Deciding the Ultimate Fate of the Wounded Knee Massacre/Occupation Site

A public radio station in New York City recently called me to ask my opinion about the prospective sale of the Wounded Knee Massacre/Occupation site on Pine Ridge.
How the producers found me and why they valued the opinion of this white man is something I can’t answer. But I think I have a good grasp of the history of the site and I have visited many times over the years, so there you go.
It seems that the matter of who will eventually own the land around the graveyard and chapel will soon be settled. Whether the Oglala Sioux Tribe seizes it, or it ends up in private hands, the next question is, now what?
Will it remain as is, or will someone try to build a museum or interpretive center?
A gulley where victims of the 1890 massacre fled. STEW MAGNUSON
One of the points I made during the brief interview is that if there is an interpretive center built there someday, I think a section of it devoted to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 would probably be easy to organize and not very controversial. That event is pretty well understood.
If there is to be a wing devoted to the Wounded Knee Occupation, then you’re opening up a big honkin’ can of worms.
The “Still Bleeding” secondary title of my newest book, Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, speaks to that. There are lots of hard feelings remaining 40 years later, a few unsolved mysteries, and many different opinions on the meaning and impact of the occupation.
Who is going to decide how a possible interpretive center interprets that event?
What I wanted to talk about on the radio show, but didn’t have the time, was what is there now.
For those who live on Pine Ridge, they know the answer. Next to nothing.
For those who don’t, or have never visited, let me describe it. There is a small, circular rudimentary building with some murals and relics of the occupation. Sometimes there are some friendly Pine Ridge residents inside to answer questions. Sometimes not. There is the mass grave with the massacre interred and a cemetery at the top of the hill. Most don’t venture over to the foundations of the destroyed Wounded Knee Trading Post/museum that was destroyed after the occupation in 1973.
I was last there in September on a hot day. I would have paid good money for a cold drink. But there were none to be had. A couple nice kids on bikes were hanging around. I think they thought they were tour guides. Why they weren’t in school, I don’t know. Suffice it to say, my conversations with them revealed that they didn’t now much about the history of Wounded Knee.
Despite the fact that there is not much in terms of development as a historical site, a steady stream of tourists still make their way there. A whole van full of visitors from Indiana came by along with other several cars in the half hour I was there.
On that same trip I visited the Crazy Horse Memorial for the first time. After paying my entrance fee, I came upon a jam-packed parking lot. And this was after the end of the high season for tourists. The gift shop was doing steady business. Yes, it is in the middle of the Black Hills, and there is a lot of tourist traffic, but I do believe there is a thirst for knowledge about Native American history and culture.
I have done several book signings at the National Museum of the American Indian here in Washington, D.C., over the years, and the place is always packed. And not with Natives, either. In fact, the only Indians I ever spoke to there were from New Dehli.
Would a Wounded Knee interpretive center attract those kinds of crowds? Probably not. But many would make their way there as they have been for decades.
Do the residents of Pine Ridge want a parking lot that size full of cars and buses next to the hollowed ground? I would think not.
This is actually similar to the vision that the seller of the property Jim Czywczsnki had in 1968. Except all the money was going to go into his pockets, his idea for a memorial was tasteless, and there was zero input from the Lakotas.
But there are solutions to develop the area in a sensitive way. A museum could be placed out of site, with shuttle buses to take visitors the rest of the way, for example.
Maybe someday the National Park Service will declare this a national monument.
An interpretive center — if done right — would provide jobs, income to local artists who could sell their crafts there  — and most importantly — provide a deeper understanding of Lakota history and culture for those who care about it enough to venture out of the Black Hills.

Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes.

Albert Camus on Algeria

The New York Times Book Review published a wonderful review of Camus's Algerian Chronicles, a collection of his writings on the intractable battle between the French government and Algerian nationalists in his native country -- and on all those trapped between the warring factions.

Here's an excerpt from Susan Rubin Suleiman's review:
Even more eloquent, perhaps, are his remarks on the responsibility of intellectuals in times of hatred: “It is to explain the meaning of words in such a way as to sober minds and calm fanaticisms.” Great writer that he was, Camus placed hope in the calming power of language carefully used, and of reason; in the preface, he asks his readers to “set their ideological reflexes aside for a moment and just think.”

Lisa Lieberman's essay, Dirty War, explores Camus's dilemma in the context of postwar French history. As early as 1947, Camus had denounced the “Gestapo methods” routinely employed by the French in their colonies—torture, collective reprisals, executions.  “Three years after having felt the effects of a politics of terror, the French take in the news like people who have seen too much,” he charged.  “And yet the facts are there, clear and hideous as the truth: we are doing over there the same thing that we reproached the Germans for doing here.”

Born into a pied-noir (the term for European settlers) family in Algeria in 1913, Camus would surmount poverty and illness and go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature for 1957, singled out for his “authentic moral engagement,” a commitment to justice, peace, and human rights exemplified in his life no less than in his literary works.  During the Nazi Occupation he had founded an underground newspaper in Paris, Combat, that sought to unify the various factions of the Resistance under the banner of de Gaulle’s Free French organization.  Upon the Liberation he advocated for reconciliation and publicly opposed the death penalty, even in the case of war criminals—a position he would maintain throughout the Algerian war.

Camus was always one to put people before causes, but the conflict tested his loyalties.  “When one’s own family is in immediate danger of death, one may want to instill in one’s family a feeling of greater generosity and fairness . . . but (let there be no doubt about it!) one still feels a natural solidarity with the family in such mortal danger and hopes that it will survive at least and, by surviving, have a chance to show its fairness.”  Attacked for his unwillingness to reject colonialism outright, Camus had stopped commenting publicly about Algeria several years before his death in 1961, though he continued to lobby discreetly to mitigate the harsh sentences imposed on Algerian nationalists.  Nevertheless the key features of his argument, the correlation he drew between French colonial authorities and the Gestapo, along with his ambivalence, would resurface in the torture debate a decade later. And it is worth noting that the most outspoken critics of France’s dirty war would be those who, like Camus, had been active in the Resistance.

Lisa Lieberman is the translator of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" and Simone de Beauvoir's essay, "An Eye for an Eye".