This week on Indian Times...last Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of Wounded Knee ‘73, it was the last armed conflict between Native Americans and the United States Government... and for many, their coming of age. We'll talk with a participant, Louis Gray.
SUSAN SHANNON, HOST: The last armed conflict between the United States government and the Indian Nations took place...in 1973, in a little place called Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The American Indian Movement, or AIM, (www.aimovement.org) was contacted by Lakota elders for assistance in dealing with the corruption within the BIA and Tribal Council, which led to the famed 71-day occupation and, in many ways, it was a turning point in modern American Indian history. It brought together different Indians from different tribes from across the United States to support AIM and the Ogalala Sioux people. Louis Gray was one of those young people caught up in the times, who at 19 years of age, felt so strongly that he left school in the dead of winter.
LOUIS GRAY: Yeah, I was going to school at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe (www.iaia.edu) and it broke out on the news that AIM had taken over the Wounded Knee community and everyone started to talk about what that meant, you know there, there was a lot of people from South Dakota was there and they were very worried about what that meant cause they knew what was going on. Dick Wilson (Richard A. "Dick" Wilson, Tribal Chairman of the Ogalala Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota 1972-1976) was down there in Albuquerque and other members of that government. We would see them, we heard about what, you know, what was some of the stories leveled against him...
SHANNON: I guess he had what we'd call a repressive regime, what we would say nowadays...
GRAY: Dictatorial, was sort in league with both the Bureau (Bureau of Indian Affairs www.bia.gov) and the FBI and anyone else who was in institutional power.
SHANNON: Gray makes it to South Dakota and tries to find a way in to Wounded Knee.
GRAY: And from Porcupine you could see South Dakota at night because what had happened all the federal marshals had surrounded Wounded Knee from several miles out and were firing flares, they would shoot them up and they would sort of hang in the sky for a little bit before they'd fall but you saw from about 8 miles out this big glow and that was Wounded Knee. So when we started out we just started walking towards that glow.
SHANNON: Gray becomes part of group going in under the direction of a spiritual or holy man who tells them…
GRAY: As you're walking in you're going to be seen when the sun comes up and you're not to run, you're not to point your gun at anybody and not to engage them in any way. But you're to sit down 4 times and then walk in with no fear in your heart. I thought about that, and thought 'what's the chance of that happening?' (laughter) As we were walking in, and we're only about 2 miles out and we felt that we were nearing our destination and feeling good about it and sure enough we were crossing this meadow and there was two cars and they were full of federal marshals. They didn't get out, they didn't even act like they even saw us. Ted (Means) said "everyone do what Alfonso (holy man) said." So we all sat down four times and then walked in without even looking their way. They could've shot us right there, and really that was the environment we were in. If we were in the open, you would be shot at and if you were close enough, they'd shoot at you. And as we marched in, I felt no fear. And I think it affected me for my entire stay there, I never did get scared. There was a lot of situations where I probably would have under any other circumstances, but I never did get scared. It sort of stayed with me, it was a very powerful moment. I think, you know, for me, that point in my life, it was my first example of what that sort of extreme faith would do to you.
SHANNON: I asked Gray his views on the occupation now, after 40 years.
GRAY: I think that on the positive side, I think I realize that when people say "no more" and stand up for something, you can have an effect on the world we live in. On the negative side, I still say nothings changed up in South Dakota and I feel some regret and uh...I feel bad that nothings changed for them. Everyone went and we did what we did and we left.. and we sort of left them in harm's way. And the gun fighting continued throughout the communities and there are a lot of unsolved deaths. And of course end up with the killing of 2 FBI agents and the imprisonment of Peltier (Leonard Peltier www.leonardpeltier.net). And we sort of continue to feel that pain when we see pictures calling for his release, you know. It bothers me. What bothers me more is all the people who were...innocent. That they didn't ask for any of this. Yes, I might have been trying to help and do my best but their lives have not changed.
SHANNON: Gray, who is a substance abuse counselor coordinator for the Osage Nation (www.osagetribe.com), would like to bring that kind of help to Pine Ridge.
GRAY: Have counselors there willing to talk to them, have sweat lodges, have doctors there to see about their needs and counselors and case workers...and you'd be surprised how many people all across this country want to do that. And I still want to do it, its just finding the time to put it all together but a lot of good people all across Indian Country want to do something because its...you know about it, but who's doing anything about it? nothing! And if no one else will do it, I guess, kind of, uh...remnants of the way I was back in '73 says I still need to go back there and do something.
SHANNON: Well that answered my last question, would you do it again?
GRAY: In a second!
SHANNON: That was Louis Gray remembering Wounded Knee 73.