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.

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