Activists plan protest if Wounded Knee land sold
RAPID CITY (AP) -- Native American activists have vowed to protest if someone buys and tries to develop a piece of land at the Wounded Knee National Historic landmark in western South Dakota.
James Czywczynski has announced that he plans to sell the 40-acre parcel, which sits next to where about 150 of the 300 Lakota men, women and children killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890 are buried. Czywzynski has given the Oglala Sioux Tribe until Wednesday to make an offer on the land. He has said he has received offers from West Coast-based investment groups that are willing to pay the $3.9 million asking price.
Czywczynski also is trying to sell another 40-acre piece of nearby land for $1 million. He told the Rapid City Journal he would only sell the Wounded Knee parcel and the other land, located at Porcupine Butte, as a package deal for no less than $4.9 million.
Tribal officials have scorned the price and the Wednesday deadline to make an offer. Many Lakota oppose commercial development there because they see it as an exploitation of a tragedy.
"This is our backyard; this is our homeland," said Garfield Steele, a tribal representative. "This has historical value for our people, not to any non-Indian. We will fight to keep it, as is, by all means."
Steele said opposition could include protests to stop the land from being converted into a tourist attraction.
The Wounded Knee National Historical landmark comprises 870 acres. Along with its proximity to the burial grounds, the land for sale includes the site of a former trading post that burned down during the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising, in which hundreds of American Indian Movement protesters were involved in a 71-day standoff. Two tribal members died and a federal agent was seriously wounded.
The uprising is credited with raising awareness of Native American struggles and giving rise to a wider protest movement that lasted the rest of the decade. Don Cuny, 61, a member of the American Indian Movement who protested in 1973, pledged to stage a sit-in if the land is developed.
Czywczynski said he is not worried about protests.
"Let them protest," he said. "I don't care."
Czywczynkski said he believes the tribe has ample money to meet his $4.9 million price, which he said is fair given the potential for the tribe to turn it into a commercial venture.
Nathan Blindman, a descendant of one of the survivors of the 1890 massacre, said he wants to fight the sale in court. He said the Bureau of Indian Affairs made a mistake when it approved the original sale of land from its Lakota owners to a non-Indian couple in 1930. That couple sold the property to Czywczynski in 1968.
Blindman said the agency, which is required to approve sales of Indian land to private buyers, neglected to consider the property's historical value and did not consult tribal leaders. He said the federal government should step in to return the land to the Lakota.
Frank Pommersheim, a law professor at the University of South Dakota, said the courts are unlikely to be convinced by that argument.