Part Of Wounded Knee Massacre Site To Be Sold

Wounded Knee
Part of the Wounded Knee massacre site, the scene of one of the worst attacks on Native Americans in U.S. history, may soon be sold to private interests, the BBC reports.

In 1890 in South Dakota, there were widespread fears among the white population that the Sioux were going to stage an uprising. A drought and insufficient government rations had led many Native Americans to the brink of starvation, and some had turned to the Ghost Dance religion, a revivalist faith that many whites interpreted as warlike.

The U.S. military tried to relocate the local Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation but one band refused to go and fled in the middle of the night. They were eventually tracked down to Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, the soldiers tried to disarm them. One Sioux refused to give up his gun. A soldier tried to grab it and it went off. The nervous whites then fired into the crowd.

In the ensuing battle 25 U.S. soldiers were killed, but the death toll among the Sioux was far higher. It’s unclear exactly how many were killed but estimates vary from 250 to 300, with at least half of them being women and children who hadn’t resisted. One mass grave, shown here, was used to bury 146 bodies.

Ever since that bloody day, the massacre site has been of deep significance to the Sioux and the Native American community in general. Little has been built there, however, and now a 40-acre plot that’s owned by someone outside the tribe is up for sale.

Some Sioux are calling on President Obama to make the land, already a National Historic Landmark, a National Monument, a status that would give it more federal funding and protection.

The landowner says that he has tried to sell the land to the tribe but was rebuffed. He’s giving the tribe until May 1 to come up with the $3.9 million price tag before he puts it on the open market. Sioux leaders say the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest regions in the country, has little money to spare and that the asking price is far above market price.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Photos of the Lakota: a lesson in culture and inclusion

In Mike’s post on he brought up the conflict one can experience in cultural tourism. He was prompted to write down his thoughts after visiting the Tiwi Islands in Australia. In the photo essay and interview in the New York Times,Behind the Scenes and Still Wounded” Aaron Huey, who found himself drawn into the terrible beauty of the Lakota tribe of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, Huey alludes to similar ideas.

It is impossible for people to develop an accurate impression of a culture in one visit.

Huey has spent the past five years photographing the Lakota who live in Manderson, one of Pine Ridge’s most impoverished towns. This process that has developed friendships that are as close as family and an understanding of the Lakota that few have been able to attain. But, even then, Huey’s experience has not brought him any closer to knowing the answer, “‘Who are the Lakota?'”

As he writes: In many ways, I feel like it is not my question to answer. The Lakota are a people who have been wronged many times over. Coming from the dominant society and attempting to define them is a guaranteed failure for a white journalist. I have no right to define them.

Huey’s photos and essay, along with Mike’s musings, are a reminder that as we travel, we’re merely picking up tidbits of what a place is about.

What I think happens is that as we travel, we’re mostly finding out about who we are by looking through a lens of the “other.” If we arrive back home with a better understanding of who we are through our interactions and experiences, we’ve done well. To really know a place and what a particular culture is about takes years–and even then, it may not make us an expert.

Reading the interview with Huey and looking at the images he captured in Manderson is one place to start on a journey of trying to understand the complexities of the Lakota. It certainly gives an insight into Huey.

(The Hamner Photos image was taken on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Click here for more of them. From what I can tell, they were taken as part of a work camp to build houses on the reservation, just a Band-aid to the poverty problem, according to Huey.)