WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. (CN) – Tim Giago, a leading Native American journalist and retired publisher, has agreed to purchase the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, to build a Native American holocaust museum there.
Giago, an Oglala Sioux, announced his plans on Dec. 29 in Indian Country Today , one of several newspapers he founded. December 29 was the 125th anniversary of the massacre that killed 150 to 300 Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.
The massacre came because of federal fears of the “Ghost Dance” movement, which was particularly active on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The movement taught that Native Americans had been confined to reservations as punishment for abandoning traditional ways of life, and that practicing the Ghost Dance and rejecting white culture would lead the gods to destroy nonbelievers, Native and Anglo alike.
Falsely believing that Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was a Ghost Dancer, U.S. officials arrested and killed him two weeks before the Wounded Knee Massacre.
On Dec. 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry surrounded a group of Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee, slaughtering 150 to 300 Native Americans, including women and children. Many viewed it as payback for the Sioux’s victory over Gen. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn in 1876.
The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major confrontation between the U.S. government and Plains Indians, but it was not the last time tension erupted at the site. In 1973, members of the American Indian Movement occupied the town of Wounded Knee for 71 days, from Feb. 27 to May 8, protesting police brutality and government policies against Native Americans.
Conservative tribal chairman Dick Wilson laid siege to the town with the backing of the federal government. The standoff finally ended after White House officials promised to investigate the American Indian Movement’s complaints.
The site is owned by James Czywczynski , a non-native, who had it on the market for more than two years before Giago came forward. Although some tribal members disapproved of Czywczynski selling the land rather than giving it to the tribe, he told Indian Country Today that he deserved to be compensated because his family’s business was destroyed in the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff.
Giago grew up in the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and went on to found several publications, including Lakota Times, Indian Country Today and the Sun Country Times. After buying Wounded Knee, he plans to put it into a trust for the Sioux Nation.
“I am 81 years old and I am at that age where I am not looking for any personal gain,” he told Indian Country Today. “I figure the best place for Wounded Knee to be is not just owned by the Oglala. It should be owned by all of the nine tribes of the great Sioux nation.”
A museum dedicated to the Wounded Knee Massacre already exists in nearby Wall, S.D., but Giago said his vision for the new museum goes beyond the history of the site.
“I’d like to see a Native American Holocaust Museum built on the site. Not just for the people who were killed at Wounded Knee but for all those who suffered at Bear Creek, Washita, Sand Creek and every tribe that had a similar massacre could have a room where they could display their history,” he told Indian Country Today.
“People in Germany, France and Italy probably know more about Indian country than people living here in America,” Giago added. “Can you imagine a really beautiful Holocaust Museum and a big trade pavilion for Indian artisans and craftspeople? They could set up booths year-round and sell their arts and crafts to the tourists. We would have tourists come from all over the world and stay in Rapid City, go to the restaurants and hotels, take buses to Wounded Knee. It would create over 200 jobs for the people down there. It would be also a boost financially to Rapid City, South Dakota.”
Pine Ridge could certainly benefit from the economic boost, as it occupies the poorest counties in the nation, with unemployment rates estimated as high as 90 percent, according to a tribal website .
Giago has already set up a nonprofit organization named The National Historic Site of Wounded Knee Inc. to collect funds for the project.
Giago did not respond to a Monday morning voicemail request for comment or to phone calls made later in the day.
Giago’s Sioux name, Nanwica Kciji, means Stand Up for Them. He also founded the Native American Journalists Association and in 1979 became the first Native American columnist for a South Dakota newspaper, the Rapid City Journal.
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