Wounded Knee for Sale: Update
May 1, 2013 was a Wednesday like any other in South Dakota. If you were like me, you were expecting to hear some big announcement about the Wounded Knee land sale, being the last day for the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) of the Pine Ridge Reservation to buy the land. Instead, the day came and went without incident.
James Czywczynski has put up for sale a 40-acre tract of the Wounded Knee Massacre site, as well as a 40-acre tract near Porcupine Butte. He originally set May 1, 2013, as the deadline for OST to buy this historic land, after which time he intended to offer the land for sale to the general public.
Since OST did not purchase the land, I was anticipating a report by Czywczynski no later than May 2 that he sold Wounded Knee to a private interest. Yet, as of today, he remains the not-so-proud owner of this controversial site. While sources report the land is now listed on the open market, one source cites that Czywczynski is considering extending the deadline by a month, prior to a public sale of Wounded Knee.
You may be wondering why OST hasn’t jumped on the opportunity to buy back such hallowed ground. For one thing, Czywczynski has been uncompromising on his $4.9 million asking price, despite the assessed value of $14,000 for the two parcels. This may be, in part, linked to a Czywczynski backstory about property he lost during the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM).
Another factor is that Czywczynski mistakenly holds OST, one of the poorest tribes in the US, responsible for returning Wounded Knee to the people of Pine Ridge. But it was the Dawes Act of 1887 that stripped ownership of the land from the people of Pine Ridge in the first place. At that time, a formal sovereign government did not exist and Pine Ridge was unable to resist assimilation, a process that ultimately divided land into individual allotments and sold the remainder as “excess” to non-Indians.
In fact, the Dawes land allotments and other Indian policy contribute heavily to the controversy surrounding Wounded Knee. For instance, on December 29, 1890, the US 7th Cavalry massacred some 300 Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, making it one of the most poignant places in U.S. history. In 1973, AIM occupied Wounded Knee for 71 days, making known the US government’s failure to honor rights guaranteed by treaty to federally recognized tribes. Czywczynski did lose property during this siege, but that is hardly OST’s responsibility.
While three private buyers have been in talks in with Czywczynski, none have been able to strike a deal. Meanwhile, the fate of Wounded Knee is left to the highest bidder while the federal government remains uninvolved. Imagine the immensity of reconciliation if the federal government stepped in to protect Czywczynski’s tract of Wounded Knee from commercialization by giving it National Monument status.
OST is also holding out hope for a different remedy. Using its authority as a sovereign nation, OST’s governing council filed in federal court for eminent domain of a 40-acre tract next to the Wounded Knee Massacre site. Eminent domain refers to “the power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation authorized to exercise functions of public character, following the payment of just compensation to the owner of that property.” While the land being sought under eminent domain wasn’t specified as Czywczysnki’s, one thing is clear: “Just compensation” should be the word of the day.