SIOUX FALLS -- Aside from brief confrontations between federal officials and American Indian Movement leaders, a two-day conference that brought together all sides of the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation went fairly smoothly.
Until the final session.
That's when former AIM leader Russell Means lashed out at an audience member who asked about Ray Robinson, a black civil rights activist who traveled to Wounded Knee in 1973 and was never seen alive again.
"I'm going to tell you this — no charges from 1974 to 2002. Did anyone hear of Ray Robinson? Did anyone ever shoot him, stab him, beat him or disappear him?" Means said. "It was a generation later that the badmouthing of Wounded Knee continues. You and people like you are to perpetuate this erroneous image you have of who we are. And I'm sick and tired of you bringing up these false accusations, based on what? Nothing!"
Robinson's wife, Cheryl Buswell-Robinson, flew to Sioux Falls from Detroit to attend the conference examining the 40th anniversary of the Wounded Knee uprising in hopes of finding out where her husband is buried. She took to the stage on Friday, pleading with anyone with information to share where her husband may be. Black and white photocopies of a picture of Ray Robinson from 1971 were passed out to guests.
Buswell-Robinson said she is not looking for arrests or prosecutions. She just wants to know where her husband's body is so she can give him a proper burial.
But Means expressed anger that AIM, which was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of American Indians and demand the government honor treaties with tribes, was being associated with Robinson and his disappearance.
"You people who want to continue to put AIM in this certain pocket of illegality, I can't stand you people. I wish I was a little bit healthier and a little bit younger, because I wouldn't just talk," said Means, who recently recovered from cancer.
You have free articles remaining.
The confrontation came at the final session of the Dakota Conference at Augustana College in which AIM co-founders Clyde Bellecourt and Dennis Banks, as well as former Sen. Jim Abourezk, spoke about their recollections of AIM and Wounded Knee.
Abourezk said he flew into Rapid City on the first day of the 71-day takeover hoping to diffuse the situation. He met with AIM leaders until midnight that first night, when they agreed it was time to end the takeover, Abourezk said.
All AIM activists wanted, according to Abourezk, was to know what they were going to be charged with and how much the bond would be so they could tell their lawyers. He said he told an FBI official and then flew back to Washington D.C., thinking the occupation was over.
"But it went on for 70 more days ... The Indians were ready to end it. My guess is that the government did not want to end it," he said, adding that he believes an Interior Department official thought it made the Nixon administration look good to combat Native Americans.
Earlier in the day, David Price, one of the FBI agents who worked on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation during the 1970s, said he was used as a scapegoat by AIM to grab headlines.
Price stood firm in his belief that the FBI did nothing wrong during the period, saying, "You can't fight with me over something that I didn't do or that I wouldn't ever want to hurt anyone with. Part of the problem is that, I don't know what the problem is. You live there. I don't. Now I'm babbling. I've been gone since 1977."
He said he wants the best for the people of the reservation but will never return.
"I don't want to go near it," Price said. "It would be a disaster for me. But I wish you well."