50 YEARS AGO TODAY I WAS TAKEN HOSTAGE | At that time my family lived in a place I loved – Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Today (Feb 27th) is the Anniversary of the armed takeover of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement and its followers, supporters, and sympathizers.
11 people were taken by force as hostages by them, 8 of whom were my family.
6 of the 8 of us were of Ojibwa descent from the White Earth tribe in Minnesota.
4 of us had been raised on various reservations in the Missionary School System.
1 of us as a young Indian man, ran away from one of those schools to join a professional Native baseball team where he broke his neck when sliding head first into home base. He survived – a thing not expected at that time.
That man was my grandfather, Wilbur Riegert, who grew to find himself at home with the Sioux through his meeting 2 pivotal people in his life: Dr. Charles Eastman, the first Native American to become a medical doctor – the same Eastman who cared for the wounded after the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, and Mrs. Martha Bad Warrior, at that time the last carrier of the Sacred Calf Pipe of the Sioux – and the only known woman carrier.
Gpa, a man confined to a wheelchair, established with his brother-in-law Clive the Wounded Knee Museum. Gpa served as Curator – his only goal to give voice to the people, his people, who'd been targeted for annihilation.
The museum housed a collection of artifacts contributed to it by my family and community members to tell their story, and share their culture – a culture meant to be stamped out by the very same people who founded the Mission schools in which my elders found themselves as young Indian children at the end of the 1800s.
The 1973 story of my family and our being held violently against our will in our homes, and enduring abuse at the hands of our captors (some of whom were cousins from White Earth), is nearly always overlooked or misrepresented in books and media about the incident.
Over the past week I was interviewed by a reporter who works for the Rapid City Journal for a story they were publishing on the 50th Anniversary of the takeover.
I know that the young man who was writing the story would have preferred to write more of the truth of my experience for that piece, and I am grateful that he was able to include at least some of what I shared with him.
I also understood the fact that those darker, more violent aspects of the takeover would not likely make it in to the story – it is the common choice by editors uncomfortable with the entirety of the truth. In the end, the Journal did not, or decided they could not, include more of the darker details of what I'd shared.
The truth for me is that I was 12 years old when AIM came into our little town and took me hostage (along with my family and our friends Annie Hunts Horse and Bill Cole), guns and knives pointed at my face and back. Over the time we were held, my family was separated and terrorized. I was sexually molested by one of the guards they'd placed with us to keep us safe from some of the other occupiers who wished to do us fatal harm. My horse – my ticket to freedom from so many instances of personal violence I had endured as a child of the rez (as had so many of the other children of the reservation) – was stolen in front of me and later slaughtered. And I was nearly shot when defending my horse (I still can hear clearly the clicking of rifles and guns as I raced out of the cabin in which we were held, meaning to take back my horse, saved only because Russell Means followed on my heels and yelled for them to not shoot me). Our homes and most of our belongings were desecrated and destroyed.
And for me, the “debriefing” I endured with the FBI agents was equally brutal.
The trial later held in Minneapolis just added yet another layer to the quieting of my voice, driving deeper the trauma that I carry with me to this day.
When I read stories about the takeover I am reminded of the incompletion there is for me – that there was for my family – in that our experience is left out (and I have learned over the decades the experiences of many many others are also untold – many afraid to tell their stories for fear of retribution). And most times when there is some mention of my family and that incident, we are vilified – as though to give our perpetrators cover for their harmful actions…
I am the last of the hostages still alive. My elders, and the AIM leadership that lead that movement and that violence of the takeover, are all gone.
The coverage of what happened at Wounded Knee 1973 remains one-sided and incomplete. And I struggle as I try to understand what to do with what I saw & experienced – a story that goes unknown by a global audience exposed to the other glorified versions of the takeover.
When I have stood up to the lies and inaccuracies, it has often been just me there holding what little ground I stand on, and it seems as though it matters not what I say, or write, or share in a public forum – my words fall on deaf ears, or are soon forgotten.
Now there is just me of the 11 taken 50 years ago today. Just me with these direct memories of the darker side of a movement I and other children of the Pine Ridge had hoped would give us freedom, and power.
I am struck by the futility I feel in the wake of the Rapid City Journal's story.
At least my family wasn't vilified in it. However, my part of the tale of the takeover – and everything leading to that day, and everything that has transpired since, is lost, giving little or no meaning to the bits that made it in.
Much to my dismay I remain broken in relation to that experience…
And I am reminded that perhaps it is I who may need to step beyond that brokenness to tell my story – being mindful of the lens it is to some deeper issues from which we as a species suffer.
Violence begets violence – perhaps even more so when violence is used in the name of…_________________. Fill in the blank with your favorite cause (religion, progress, vengeance, retribution, justice, et al)
It seems that the only way out is the way in – for all the truths, unlaced by lies, to be shared such that a much more realistic understanding of ourselves can emerge.