When I decided to take on the task of buying the land at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota from the white landowner, James Czywczynski, I knew there would tongues wagging, heads nodding, and even some hints of hate.
The fact that I intended to raise the money to buy the land so that it could be put into trust for the Sioux Tribes apparently fell on deaf ears to some and raised the hopes of others. It is the words of encouragement from so many that keeps me going.
The thing most people found to be outrageous was the asking price for the land which had been declared a National Historic Site by the U. S. Government. Czywczynski was asking $3.9 million for it and even I found that to be outlandish.
He bought the land in 1968 from Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve for almost 1 million, according to him. The land consisted of 40 acres, the Wounded Knee Trading Post and a small village of several homes that housed the Gildersleeve's and some of their Lakota employees.
In fact my father Tim worked as a clerk and butcher at the Trading Post and we lived in one of the homes provided to us by Clive and Agnes. I spent some of my happiest boyhood days at Wounded Knee. As a child I often prayed at the mass grave located there.
When Czywczynski put the land up for sale my newspaper, Native Sun News, broke the story and we did several follow-up articles and the news of the sales brought national and even international attention. Wounded Knee is apparently a place that is well-known around the world.
The Trading Post and all of the homes at Wounded Knee were destroyed in the American Indian Movement takeover in 1973. Czywczynski and the families living there lost everything they owned. It was never rebuilt and in the ensuing 40 plus years he probably lost $4 million in potential income. But when he put the land up for sale in an effort to recoup some of that loss he was labeled as a "greedy old white man" by those who never knew him or ever cared to know him.
Perhaps he is asking much too much for the land, but I still intend to raise the money to buy it so it can be returned to its rightful owners, the Lakota people, and when I reach a certain point in my fund raising I will do my best to talk Czywczynski into lowering his asking price.
There are memorials constructed at nearly every site in American where tragedy has struck. There is one in Oklahoma City where the federal building was bombed, one in New York City to honor those who died on 9/11, one at Gettysburg to honor those who died there during the Civil War, but there is no memorial at Wounded Knee to honor the nearly 300 Lakota men, women and children who died in the massacre there. There is even a Holocaust Museum to honor the 6 million Jewish people who died in the genocide of World War II.
There should not be a single American who would object to a grand memorial built to honor those innocents who died at Wounded Knee. American Indians died by the thousands since Columbus and Wounded Knee was the last of the massacres. It should stand as a memorial to all of the massacres of Indians that preceded it. The holocaust was not just something that happened to the Jewish people, but it was also the fate of the indigenous people of the Americas.
Russia has plans to build a genocide museum to honor American Indians next to its embassy in Moscow. Shame on America for not being the first to consider this, but we all know that there are things in the history of this country of which we are not proud. But we should never pretend that they never happened.
My grandmother Sophie was a teenage girl living on the Pine Ridge Reservation on December 29, 1890 when just down the road from her school 300 Lakota were gunned down in cold blood. This just goes to show that history that is ancient to most Americans is still fresh to many Lakota living today.
Perhaps I am trying to climb a mountain that cannot be climbed, but my goal is to raise enough money to make an offer for Wounded Knee and I need the help of all like-minded Americans to make it happen. Please visit my website at www.wounded-knee.com and help me do something that should make all Americans feel good about this country.
Tim Giago is an Oglala Lakota was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at Tim@wounded-knee.com.