Critics accuse PBS of 'glorifying' AIM
By Heidi Bell Gease, Journal staff
May 13, 2009
A group calling itself The Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans
Association has accused PBS of presenting a slanted version of events
during the American Indian Movement's takeover of Wounded Knee village in 1973.
The 71-day occupation was the subject of "Wounded Knee," the last
installment in national public broadcasting's "American Experience --
We Shall Remain" film series. "Wounded Knee" aired Monday and Tuesday.
Group members say the film, directed by Stanley Nelson, uses
distortions, half-truths and false statements to glorify AIM without
telling the other side of the story.
"This film attempts to explain away the destruction of the village by
invoking historical issues (broken treaties, Indian boarding schools,
government-sponsored relocation, etc.) and by rationalizing the
criminality of the perpetrators," reads a letter the group sent to
PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger. "One of the film's worst
transgressions is its contemptible disregard for the real victims of
Wounded Knee, the villagers who lived there."
A group spokesman provided a copy of Kerger's e-mail response to the
letter, in which she says, "Please know that we take allegations of
the nature described in your letters very seriously."
Kerger said the allegations were shared with the "producing station"
for "Wounded Knee" and the "We Shall Remain" series for review. She
said she would provide a more complete response after reviewing the
The letter from the Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans Association is
signed by JoAnn Gildersleeve Feraca, daughter of the owners of the
Wounded Knee Trading Post, which was destroyed during the occupation;
Romona and Saunie Wilson, daughters of the late Oglala Sioux Tribal
Chairman Richard "Dick" Wilson; Richard Two Elk, a Wounded Knee
veteran and former AIM member; Joseph H. Trimbach, a retired FBI
special agent in charge; Patrick LeBeau, an Indian Studies professor
at Michigan State University; Paul DeMain, editor of News from Indian
Country; Shawn White Wolf, CEO of White Wolf Media Group; and John M.
Trimbach, who co-authored the book "American Indian Mafia" with his
father, Joseph Trimbach.
All but the Trimbachs are Native American.
The film includes archival footage from the takeover along with
present-day interviews with AIM leaders Dennis Banks, Russell Means,
Carter Camp and others.
John Trimbach said the Wounded Knee group wants equal time from PBS
to "dispel the myths and correct the damage done to the historical
record" by the film.
Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or email@example.com
News Alert: PBS Accused of Distorting Indian History
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
For Immediate Release
Atlanta: May 13, 2009 - A group calling themselves The Wounded Knee
Victims and Veterans Association (WKVAVA) has issued a scathing
letter to Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS. The letter, faxed
to PBS headquarters on May 10, accuses the organization of fronting
what the group says is a distorted film on Indian history, the last
in the "American Experience - We Shall Remain" series. The film,
entitled "Wounded Knee," describes the occupation of the historic
village in 1973 by members and supporters of the American Indian
Movement (AIM). Wounded Knee, the site of an Indian massacre in 1890,
sits near the southern border of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South
Dakota. The FBI and the U.S. Marshal Service erected roadblocks
around the small town after AIM members looted the store, set fires,
and shot at responding emergency crews. AIM leaders held 11 residents
hostage. The occupation lasted 71 days as government lawyers tried to
negotiate a peaceful end to the hostilities. The conflict left the
village in shambles. Two occupiers were shot to death, although
rumors persist that several victims were murdered behind the scenes
during heated arguments and interrogations.
The group charges PBS with failure to hold "Wounded Knee" to PBS
standards for editorial integrity, fairness, and historical accuracy.
Many of the association's complaints center on the film's lack of
information about the Wounded Knee villagers. "The real victims of
Wounded Knee were the people who lived there," said Joe Trimbach,
author of the book, American Indian Mafia (americanindianmafia.com).
'Most of the residents were Indians. They lost everything they owned
and yet they are invisible in this film. It doesn't even show the
devastation.' Upon learning that PBS had omitted his book from their
bibliography, Trimbach contacted their legal department. PBS has
since added Trimbach's book to the list. 'We call Mafia, 'The history
book they do not want you to read.' Well, here's a good example. We
try to tell the truth about what happened and some people don't want
to hear it.'
JoAnn Gildersleeve Feraca, daughter of Wounded Knee residents Clive
and Agnes Gildersleeve, recalled what it was like to watch the steady
demolition of her community while the media appeared oblivious to the
destruction. 'The reporters did one of the worst disservices to real
news gathering that I have ever seen. The media wanted to film a
western. They created the good guys and the bad guys, and never even
had to pay for ruined property and lives. And now we have a film from
PBS that pays homage to the perpetrators all over again. My parents
suffered greatly at the hands of their assailants. They were taken
hostage. Their trading post store was burned to the ground. They even
stole my mother's wedding ring and gold bracelet. My parents lost
everything they had spent a lifetime building.'
Among the signers of the letter are Saunie and Romona Wilson,
daughters of Tribal Chairman Richard Wilson who is criticized
throughout the film. The sisters plan on making a documentary which
they say will tell a different story about their father and about
Wounded Knee. 'I am upset how this film exploits historical issues
painful to all of us as natives, like the boarding school era," said
Romona Wilson. 'My father was whipped and forced to chew soap for
speaking Lakota in school. He was fluent and would speak it when he
chose to. This film demonizes him by distorting his record and
misreporting the facts. We intend to change that.'
Paul DeMain, editor of News from Indian Country
(IndianCountryNews.com), said that parts of the film "take us to a
well-charted fantasyland" because it fails to hold AIM accountable.
'AIM leaders Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and Madonna Thunderhawk
[all featured in the film] are named co-conspirators in several
murders, like that of civil rights worker Perry Ray Robinson.'
Robinson, a colleague of Martin Luther King, was said to be the only
black man inside the village during that period of the occupation.
AIM is believed to have buried his body near Wounded Knee Creek in an
effort to keep his death a secret. Added DeMain, 'These same AIM
leaders were involved in the execution of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash.
They are not heroes. Several people tried to warn Producer Stanley
Nelson and PBS about this. They chose to ignore us.' The group has
called for justice for Robinson and for Pictou Aquash who was
murdered in 1975 because AIM leaders mistakenly thought she was a
government informant. Pictou Aquash was also at Wounded Knee but does
not appear in the film.
Richard Two Elk, a former AIM member, was not interviewed for the
film partly because of his first-hand account of the Robinson
shooting. 'I witnessed the incident when Robinson was shot in the leg
and carried away after an argument with some of the leaders. Carter
Camp knows that Robinson died after bleeding to death and he has lied
about even meeting him.' Camp, an AIM leader interviewed extensively
for the film, defends his actions as an instigator of several gun
battles during the occupation. Two Elk laments that PBS now appears
to be a part of the effort to cover up the Robinson murder in order
to "glorify" AIM leaders. "AIM hijacked the legacy of Wounded Knee
and exploited it for their own gain. They cashed in and left their
fellow Indians behind, homeless and destitute. That should have been
part of the story. Another fact not mentioned in the film is that
most of the invaders were from outside the reservation. They were not
local people with local grievances.'
Shawn White Wolf, CEO of White Wolf Media Group (native-view.com),
judged the film to be little more than vintage AIM propaganda. 'I am
disgusted with this film. Producer Stanley Nelson has done nothing
more than propagandize in favor of the murders, terror and violence
committed by members of the American Indian Movement. This film only
adds more salt to the wounds of the true Wounded Knee victims. And I
ask the public schools to stop teaching our Native youth that AIM is
a legitimate organization.'
The group is asking PBS to make amends for shortcomings in the film.
"We want equal time to dispel the myths and correct the damage done
to the historical record by this documentary," said John Trimbach,
co-author of American Indian Mafia. 'We cannot let PBS or any other
entity dismiss the hardships and horrors endured by the villagers and
the victims. It is up to all of us to remember them as best we can.
PBS owes it to the American public to get it right.' Patrick LeBeau,
professor of Indian Studies, Michigan State University, added that
the PBS-endorsed curriculum reflects the film's distortions. 'I will
not brainwash my students with the AIM litany of lies promoted by
these leading questions. I will teach my students how to distinguish
between factual history and propaganda. And I'll use the PBS study
questions as a prime example.'
Ray Robinson's widow, Cheryl Buswell-Robinson, wrote a letter that
accompanies the group letter to PBS. In it, she wrote, 'Ray was able
to connect with all sorts of people more than anyone I have ever
known…. I am saddened to learn that the whole history of Wounded
Knee, where my murdered husband rests in an unmarked grave, was
suppressed.' She added that Anna Mae Pictou Aquash was an important
figure at Wounded Knee. 'It would have been a positive addition to
the historical record to finally document other aspects of Anna Mae's
life, particularly her role during the occupation of Wounded Knee.
Anyone's death is a tragedy, but not to have the death acknowledged
is a double tragedy.'
The group plans to launch a media campaign to voice their concerns
and to persuade PBS to either change or challenge the Wounded Knee
film. They want PBS to have a panel discussion about how to
accurately portray Indian history. Members of the Wounded Knee
Victims and Veterans Association can be reached at WKVAVA@cs.com .
They would like to hear from people who were inside Wounded Knee
during the occupation or who would like to share information. They
assure confidentiality to all those who ask for it.
The letters sent to PBS can be found at
John M. Trimbach
Trimbach & Associates, Inc.