Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark

The Wounded Knee Memorial and cemetery, shown here in a 2018 file photo, marks the site where more than 250 Lakota men, women and children were massacred by U.S. soldiers in 1890 in South Dakota. The memorial land was already owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but the tribal council voted Sept. 7, 2022, to join with the Cheyenne River Sioux to buy the remaining 40-acre parcel of the historic landmark from a non-Native owner. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

Mary Annette Pember
ICT

It was the last resolution of the day but it was a stunner.

The Oglala Sioux tribal council voted in an historic decision Sept. 7 to purchase 40 acres of Wounded Knee land from Jeanette Czywczynski for $500,000 – a move that now puts the entire Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark site under ownership of the Oglala Sioux.

Sold for far less than the $3.9 million price demanded by her now-deceased husband, James Czywczynski, the land now includes a covenant to preserve it as a sacred site and memorial without commercial development.

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The vote passed with 15 members voting yes, three voting no and one member not voting. Those opposing the resolution expressed concern over allowing the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe 49 percent ownership of the land.

“Our tribes have come together through war and times of need. It’s not just our relatives buried there (on Wounded Knee land),” said council member Julian Spotted Bear, who supported the purchase.

According to the resolution, the Oglala Sioux tribe will pay $255,000 and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe will pay $245,000 for the site, and agree to petition the U.S. Department of the Interior to take the land into trust on behalf of both tribes. The title to the land will be held in the name of the Oglala Sioux tribe.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe made the decision to participate in the purchase about a week ago, according to Chairman Harold Frazier.

“Many of those massacred at Wounded Knee were from the Minneconjou band on Cheyenne River,” Frazier said. 

“When I heard about it, I said, ‘We have to buy it; let’s buy it. That’s our ancestors’ resting place. We need to respect them,'” he said.

The agreement ends a decades-long dispute over land that is the site of the historic Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 in which hundreds of Lakota men, women and children were killed by U.S. soldiers of the 7th cavalry using machine guns in an attempt to suppress the Ghost Dance, a Lakota religious movement. Victims were buried in a mass grave in a nearby Catholic cemetery.

American Indian Movement co-founder Clyde Bellecourt, second from the right, joins in a solemn moment observed before the signing of a statement ending the bloody standoff between federal forces and the AIM members at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on April 5, 1973. From left are: Russell Means, AIM leader; Kent Frizzell, U.S. assistant attorney general; Chief Tom Bad Cobb and AIM leaders Pedro Bisonette and Carter Camp. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

American Indian Movement leaders join in a solemn moment in 1973 just before the signing of a statement ending the bloody standoff between federal forces and the AIM members at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. (AP File Photo/Jim Mone)

The property, which includes a portion of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark, has become a potent, painful reminder of brutal federal violence used to suppress Indigenous peoples.

Jeanette Czywczynski became sole owner of the property after her husband, James, died in 2019. James Czywczynski purchased the property in 1968.

The Czywczynski family operated a trading post and museum there until 1973, when American Indian Movement protesters occupied the site, destroying both the post and Czywczynski’s home.

The family moved away from the area and put the land up for sale, asking $3.9 million for the 40-acre parcel nearest the massacre site. The land, including an additional adjacent 40-acre plot, had been assessed at $14,000.

The issue of Wounded Knee ownership became a national symbol of a century of unscrupulous treatment of Native people by the U.S. government and non-Natives.

For a time, Czywczynski toyed with the idea of partnering with developers to build a motel and gas station near the site. He later offered the land to the Oglala Sioux tribe for sale but grew bitter and frustrated over negotiations.

Some tribal members wanted to develop the site for commercial purposes and some opposed such a plan, maintaining that it should be shielded from development and maintained as a sacred site.

In 2013, film star Johnny Depp announced a plan to buy the property and donate it to the Oglala Sioux tribe. Depp, who played the role of Tonto in a remake of the film, “The Lone Ranger,” was criticized for trying to capitalize on the film and for his misappropriation of Native culture. He was also criticized for making unsubstantiated claims of having Native ancestry. Depp did not follow through on the purchase.

In 2016, Lakota journalist Tim Giago, founder of Indian Country Today, announced plans to purchase the Wounded Knee land for $3.9 million and went to work fundraising the purchase price.

Giago, who grew up in the town of Wounded Knee, said he wanted to put the land into trust for the entire Sioux Nation. Giago’s plans, however, fell through. He died in July 2022 at age 88.

The Oglala Sioux tribe already owned the land containing the Wounded Knee cemetery and mass grave of the 1890 massacre victims. Red Cloud Indian School recently returned about one acre of land to the tribe where Sacred Heart Church once stood.

Leaders from  the Oglala Sioux tribe did not respond to ICT’s request for comment. ICT was unable to reach Jeannette Czywczynski.

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Oglala SiouxLand DisputeHistoric LandmarkCheyenne River SiouxWounded KneeAmerican Indian Movement

Mary Annette Pember

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Mary Annette Pember

Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for ICT.

Let’s Green CA! Call to Action

Lakota Law

One in six children in California’s Central Valley have asthma. It’s a clear environmental injustice, one that our sister program, Let’s Green CA!, is working hard to correct. Now, they’re on the doorstep of a big win.

Earlier this year, Let’s Green CA! partnered with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and her foundation to reduce toxic air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions by increasing access to clean cars. And the great news is that their clean car equity bill, SB 1230, just passed the California State Assembly; it will soon head to Governor Newsom’s desk for his signature. Today, I invite you to take a look at Let’s Green CA’s new video, which examines the human impact of toxic air pollution in California’s Central Valley, then send a message to Gov. Newsom in support of SB 1230. Newsom’s signature is the last step on SB 1230’s journey to becoming law, so it’s time to rally together and get this done!

Click the image to watch LGCA’s new video (featuring the one and only Dolores Huerta) and take action for clean air.

Toxic air pollution is making children and families sick, and the climate crisis only exacerbates this injustice. The Let’s Green CA! team understands that climate action is one of the best ways we can protect frontline communities — and all communities. So I encourage you to send your message to the governor and stand in solidarity in this fight for environmental justice today.

Wopila — my thanks for your awareness and action.
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. I’m proud of my colleagues at Let’s Green CA! Help push their bill across the finish line by urging Governor Newsom to sign SB 1230 into law today.

The Black Hills: A Call to Action

Lakota Law
NEPA Project – Link to Doc

As we all find ways to escape the summer heat, I want you to look at the picture below. That’s Jenny Gulch at Pactola Lake, one of the most beautiful spots in the sacred He Sapa — known to settlers as the Black Hills of South Dakota. The people of the Oceti Sakowin were this land’s original stewards and protectors. But, because the federal government won’t adhere to the treaties it made with us, these pristine headwaters of the Rapid Creek watershed are now controlled by the National Forest Service. And instead of protecting this sensitive ecosystem, that agency is accepting mining applications and permitting dangerous, toxic drilling. 

Fortunately, the Oglala Nation and others who care about our homelands are pushing back. So, today, I ask you to sign onto my tribe’s call and send a message to the Forest Service demanding they stop the Jenny Gulch Gold Exploration Drilling Project

Jenny Gulch is one of South Dakota’s natural gems. This beautiful spot at the Rapid Creek headwaters in the sacred He Sapa should never be defaced and polluted by miners.

Fortunately, the Forest Service doesn’t just get to rubber stamp their approval on this one. The public comment period is open for another few weeks, and we need to make all the noise we can. We’re not alone in this fight. As I wrote to you a couple months back, just like the Oglala Nation, the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance are working overtime to raise awareness. Even the City Council for Rapid City voted to pass a resolution in opposition to the Forest Service’s finding of no significant environmental impact at Jenny Gulch.

No significant impact? The history of mining and exploration in the Black Hills tells a very different story. Mining here over the past seven decades created the need for four separate toxic Superfund sites — polluted locations which require a long-term response to clean up contamination from hazardous materials including arsenic, mercury, and cyanide. About $100 million of public money has already been spent to try and fix just one of those sites, with no end in sight.

So I hope you’ll get to know more about mining in the Black Hills, join the Oglala Nation’s call (and ours), and share all this information with your family and friends. It’s going to take pushback from all quarters to stop the new gold rush in the sacred He Sapa, but it’s worth every second of our time to do so. Because I think you’ll agree: We have to protect Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, and some things are worth more than gold.

Wopila tanka — thank you for protecting our homelands!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Your Voice Will Be Critical: NODAPL

Lakota Law

A couple weeks back, I was honored to join a delegation to Washington, D.C. led by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire. We met with congressional reps and other decision makers to inspire action to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). As the pipeline’s legally mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) continues to stall despite the clear and present danger to Standing Rock and the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — this was mission critical. You can click here to watch our latest Water Wars video, produced in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance, which highlights our productive meeting with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Watch: I joined Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire (right) for her delegation to Washington, D.C. We had several excellent conversations about DAPL, including one with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (left).

You may recall that, in 2021, members of the Squad — progressive millennial women leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives including Tlaib, AOC, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, and Ilhan Omar — joined us and other Indigenous justice leaders in Minnesota to combat the Line 3 pipeline. And, of course, in 2017 AOC visited Standing Rock to take part in the #NoDAPL resistance, inspiring her run for Congress. These true leaders recognize the dangers of pipelines and care about what happens to us. Their support remains critical, but frankly it isn’t enough. We need other lawmakers and the executive branch to recognize DAPL’s danger and help us stop the oil before it spills and creates an emergency for our people.

As we pointed out during our meetings in D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers has repeatedly failed to provide Standing Rock with an adequate emergency response plan for DAPL. It has only shared a redacted version, which prevents us from planning on our own. This is particularly concerning now, because extremely low water levels in the Mni Sose have made accessing potential leak sites a logistical nightmare. We pray that something will be done before it’s too late.

In the meantime, please take a few minutes to watch our video and stay ready to take action. Eventually, the Corps will have to release its sham EIS. When it does, your voice will be critical. The public comment period will offer us an opportunity to stand strong together — again — for the water, for the people, and for our future.

Wopila tanka — thank you, as ever, for standing with Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Standing Rock: Action

Lakota Law

As many of you know, the Lakota People’s Law Project is a proud ally of Standing Rock. We provide media, fundraising, organizing, and lobbying support to the tribal chairwoman’s team, especially on environmental causes like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In this capacity, we’re traveling next week to Washington D.C. to support Chairwoman Janet Alkire as she meets with key decision-makers about the ongoing injustice of DAPL.

More on that soon — but for now, we’d like to share our new video with you, made in collaboration with Chairwoman Alkire’s team, the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, and the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance. It brings tribal leaders together from all over South Dakota to speak about the necessity to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) from Big Extraction’s misdeeds, like Dakota Access.

Watch: Janet Alkire and Oceti Ŝakowiŋ camp leaders reflect on the importance of the #NoDAPL movement to protecting Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth).

The stakes of our environmental movement remain as high as ever for all humans, plants, and animals. The year 2022 is on track to be one of the hottest on record. To make a difference we must act locally while thinking globally. Local for me means the Dakotas, where Standing Rock’s water supply (and that of 17 million others) is still in jeopardy from an illegal oil pipeline without a permit.

Why is it operating without a permit? Because the company hired by the federal government to do the environmental impact statement (EIS) was among those who joined a lawsuit against Standing Rock early in the NoDAPL movement. Of course, Standing Rock’s leaders won’t accept this, so there is a standoff at the moment with the feds. The Army Corps of Engineers has now postponed the release of their flawed EIS until next year, and that gives the tribe more time to fight back and demand that a decent company conduct a new assessment.

As you’re aware, Big Oil has a stranglehold on American politics. Wind power is the cheapest energy source available today — there’s enough wind in just the Dakotas and Texas to power the entire United States. But instead of shifting aggressively to clean technologies, this nation is allowing the fossil fuel industry to bully us into greater investments in our own destruction. Indigenous voices must remain strong to counteract forces of greed and narrow self-interest that plague our nation and world at this time. We will continue doing what we can, with your support!

Wopila tanka — thank you for your ongoing determined support
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Keep Informed and Active!

Lakota Law

This week, the Supreme Court issued an odious trifecta of decisions limiting three precious things: a woman’s right to choose, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to combat the climate crisis, and tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma. I’m here to tell you, we must battle back. Here on the frontlines of environmental racism, we know exactly how far the colonizers will go to preserve their own power and profit. Breaking or changing laws is nothing new, and neither is marginalizing Native tribes. But we can and we must restore justice.

That’s the subject of the fifth chapter in our “Dakota Water Wars” series, Ignoring Tribes and Ignoring Laws, co-produced by us in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance. Please give it a watch.

Watch: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier joins other leaders from the Oceti Sakowin to talk about how DAPL ignores both tribes and laws.

Over the past five centuries, since European settlers first invaded the shores of Turtle Island, our Indigenous voices have routinely been silenced. Treaties have always been broken. Despite promise after promise, we’ve been further marginalized, year by year. State and federal governments alike seemingly couldn’t care less about the dire consequences for our People when projects like the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) are railroaded through our homelands. And conservative politicians, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, are especially eager to reduce our influence and make us invisible.

Whenever we’re the ones most affected, industry and government seem to have no qualms ignoring their own laws, too — as has happened with DAPL. During Standing Rock’s lawsuit to stop the pipeline, the presiding judge had to tell the Department of Justice it was flouting the National Environmental Policy Act with its argument that tribal input doesn’t matter.

The fact is, we do matter, and your solidarity with us ensures that our voices increasingly become part of the conversation. As Lakota Law Standing Rock organizer Phyllis Young says in the video, it’s up to us to make sure government agencies take a new approach that prioritizes “mutual respect, mutual participation, and mutual benefit.” Please continue to stand with Standing Rock and the Lakota People’s Law Project. As our rights and protections are rolled back, it’s more important than ever that we unite and fight — hard.

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for your friendship and solidarity.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Archive: DAPL

*Note: scroll back through this blog for events that happened from 2016 and historic background regarding pipelines in North Dakota.

Lakota Law

I write today about an exciting project our team has taken on: the creation of an unparalleled online archive of DAPL-related media such as this that will make the water protector movement accessible to students, journalists, and activists all over the world. When we’re finished, anyone will be able to dig into an enormous amount of raw source material about the historic events that transpired at Standing Rock several years ago.

In coordination with various academic partners, we’re well down the road to building the infrastructure needed to launch this engine. We’re also conducting outreach to tribal community colleges to build more partnerships. The human family — for time immemorial — needs to know what happened. We’re doing our part to make that happen.

Water protectors gather on the shores of the Missouri River in 2016.

As many of you know, back in 2017, my colleague Chase Iron Eyes — an attorney and a former candidate for Congress from North Dakota — faced the potential of 6 years in prison for posting on Facebook. Chase used social media to help organize the last effective protest of the NoDAPL effort, at a place called “Last Child’s Camp.” For this, North Dakota tried to put him in prison and strip his law license. But they failed, in part because our lawyer team defended him vigorously in court.

Meanwhile, in the process of defending Chase, our attorneys gathered an enormous amount of media — everything from videos to documents, which, taken together, tell the remarkable story of a tribal nation defending itself against the world’s most powerful industry: Big Extraction.
 
The only way that history ever reflects the view of underdogs like Standing Rock is when people like you — like all of us — work together to document events from the perspective of those normally ignored. Our online DAPL archive will tell the story of the many water protectors who put their bodies on the line to protect air, water, and the sovereignty of tribal nations. Mni Wiconi (“water is life”)!
 
Wopila tanka
— thank you for standing with us as we move forward on many fronts! 
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

“Water Wars”

Lakota Law

When I was a little girl, I lived in paradise. I would roam out from my family’s cabin along the banks of the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — and drink straight from her waters. Around our allotment, the Standing Rock Nation was home to one of the most glorious forests on Turtle Island. Our gardens had every fruit tree you could want, and berries to nourish our growing bodies and souls. We were healthy in that place. Our homelands and the river provided for us — and then everything changed.

Before I tell you the rest of the story, I want to share a new video that Lakota Law has produced for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The second chapter in our “Water Wars” series, it follows the first video, which highlighted the uniting of tribes from across the Oceti Sakowin to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). This installment gives you more background and history, detailing the U.S. government’s refusal to honor the treaties that should preserve and protect our homelands. 

Watch: In the new video we produced for Standing Rock, I address other leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to inspire #NoDAPL action.

What happened to the paradise of my youth? In 1958, I was ten years old when the government completed construction of the Oahe Dam and flooded my home to create Lake Oahe. That same lake now provides our tribe’s drinking water, and it’s under that precious resource that DAPL dangerously crosses — without an adequate leak detection system — threatening to devastate our lives once again.

After the flood, for several years, we children lived on white bread, bologna, and hard cheese. We developed vitamin deficiencies and sores on our hands. We no longer had cherries, plums, grapes, wild onions, and all the things that came from the land. We could no longer find many of the medicinal plants that used to grow wild and abundantly in the riverbed and forest. No more could we collect the mushrooms we called “ears of the tree.” When they flooded our homelands — some of the richest in the world — it was an act of pure cruelty. They took our land and the food we grew up on, and they replaced it all with a welfare state.

This was, of course, illegal under both our Indigenous laws and those of the United States. The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 guaranteed that we would retain our sacred He Sapa, the Black Hills, forever. Those treaties and subsequent agreements also protected 14 million acres in North Dakota. Today, we call these “taken lands,” the spoils of manifest destiny and the dam’s construction. 

That’s why we fight. DAPL is only the latest in a long line of projects meant to benefit the colonizer without regard for the original peoples of this land. But with your help, we’ll resist, we’ll sue, we’ll work to replace fossil fuels with Native-run renewable projects, and we’ll use the media to make ourselves heard. And when, at last, our lands are returned, our sacred sites respected, and our treaties honored, I will invite you to come sing with us. Because, despite everything, I still believe we can restore justice together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and Lakota Law.
Phyllis Young
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Save the He Sapa (Black Hills)

Lakota Law

For generations, the He Sapa (Black Hills) have been revered by the Oceti Sakowin as sacred grounds. As Indigenous Peoples, we are the original stewards of this land, and we have never relinquished that right. That’s why it’s so important for us to take a stand against harmful extraction in our homelands — like the mining interests currently tearing up and poisoning the He Sapa. 

Will you help us eliminate these threats to our water, treaty territory, and sacred sites? Right now, please join us in asking U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to suspend all new mining claims in the Black Hills until the Lakota’s treaty rights are properly acknowledged and honored.

Click the pic to read our blog, then please take action to protect the Black Hills!

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working closely with the good people of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance to understand and help communicate the scope and urgency of the mining problem in the Black Hills. We collaborated to create a blog for you to read, which explains the situation in more detail, and the action you can take to convince Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene.

At present, 184,000 acres of mining claims litter the Black Hills, covering 15 percent of our sacred grounds, and water system contamination caused by mining represents the greatest threat to the area. And, of course, the mining companies routinely walk away after tearing up the land and contaminating the water, leaving waste behind — forcing taxpayers to cover the clean up costs. 

It’s long past time to return the sacred by honoring treaty rights with Indigenous nations and treating Unci Maka — our grandmother Earth — with utmost respect. So, please read our blog and then take action to protect the He Sapa. You can help make a huge difference for our homelands and our people.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your action and care!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL)

Lakota Law

We remain 100 percent focused on our ongoing fight to end the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), despite the turmoil in the world around us. As you’ll see in a new video we co-produced with Standing Rock, a strong coalition among South Dakota’s tribal nations has formed to get it done. 

Watch on Standing Rock’s Vimeo page: Standing Rock Chair Janet Alkire is joined by leaders from across the Oceti Sakowin to coordinate the current #NoDAPL strategy.

In the video, you’ll hear from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairwoman Janet Alkire, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier. It’s the first in a planned series that will delve more deeply into the complex issues faced by the tribes in their fight to stop DAPL — a pipeline which continues to operate without a permit for its crossing under Lake Oahe just north of the Standing Rock Nation.

Chairwoman Alkire has been actively relaying tribal concerns directly to Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. She recently returned from a meeting with him, in which she discussed the lack of transparency concerning DAPL’s oil spill response plan for the Missouri River and the terrible safety track record of its parent company, Energy Transfer. As detailed in a press release from the tribe, over a recent 8-year period, nine pipelines owned and controlled by Energy Transfer and its affiliated companies experienced nearly 300 spills — including 50 large ones in vulnerable areas like Lake Oahe.

Until this pipeline has a valid Environmental Impact Statement and federal permit, it is operating in violation of the laws designed to safeguard our people, our delicate water systems, and our sacred homelands. We must keep the pressure on U.S. leaders to do the right thing and shut DAPL down. Please watch our video, stay tuned for the next chapters, and be ready when the time comes to take action together.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with Standing Rock and the entire Oceti Sakowin!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.