Bury the news at Wounded Knee
Excerpts from an article by Julie Winokur (www.salon.com), March 13, 2000.
Pine Ridge, South Dakota. If the people of Connecticut took over the state capitol, the media would swarm into Hartford and the nation would tune in to watch. Such a move might warrant the intervention of the FBI, the Justice Department and the National Guard. But for almost two months, 100 Indians have been occupying the tribal council headquarters here and the story has barely traveled past the edge of the plains. Despite the fact that a sovereign government is under siege, there has been a virtual news blackout.
Jan. 16 the Grass Roots Oglala Lakota Oyate entered the Red Cloud Building and declared a takeover of tribal council headquarters. This takeover . . . was a desperate measure by a group who claim their tribal council has embezzled millions of dollars, that mismanagement of funds has forced the Oglala (Lakota) into depths of poverty, and that they had no recourse but to seize the seat of power.
Pine Ridge lies in the poorest county in America, with 75 percent unemployment and an average family income of $3,700 per year. The life expectancy for men is 48 years, 25 years below the national average. The infant mortality is the highest in the country. Bad health, disease, drugs and alcohol have ravaged the Oglala (Lakota).
When President Clinton gave his State of the Union speech in January, it was the first time the name Pine Ridge had passed the presidential lips in that context in anyones recollections. He mentioned his visit to the reservation (July 1999), one of Americas most depressed areas, and proposed a tax incentive for businesses that invest in such "new markets."
It would be laughable, if it werent so tragic, that at the very moment Clinton was pledging his commitment to help the Lakota, their tribal council was under siege and no one in the federal government seemed to give a hoot. While Clinton talked about investment opportunities on the reservation, the tribal treasurer was only a horsehair away from a public lynching, and the tribal president was fending off impeachment proceedings.
. . . The atmosphere is peaceful but thats probably the reason hardly anyone outside the reservation knows whats going on at Pine Ridge. The Grass Roots movement is committed to peaceful means. When I asked one young Tokala if there were any weapons inside the Red Cloud Building, he answered somewhat indignantly, "We wouldnt have any weapons here; our peace pipe is inside." His respect for tradition lies at the heart of the Grass Roots movement . . .