS sacrilegious "sundances" for non-Indians are being conducted by charlatans and cult leaders who promote abominable and obscene imitations of our sacred Lakota sundance rites; and

    WHEREAS non-Indians have organized themselves into imitation "tribes," assigning themselves make-believe "Indian names" to facilitate their wholesale expropriation and commercialization of our Lakota traditions; and

    WHEREAS academic disciplines have sprung up at colleges and universities institutionalizing the sacrilegious imitation of our spiritual practices by students and instructors under the guise of educational programs in "shaminism;" and

    WHEREAS non-Indian charlatans and "wannabes" are selling books that promote the systematic colonization of our Lakota spirituality; and

    WHEREAS the television and film industry continues to saturate the entertainment media with vulgar, sensationalist and grossly distorted representations of Lakota spirituality and culture which reinforce the public's negative stereotyping of Indian people and which gravely impair the self-esteem of our children; and

    WHEREAS individuals and groups involved in "the New Age Movement," in "the men's movement," in "neo-paganism" cults and in "shamanism" workshops all have exploited the spiritual traditions of our Lakota people by imitating our ceremonial ways and by mixing such imitation rituals with non-Indian occult practices in an offensive and harmful pseudo-religious hodgepodge; and

    WHEREAS the absurd public posturing of this scandalous assortment of psuedo-Indian charlatans, "wannabes," commercial profiteers, cultists and "New Age shamans" comprises a momentous obstacle in the struggle of traditional Lakota people for an adequate public appraisal of the legitimate political, legal and spiritual needs of real Lakota people; and

    WHEREAS this exponential exploitation of our Lakota spiritual traditions requires that we take immediate action to defend our most precious Lakota spirituality from further contamination, desecration and abuse;

    THEREFORE WE RESOLVE AS FOLLOWS:

    1. We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

    2. We call upon all our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota brothers and sisters from reservations, reserves, and traditional communities in the United States and Canada to actively and vocally oppose this alarming take-over and systematic destruction of our sacred traditions.

    3. We urge our people to coordinate with their tribal members living in urban areas to identify instances in which our sacred traditions are being abused, and then to resist this abuse, utilizing whatever specific tactics are necessary and sufficient --for example demonstrations, boycotts, press conferences, and acts of direct intervention.

    4. We especially urge all our Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to take action to prevent our own people from contributing to and enabling the abuse of our sacred ceremonies and spiritual practices by outsiders; for, as we all know, there are certain ones among our own people who are prostituting our spiritual ways for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the spiritual well-being of the people as a whole.

    5. We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any "white man's shaman" who rises from within our own communities to "authorize" the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians; all such "plastic medicine men" are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

    6. We urge traditional people, tribal leaders, and governing councils of all other Indian nations, to join us in calling for an immediate end to this rampant exploitation of our respective American Indian sacred traditions by issuing statements denouncing such abuse; for it is not the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people alone whose spiritual practices are being systematically violated by non-Indians.

    7. We urge all our Indian brothers and sisters to act decisively and boldly in our present campaign to end the destruction of our sacred traditions, keeping in mind our highest duty as Indian people: to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for our future generations, so that our children and our children's children will survive and prosper in the sacred manner intended for each of our respective peoples by our Creator.

  13. Magaska
    Report Abuse
    Magaska - May 01, 2013 5:49 pm
    The only reason the property value is way up is becouse its next to The Wounded Knee site...Anyone who is interested in it is only interested in exploiting the site...We do not want it to be a tourist trap..Is there anything sacred to you people? Everything is about money...What I said stands...This is Indian Country we do not need Non-Indians dictating to us what to do with the little bit of land we have left.....James Swan U.U.W.S.
  14. Black Hawk
    Report Abuse
    Black Hawk - May 01, 2013 11:54 am
    Serious question: Where does the sacred land end? I assume that there is a point where you will concede that it's outside of the sacred place. There should be a discussion about where that line is and what should be done within it. Just a suggestion and not criticism.
  15. Magaska
    Report Abuse
    Magaska - May 01, 2013 7:49 am
    This man and the perspective buyers ( if they are non-native) needs to understand this is sacred land! and a sacred place! and if they think for one minute they are going to do whatever the wish then they are fools...it dosent matter what the law say's this is where our sacred hoop was broken! and this is where it will be mended!...we will make a stand and fight this and we will win...no matter what..Hoka Hey!
  16. Iktomi chepa
    Report Abuse
    Iktomi chepa - April 30, 2013 3:54 pm
    They need to come home!
  17. Iktomi chepa
    Report Abuse
    Iktomi chepa - April 30, 2013 3:50 pm
    There has been so many wrongs, to us! Even after death, dang! Russell was so right, when he wanted to be creamated, As I heard the topic among the SiTanka Wokisuye spiritual ride..."the takini should bring them home, because ppl are trying to make money off of our dead relatives"
  18. Just-out45
    Report Abuse
    Just-out45 - April 30, 2013 3:24 pm
    Being from Cankpe Opi (Wounded knee creek) my family wont just let outsider into make money off our ancestors pain.
    Tonite we are going to white clay to shut down the bars. Its the 31st, checks are coming out and there will be alot of people trying to go over the boreder for liquor. Im alcohol free living on the rez.
  19. FlipSide
    Report Abuse
    FlipSide - April 30, 2013 10:25 am
    Mato- In case you haven't read the previous articles regarding this issue. The insurance company already covered the damages that happened during the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. Point being, Mr. Czywczynski isn't owed anything; other than the ludacris price he's asking for.
  20. soos mum
    Report Abuse
    soos mum - April 30, 2013 8:42 am
    Isn't it time that the government recognised the rights of the Native Americans that they have continually trampled on? Huge amounts of compensation have never been paid and land that has been illegally taken, such as Black Hills, not returned. Even failing to help those that are suffering thanks to incompetent and uncaring administration.
  21. ladykc1997
    Report Abuse
    ladykc1997 - April 30, 2013 8:18 am
    It states in the article that Shannon County appraised BOTH areas to be sold at only $14,000. THAT, I am sure the tribe can do, but $4 mil???? GET REAL!

    I may be a "wasichu" in color, but I am red at heart, being married to a Native American, and I was raised in SD. I am ready and willing to come home and fight for the tribe on this one!

    I don't have that kind of money, but am willing to help in any way I can.
  22. wild_indian2013
    Report Abuse
    wild_indian2013 - April 30, 2013 3:23 am
    HA! Like anyone gives a iota of serious concern about this. Pay the man or shut your pie hole. The Pine Ridge Tribe had ample time to either buy the land or remain in total ignorance to todays world. Maybe next time, some one can explain the theory of untested economy in a Jewish economic take-over of America. Much like Germany. The Jewish said they wanted Germany and declared war on Germany in 1933. Why this matters? If the Pine Ridge tribe knew the historical value of their burial grounds, prior to 1973? Even after that. they sought nothing. Now? Pay the man his 4.9 mill and stay happy.
  23. 1stDownDash
    Report Abuse
    1stDownDash - April 29, 2013 7:43 pm
    I wonder if Mr.Czywczynski's property is assessed at $4.9M? If he really believes that his tracts of land are worth nearly $5M then he should pay property taxes to reflect that inflated value.
  24. urraca
    Report Abuse
    urraca - April 29, 2013 1:12 pm
    Our government is broke.
  25. Matowatakpe
    Report Abuse
    Matowatakpe - April 29, 2013 11:00 am
    that's personal property, and AIM torched his house and stole from him & AIM never reimbursed him for his loss. As a land owner, where does it say you have to be you have to be sympathetic to another persons feelings? that's just business, and the tribe operates the same way.
  26. Jason
    Report Abuse
    Jason - April 29, 2013 10:01 am
    Instead of protest why not just buy the land? Or perhaps try to partner up with a government entity at the federal or state level to buy the property and turn it into a memorial?
  27. Jason
    Report Abuse
    Jason - April 29, 2013 10:00 am
    The moderator of this board may not realize it, but "Wasicu" is a type of racial slur.
  28. Roland
    Report Abuse
    Roland - April 29, 2013 9:35 am
    Super!
  29. Magaska
    Report Abuse
    Magaska - April 29, 2013 8:57 am
    Yes Really!...
  30. Observer
    Report Abuse
    Observer - April 29, 2013 7:48 am
    Paleface invaders? Really?
  31. Walks 1-Step Back
    Report Abuse
    Walks 1-Step Back - April 29, 2013 6:57 am
    When blood and soil mix I often observe the land and people left behind in conflict. Por favor, know the system here is apartheidesque.
  32. tyz
    Report Abuse
    tyz - April 28, 2013 7:45 pm
    If he does get it sold to outside developers - they still have to GET THERE - don't they? Many things could be done regarding use of the road........... through reservation lands.
  33. Michele6933
    Report Abuse
    Michele6933 - April 28, 2013 11:03 am
    What do you think would be the response of the white population if the Lakotas built a casino and a pow_wow area all around the Tomb Of The Unknowns ?
    The Wasicu with the unpronounceable name is claiming ownership of Sioux Land , next to a cemetery of Natives, murdered by Paleface invaders . The decent thing to do is to give back the land to the true original inhabitants, with an apology for the past thieveries and abuses .
  34. Magaska
    Report Abuse
    Magaska - April 28, 2013 9:34 am
    "United Urban Warrior Society" Supports all protest against this sale 100%.
  35. Birdie333
    Report Abuse
    Birdie333 - April 28, 2013 9:33 am
    You've got one man already trying to make a (grotesque) capitalistic venture - why would you think there wouldn't be others? Because it's crass? Many capitalistic ventures have done far worse damage than than simply being "crass".
    If this property was sold under false or illegal pretense, there should be concerted effort to make this right.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick