In June, a number of sources reported that about 40 acres of land at the site of the Wounded Knee Creek massacre were for sale by a private landowner. In July, Native Sun News reported that actor Johnny Depp was interested in purchasing that same land.
Whatever the outcome, I hope the ownership of the Wounded Knee land finds its way back to the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
In December 1890, remnants of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry had surrounded Chief Big Foot and his people near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation. While soldiers attempted to disarm a deaf Minneconjou man, a shot rang out and the troops opened fire. When the firing stopped, approximately 350 Lakota men, women and children lay dead.
Decades later, an Oglala medicine man named Black Elk reflected, “I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young . . . for the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” For the Army's part at Wounded Knee Creek, they awarded 20 Medals of Honor for “gallantry in action and other soldierlike qualities,” according to nebraskahistory.org.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the site of the Wounded Knee Creek massacre, the experience will leave you changed. Hiking to the top of the hill, which is the location of the mass burial site for those American Indians people killed by military forces, you are likely to feel a cool breeze and an odd sensation. At least that was my experience when I visited the Wounded Knee site. Selling this land is, in many ways, like desecrating a sacred burial site.
According to Native Sun News, the landowner is asking $4.9 million for both the 40-acre Wounded Knee site, as well as an adjacent 40-acre parcel. Other news reports suggest that Depp is interested in buying the site to return it to the tribe. If Depp does not go through the outright purchase of land, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has stated they intend to pursue the land through the legal process of condemnation by eminent domain. Eminent domain is “the inherent power of a governmental entity to take privately owned property, (especially) land, and convert it to public use, subject to reasonable compensation for the taking,” according to Black's Law Dictionary.
Whatever the means, I hope the outcome is a return of the land to the Oglala people. The Wounded Knee Creek massacre was a tragic end to the period of time known as the Plains Wars or the Indian Wars. Although not a battle in any military sense, the Wounded Knee Creek massacre remains a very sensitive cultural and historical issue. A return of the land to the Oglala is the right thing to do and will help in healing the injury inflicted so very long ago.
Alan L. Neville is a professor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent NSU.