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American Indian Movement

Wounded Knee

The tiny village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, is the historic site of an infamous 1890 massacre of Native Americans (the last) by the U.S. Cavalry. The original site and burial ground became part of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in that state.

In 1973, about 200 members of the local Oglala Lakota Indians, led by AIM members, seized the village of Wounded Knee (a Catholic church, trading post, and post office) and declared it to be an independent nation. Their single demand was the return of the Great Sioux Nation (a sovereign parcel of real estate comprising the entire western half of South Dakota) allegedly promised to them by the United States in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Just prior to this development, on the nearby Pine Ridge reservation, tribal council president Dick Wilson (a Native American) had secured a tribal council order prohibiting AIM members from attending or speaking at reservation meetings or public gatherings. He considered AIM members to be lawless misfits bent on agitating the populace. AIM members, in return, accused Wilson of nepotism, corruption, and mismanagement of tribal monies. A group of Wilson supporters, locally referred to as the "goon squad," began harassing and threatening AIM members. The Lakota Indians invited AIM to meet with their group, and both decided to take a stand at Wounded Knee. At this point, the federal government, including the BIA, remained neutral, claiming the stand-off was an internal tribal dispute.

However, when AIM occupiers built fortifications and took up arms and munitions, both Wilson and the federal government (FBI, U.S. MARSHALS, and BIA police) moved in. In the well-publicized 71-day occupation that followed, two AIM members were killed. Ultimately, AIM leaders negotiated a "peace pact" with the government stipulating that the activists would be treated fairly and that the federal government would conduct a fair review of several treaties.

Although the immediate stand-off was defused, tensions between Wilson's goon squad and AIM members continued over the next several years. Dozens of AIM members, including early founding members Russell Means and DENNIS BANKS, were indicted on dozens of charges related to the Wounded Knee standoff, but the charges were ultimately dropped when a federal judge acknowledged spurious activity and involvement by the FBI.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Air weapon to Approximation of lawsAmerican Indian Movement - History, Alcatraz, Trail Of Broken Treaties, Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge, Later Years