LETTER: Tim Giago, Revisionist of Wounded Knee
Tim Giago (in "Who Were The Real Victims of Wounded Knee 1973?", Mar.
2) writes that I unfairly impugned the honor of the late Clive and
Agnes Gildersleeve. The Gildersleeves owned the trading post at
Wounded Knee, which was looted by militants who had seized the
village to protest oppression on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
and beyond. Sloppily lumping my book The Unquiet Grave with Peter
Matthiessen's In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, Giago writes, "In [the
two books], you will read about a 'white man' and a woman often
referred to as a 'white woman,' although Agnes Gildersleeve was an
Ojibwa woman, who 'ripped off' the local Lakota people. This
apparently justifies the attacks upon them and the destruction of
I did not write that Ms. Gildersleeve was white, did not use the
words "ripped off" (though they are not far from the truth), and did
not excuse the attack on them or their business. I did explain why
many Indians hated the business:
"Its owners, the Gildersleeve and Czywczynski families, had strewn
billboards for seventy-five miles that announced, SEE THE WOUNDED
KNEE MASSACRE SITE, VISIT THE MASS GRAVE. POSTCARDS, CURIOS, DON'T
MISS IT! The postcards showed slaughtered Indians, including Chief
Big Foot, frozen in the 1890 snow. The traders enlivened their
commerce with beadwork, quilts, and other curios bought low from
Oglalas and sold high. A Catholic priest once watched Mrs.
Czywczynski barter a beader to a stingy $3.50 for an exquisite work,
then turn around and sell it for $12.00. The traders doubled as
creditors, lending their Indian patrons $10 at humble interest of
$2.25 a week. As village postmasters, they also offered a rudimentary
auto-payment--opening the mail of customers who had run tabs, cashing
their checks without asking, paying their bills at the post, and
calling other shopkeepers across the reservation to see if debts were
owed them too. There had been calls to boycott the post, but none had
worked. The post was the only store for a dozen miles, and the many
carless Oglalas of Wounded Knee had no choice but to buy groceries
and other wares at its inflated prices. Years later Clive
Gildersleeve was called to testify about his business practices, and
he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself
Giago goes on to paint me as an apologist for the American Indian
Movement, which led the Indian rights struggle of the 1970s. This is
rank distortion. Mine was the first book to describe AIM's secret
killing inside Wounded Knee of an activist named Ray Robinson, and
the book's centerpiece was AIM's infamous execution of Anna Mae
Aquash two years later. As Giago well knows, I condemned AIM sharply
for these and lesser brutalities, and more than one AIM leader has
threatened me for my pains. What riles Giago is that I also praised
AIM (the overwhelming majority of whose members were peaceful) for
fighting oppression, and I denuded the oppressors, from small-timers
like the Gildersleeves to big-timers like the FBI, the latter of
which persistently goaded AIM to just the sort of violence it
committed. In Indian Country, the haves like Giago have long fought
to keep the have-nots in their place. It is one reason the have-nots
are still so multitudinous.
Author, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of
Bill Means: Another view of Wounded Knee 1973
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
The following is the opinion of Bill Means, Oglala Lakota. Means has
been with AIM since the early 1970s.
Each year I have to respond to the annual negative interpretation of
Tim Giago against Wounded Knee 1973. I do respect his journalism work
but I also have to respectfully disagree.
We both come from the same reservation and we both were on different
sides of the liberation in 1973. I too knew the Gildersleeve family
and got to know them in a more personal way during the Wounded Knee
occupation. Remember the Gildersleeves told Senators McGovern and
Abourezk, when they visited Wounded Knee, that they agree with the
issues the Oglala Civil Rights Organization and AIM were presenting.
People should also remember the overwhelming number of people inside
Wounded Knee were Oglala People who supported the Oglala Sioux Civil
Rights Organization led by Vern Long and Pedro Bissonette.
The Gildersleeve family also told the Federal authorities that they
were not hostages. They actually stayed in Wounded Knee for several
days and eventually left when the government refused to take down the
roadblocks. Tim and I do agree that the Gildersleeves were good
people however, some things came out later in the trial such as
selling guns and ammunition without a federal license or taking
peoples' lease checks and cashing them but taking out their monies
owed and giving them the change which came to be defined as servitude.
I also have a story. My uncle Henry Young Bear from Porcupine was a
well known Lakota singer and drum maker and one time he took us to
the Wounded Knee store to sell a drum he made tanning the hides
himself and spending many hours making this drum. He sold the drum at
the store for twenty dollars but the next day the drum was on sale
for $100.00 in the museum at the store. I feel proud that I was able
to serve the Lakota People at Wounded Knee in 1973 and I served as a
pall bearer for my friend Buddy Lamont who was shot in the back by
the FBI in Wounded Knee after they shot tear gas into the bunker
where he was. The Chiefs and Headsman of the Lakota were there at the
burial of Buddy Lamont and he was spoken of as a Warrior of the
Lakota and the special warrior songs were sung on his behalf.
Earlier during that time in Wounded Knee Frank Clearwater was killed
and half of his head was destroyed by a bullet from the FBI and US
Marshals. Many of the young warriors in Wounded Knee were wounded in
firefights with the Federal Forces and over seventy unsolved murders
were documented between 1973 and 1977 in the aftermath of Wounded
Knee. Wounded Knee represents a renaissance and a historical turning
point for the struggle of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.
To see a coalition of many Indian Nations led by the Oglala Sioux
Civil Rights Organization and the American Indian Movement stand up
against the policies of the United States Government and the ongoing
violation of Treaties was an inspiration to Indigenous Peoples all
over the World. We have been told this by Indigenous Peoples,
Presidents and government officials at the United Nations many times.
I say these things to show that there was sacrifice by many families
on all sides of the issue and to say the overwhelming majority of
Oglala Lakota supported Wounded Knee 1973. It is now celebrated as a
National Holiday on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Even the US Federal
Courts under Judge Fred Nichol dismissed the case in the leadership
trials of AIM leaders Means and Banks stating in part...."the FBI has
polluted the waters of justice."
Tim Giago: Response to comments by Means and Hendricks
Written by Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
AIM activist Bill Means asserts that "Each year I have to respond to
the annual negative interpretation of Tim Giago against Wounded Knee 1973."
Needless to say several times a year I must write something to bring
clarity to the outdated, historically inaccurate and mundane claims
of the American Indian Movement as regards Wounded Knee 1973. So let
me start with that premise.
Means writes, "Remember the Gildersleeves told Senators McGovern and
Abourezk when they visited Wounded Knee that they agree with the
issues the Oglala Civil Rights Organization and AIM were presenting."
He adds that the "overwhelming number of people inside of Wounded
Knee were Oglala People who supported the organization. Wrong on both
counts. The majority of the occupiers were not Oglala People, but
outsiders with no ties whatever to the Pine Ridge Reservation. These
are facts that can be checked quite easily. And the majority of
Oglala Lakota did not support the occupation. When Russell Means ran
for OST president against Dick Wilson he was soundly defeated. Does
that sound like the majority of Oglala people supported the occupation?
Anyone still gullible enough to believe this fabrication and needs
further confirmation of what I wrote needs to Google "Agnes
Gildersleeve" and read what Mrs. Gildersleeve and her family had to
say about this big lie. Her article begins, "When the AIM terrorists
took over the Indian village of Wounded Knee in February 1973, they
robbed Agnes and Clive Gildersleeve's Trading Post and held them
hostage. Agnes was a 68-year-old Chippewa Indian; her husband was
white. They had spent most of their lives in Wounded Knee."
She goes on to tell how she and her husband were threatened with
death. She recalls that an Indian woman came to the basement were
they were being held captive and said, "You have orders to shoot all
hostages." You see, even members of AIM called them "hostages."
Means goes on to say that I was "on the other side." On the other
side of what? Violence in the name of justice? If the truth be known
there were several thousand Oglala Lakota opposed to the takeover of
Wounded Knee and the ensuing violence. Means would have you believe
that if one was not for AIM then they were against them. It was
politically astute for AIM to attempt dividing the Oglala people by
creating a line between them that said "our side and their side."
There were many sides to the Wounded Knee occupation and most of them
did not approve of the occupation.
And it is really getting old to hear some of the arguments that
have been disproven time and again. AIM claims that the Gildersleeves
operated the Trading Post without a government license. Not true. But
is that a reason to destroy the store and the village?
There were no winners at Wounded Knee 1973. Poverty is still
rampant on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the unemployment rate is
around 75 percent. Babies are still dying at birth at a rate far and
above the national average and diabetes is epidemic.
Steve Hendricks accuses me of being one of the "haves" on the Pine
Ridge Reservation and it is apparent that he knows absolutely nothing
about the Giago family. My grandparents and my parents grew up dirt
poor at Kyle on the reservation. We lived like all of the Indian
families on Three-Mile Creek trying to eke out a living.
He knows absolutely nothing about the trials and attacks withstood
by my newspaper, The Lakota Times, 30 years ago when it was
firebombed, had its windows shot out three times, or about the death
threats to me and my family by midnight callers identifying
themselves as members of AIM. He doesn't know about a bullet fired
through my windshield one late night as I was leaving my office in
Pine Ridge village, a bullet that missed my head by a matter of
inches. The other blathering of Hendricks is too childish to even
address. He comes from a point of total ignorance and how does one
respond to ignorance. He reminds me of all white men that write about
Indians and suddenly consider themselves to be "Indian experts."
Bill Means and many other AIM members have turned to working within
the system to bring about positive change. I respect that. I found
new respect for AIM members like Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, Ted
Means, Madonna Thunder Hawk and those now working within the system
to bring positive change to the poorest people in America.
The occupation of Wounded Knee was a low point in the history of
Indian America simply because nothing good came from it. But many AIM
members picked up the pieces and moved on and I hope that they will
set aside the rhetoric that is a constant reminder of a violent time
that pitted tribal member against tribal member and continue to work
in a peaceful and cooperative way for their tribes and for Indian
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and
publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Lakota
Journal. He can be reached at email@example.comT