Sample History Paper: Wounded Knee Protest of 1973

EssayHistory
Jun 18, 2019

The Wounded Knee Protest of 1973 garnered the attention of the U.S. media as it highlighted the persisting conflict between American Indians and non-native Americans. This conflict began during the colonial period as Europeans started to occupy American soil. American Indians originally lived in the country and believed that they had the rights to the land. However, European colonization succeeded and forced American Indians to either integrate into the new society or stay on land reservations. While there were agreements between American Indians and non-native Americans regarding land possession, conflict persisted, often leading to violence. The Wounded Knee Protest of 1973 showcased the American Indians’ desire for autonomy and to receive fair treatment from non-native Americans.

Conflict Between American Indians and Non-Native Americans

After the colonial era, American Indians became a minority. They lived on land reservations that the U.S. government granted them. Living on the reservations allowed American Indians to preserve their culture and tribal system. However, the establishment of certain government policies overturned some of the rights of the American Indians. For instance, the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 forced American Indian children to attend boarding schools (Pierce, n.d.). There were also Thomas Jefferson’s efforts in removing American Indians from certain areas to increase national security and economic growth (Landry, 2018b). Eventually, a termination policy allowed non-American Indians to access the reservations, causing competition for natural resources. These and other efforts that negatively affected American Indians made the group feel discriminated against and alienated. As the government created more policies, American Indians continued to lose their rights to their land and culture.

The American Indian Movement

American Indians engaged in activism to fight the injustice that they experienced. They started with non-violent protests, however, their efforts became more militant in the 1960s. During this time, American Indians felt that law enforcement officers were targeting and harassing them . To address the situation, Indian Patrol leaders established the American Indian Movement or AIM in 1968 (Pierce, n.d.; Wounded Knee, 2022). AIM led American Indian protests, advocating the rights of the group. They utilized media presence to spread their message and get the public's attention. Eventually, AIM became an influential organization in the American Indian community and raised controversies due to its radical methods. AIM members, along with other American Indians, would later join forces to occupy the Wounded Knee village.

Causes of the Wounded Knee Protest

There are various causes for the protest at Wounded Knee due to the persistent conflict between American Indians and the U.S. As mentioned earlier, American Indians felt that they are experiencing discrimination , especially from law enforcement officers, and new policies were driving them out of reservations. However, these are only some of the contributing factors to the events at Wounded Knee. Firstly, the Wounded Knee became a significant site for American Indians after the Battle of the Wounded Knee in 1890. The battle resulted in U.S. troops killing 200 Sioux men, women, and children (Hudson, 2021). This so-called massacre further ignited the conflict and turned Wounded Knee into a historic site that recorded the violence between the two groups. Therefore, the protest on the site acted as a tribute to the fallen Sioux members, as well as a testament that the American Indians were fighting for their rights.

Another cause is the stabbing and murder of Bad Heart Bull, a Lakota man, in 1973, the same year as the protest. According to Pierce (n.d.), the stabbing was the catalyst for the Wounded Knee Protest. While officials arrested the murderer, they released him after one day which enraged the American Indian Community, resulting in a protest. During the protest, officers arrested Bad Heart Bull’s mother, along with other activists, causing more uproar from the community. This was a relevant event at the time, highlighting the unfair treatment of the minority since the victim’s mother received a 3 to 5-year sentence while the murderer who pleaded guilty did not remain in jail.

AIM and other American Indian groups were also in opposition to Richard Wilson, the tribal chairman of Pine Ridge. Richard Wilson was a corrupt leader who used violence against his opponents and favored the interest of the government over the American Indians (Pierce, n.d.; Scott, 2008). Under his leadership, the American Indian community witnessed violent deaths, property destruction, arson, and other crimes that made them fear and despise Wilson. The American Indians’ collective opposition to the tribal chairman became a powerful agent in starting the Wounded Knee Protest. During the dialogue between the American Indians and the U.S. in Wounded Knee, the dismissal of Wilson was a relevant subject that aided in the successful negotiation.

Events During the Wounded Knee Protest

From February 27, 1973, until May 8, 1973, hundreds of American Indians occupied Wounded Knee. The occupants included AIM members, Oglala Sioux residents, tribal leaders, and medicine men (Scott, 2008). The Wounded Knee Protest lasted for two months or 71 days, garnering media attention. The occupants engaged in armed conflict against U.S. troops which involved tanks, jets, and military firearms (Norquist & Walsh, 2022). Despite the armed engagements, the protest only involved two Indian deaths and one federal marshal with serious injury (Pierce, n.d.; Norquist & Walsh, 2022). Other protesters and U.S. troops received minor wounds. Between these armed conflicts, the U.S. attempted various negotiations to end the protest peacefully.

The end of the Wounded Knee Protest was the result of a successful negotiation between the American Indians and the FBI. The FBI promised that they will investigate Wilson and other complaints which prompted the American Indians to surrender to authorities in groups (Pierce, n.d.; Landry, 2018a). Law enforcement officers arrested about 1,200 individuals, including AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks (Landry, 2018a). However, the Court dismissed their case after the discovery of the FBI’s manipulation of witnesses (Wounded Knee, 2022). Means did not go to jail while Banks spent time in prison for his participation in a different protest. Despite the American Indians’ surrender at Wounded Knee and their agreement with the FBI, the conflict between the two groups remained after the event.

After the Wounded Knee Protest

American Indians surrendered at Wounded Knee in hopes of Richard Wilson’s dismissal. However, Wilson remained tribal chairman until 1976. Russell Means even competed against Wilson. Unfortunately, the election involved murders, arson, and other criminal activities which contributed to Means’ failure (Pierce, n.d.). In 1975, another controversy began when two FBI agents died during a gunfight in Pine Ridge (Wounded Knee, 2022). Authorities conducted investigations that led to the arrest of an AIM leader. Even today, American Indians continue to experience discrimination and the events at Wounded Knee remain relevant. Some U.S. citizens, including Congress members, promote the revocation of awards to the soldiers in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 while others apologize for the ostracization that certain American Indians received in the 1970s.

Conclusion

The colonization of America led American Indians to lose their lands and culture. European colonization forced American Indians to integrate into society or endure living in small reservations. However, even those who integrated with colonial society received unfair treatment while those who remained loyal to their culture suffered more discrimination. The Wounded Knee Protest of 1973 was a result of the century of injustices that American Indians experienced under non-native Americans. The protest showcased the dedication of American Indians to their culture and their aspiration for equality.

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References

History.com. (2022). Wounded Knee. History. Available at https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/wounded-knee. Accessed: August 25, 2022.

Hudson, M. (2021). Wounded Knee Massacre. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre. Accessed: August 25, 2022.

Landry, A. (2018a). Native History: 71-Day Wounded Knee Occupation Ends. Indian Country Today. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/native-history-71-day-wounded-knee-occupation-ends. Accessed: August 25, 2022.

Landry, A. (2018b). Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Indian Removal Policy. Indian Country Today. Available at https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/thomas-jefferson-architect-of-indian-removal-policy. Accessed: August 25, 2022.

Norquist, C. & Walsh, L. (2022). The Occupation of Wounded Knee. South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Available at https://listen.sdpb.org/arts-life/2022-05-06/the-occupation-of-wounded-knee . Accessed: August 25, 2022.

Pierce, J. (n.d.). American Indian Activism and the Siege of Wounded Knee. Bill of Rights Institute. Available at https://billofrightsinstitute.org/essays/american-indian-activism-and-the-siege-of-wounded-knee. Accessed: August 24, 2022.

Scott, S. (2008). An Examination of the Causes of Wounded Knee 1973: A Case of Intra-tribal Conflict or Response to Federal Policies toward Indians? Historia. Available at https://www.eiu.edu/historia/Historia2008Scott.pdf. Accessed: August 24, 2022. 

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