By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji - Stands Up For Them)
WOUNDED KNEE - When some folks say leave Wounded Knee alone; leave it as it was what are they talking about? Do they mean like it was 90 years ago or like it is now?
In the 1920s the Gildersleeve family, Clive and Agnes (Ojibwe), built a store at Wounded Knee that sold canned goods, a butcher shop that cut meat fresh daily, bread and milk was sold there and there were gas pumps out in front to enable the Indian people driving their Model T and Model A Fords a place to fill up their cars. More likely than not in those days one saw teams of horses pulling wagons in front of the store.
Their store also housed a United States Post Office and benches on the front porch for the Lakota elders to sit, smoke and visit. They sold a lot of Bull Durham tobacco in the store because that was before the cigarettes known as "tailor-mades" came along. Because of the store's location it soon began to be known at The Wounded Knee Trading Post.
And it was indeed a trading post. Renowned Lakota artists like Hobart Keith, Andrew Standing Soldier, Jake Herman, Vincent Hunts Horse, Paha Ska, Richard Red Owl, and Felix Walker brought their paintings to the store and sold them on consignment. Walker is the artist who painted the pillars and spirals in the old Holy Rosary Mission Church at Pine Ridge. His full Lakota name was Felix Walks Under the Ground and Comes Up Holding Two Sticks.
In later years Agnes Afraid of Hawk and her daughter Belva worked at the store creating intricate beadwork which they in turn sold at the store. Joe Spotted Horse, Howard Wounded Horse, and Patricia Pumpkin Seed also worked in and around the store as did my father Tim Giago, Sr. Tour busses would come to the store and the Lakota residents would make money for the winter by selling their arts, crafts and beadwork to the tourists. They were entrepreneurs and not exploiters.
There were several cabins built by the Gildersleeves for their employees and I lived in one of them with my mother, father and siblings in 1935 through 1939... In 1968 when Jim Czywczynski bought the store from the Gildersleeves he remodeled some of the cabins and let his employees stay there rent free. In fact Agnes Afraid of Hawk did much of her beadwork in his home.
In the summer the main and only street leading through the community was filled with happy, laughing children playing catch or stick ball. The daughter of Clive and Agnes, JoAnne would be riding her tricycle on the sidewalk in front of the store and I would usually be standing on the back of it pushing her along with one foot. Wounded Knee was a wonderful place to live and play.
As children we would walk along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek and pick choke cherries, plums and currents and my mother and the other women in the village would make jams and jellies and the one thing all of the children loved: wojapi (a berry pudding). Back then there was water in the creek and we would catch tadpoles and frogs.
One day, a few days after Christmas in 1938 when my siblings were home on vacation from the Indian mission boarding school, my mother Lupe had my older sisters gather sage. She took the sage and made small bundles out of them and tied them with colorful ribbons. She then took more of the ribbon and filled them with tobacco and made bundles.
The next morning my dad pulled up in front of our cabin driving the Wounded Knee Trading Post Model A Pickup, loaded us all on board and drove the couple of miles to the site of the mass grave where the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre were buried. When we got there my father prayed and we took the prayer bundles and sage and laid them on the gravesite. It would have been the 48th anniversary of the Massacre and it is hard to believe that we just commemorated the 125th anniversary in December.
On that cold December morning in 1938 there were other Lakota families gathered at the gravesite to leave prayer bundles and to pray. My father went to some of them and shook hands as they spoke softly and reverently in Lakota.
From the 1920s until Wounded Knee Village was burned to the ground in 1973 in a militant takeover, it was a wonderful place to live. My brother, sisters and the other children living in the village often kicked a soccer ball up and down the dusty street in front of the Trading Post. We played Annie, Annie Over as we tossed a ball over the roofs of the cabins.
As children we knew something terrible had happened at Wounded Knee and we respected and honored those who had died there, but Wounded Knee was our home and these were some of the happiest days of our lives living there.
A respected Lakota elder, a man who was a descendant of a family that died there asked me a question over lunch a few weeks ago. He asked, "What is your connection to Wounded Knee?" I said simply, "As a boy I lived there, I am a former resident." But after considering it I know that it was much more than that. Wounded Knee was a place where so much of my young life was shaped. It was a place where my family was all together before the World War II came and we moved to Rapid City where my parents got divorced and the family broke up and scattered in all directions. It was a place that held all of my memories of a good life.
My sister Lillian and I are the only two children out of seven that are still alive and like me she remembers Wounded Knee as a place where she had her happiest memories. In a spiritual way, many of my childhood memories are still buried at Wounded Knee.
So yes, I have my special memories and my wish is to raise the funds to buy Wounded Knee (does not include the gravesite) from the white owner. The land will be put into trust for the Lakota people and they will decide its future.
When they get the land I hope they will never forget that long before it was destroyed, Wounded Knee was a village filled with happy, laughing and loving Lakota families. It was and still is a sacred place, but back then it was also home.
Please see our website at www.wounded-knee.com.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and can be reached at email@example.com)