Wounded Knee Protest of 1973

Jun 18, 2019

I n 1890, 200 to 300 Sioux Indians were massacred by the American cavalry in Wounded Knee. It was the conflict that ended the Indian Wars. Although the war has ended, conflict and oppression continued for Native Americans. Racism and poverty persisted for them as their sacred lands were exploited. Less than a century later, another momentous event took place at Wounded Knee. The Wounded Knee Protest of 1973 is a response to their worsening situation under the tribal chairman Dick Wilson. The Wounded Knee Protest of 1973 is the result of discontent of many Native Americans toward one of their own leaders. Many members of the Sioux were dissatisfied with Wilson’s leadership at that time. He was perceived as corrupt and an advocate of assimilation of Native Americans. They tried to get him impeached, but it was dismissed. The Oglala Sioux tribal members enlisted the help of the militant civil rights activist American Indian Movement (AIM) to impeach their tribal chairman Dick Wilson. The AIM suggested a siege of the historical Wounded Knee to demand the change they want. 

The AIM, with other Native Americans, occupied Wounded Knee from February 27, 1973 to May 7, 1973. They made their demands known: to recognize the “Independent Oglala Sioux Nation,” change tribal leaders, review all Indian Treaties, for the US Senate to investigate the treatment of Native Americans. The militant group held the town hostage, and was immediately surrounded by Federal Marshals and the National Guard. Despite the danger, the militant group staged numerous events for TV crews. The Wounded Knee Protest attracted attention from both national and international audiences. Eventually, the government cut off the electricity and water to Wounded Knee. The siege started to resemble the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 when sympathizer, Bill Zimmerman, dropped food and supplies. As soon as the 2,000-pound food dropped, starved occupiers ran out to grab food and supplies. Federal agents shot at them. Two Native Americans died and numerous others were wounded. The siege finally ended when the US government finally agreed to review the Indian treaties and their requests.

Native Americans sacrificed countless lives at Wounded Knee Protest, yet for many, it cannot be considered a triumph. No immediate reforms were implemented after the 1973 protest, and although it did bring the Native Americans’ plight at the forefront of the news, it worsened the oppression that plagued them. The violence inflicted by authorities, especially toward AIM members, persisted. What residents of Wounded Knee called the “reign of terror,” which involved disappearances, tormented them for years.  

Today, the wounds left by the Wounded Knee Protest in 1973 have not healed. To say that the fight for Native Americans is not yet over is an understatement. The deaths of Oglala Sioux tribal officials after Wounded Knee Protest have not seen justice. The younger generations of the Oglala Sioux tribe continues the fight started by their grandparents. The events in Wounded Knee are not simply history repeating itself, but a people demanding the rights that continues to be denied. 

 The Oglala Sioux tribe is not the only ones who experience oppression, all Native Americans are fighting racism and poverty as well as facing their own problems. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is also fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline which will only exploit Native American sacred lands and pollute the community’s main source of water. Like the protesters at Wounded Knee in 1973, these water protectors have had to endure attacks from the US government. More than four decades after the Wounded Knee Protest, the rights of Native Americans are still not recognized and honored by the US government.

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