As the May 1 deadline approaches for the Oglala Sioux Tribe to purchase the historic site of Wounded Knee for millions of dollars, the tribe has made no statement that they plan to buy the land. The owner of the 40-acre parcel, James Czywczynski, has told the press he has several interested parties.
Tribal officials have consistently denied purchasing the land for Czywczynski’s asking price of over $3 million because the 40-acre parcel of land has an appraised value in the thousands, not millions.
The Rapid City Journal reported that there are five parties who want to purchase the land: Two California investment groups, an overseas investor, an American who offered $1 million cash, and a group in Wall, South Dakota that wants to raise grant money to buy the land and gift it to the Lakota.
Czywczynski says he will not consider any offers until after May 1 and would only sell Wounded Knee and another parcel at Porcupine Butte, as a package deal and for no less than $4.9 million.
Some Lakota activists, including tribal member Garfield Steele, are offering a warning to Czywczynski.
“This is our backyard; this is our homeland,” Steele told the Rapid City Journal. “This has historical value for our people, not to any non-Indian. We will fight to keep it, as is, by all means.”
Steele mentioned his opposition to the development of the land as a tourist attraction, and the action to sell could involve protests because the tribe views any building on the land as an exploitation of their tragic history.
Floyd Brings Plenty, Oglala Sioux tribal member and chairman of the Oglala district, feels Czywczynski is most likely selling for one of two reasons.
“He is a greedy old man who wants a lot of dollars and money off the Wounded Knee site, which is land that was appraised for a little over $7,000. He knows that people will buy this because the land is Wounded Knee,” Brings Plenty said.
“Either that or this guy is so full of hatred, resentment and anger that he is making the tribe pay. He couldn’t do it back then so he is doing it now. I have read that this guy is very determined.”
Alex White Plume, a tribal member who has lived on Pine Ridge his entire life, says the selling of Wounded Knee by Czywczynski is an insult.
“Wounded Knee is a sad place where they killed our relatives. In the American way they called it a massacre but that hardly gives the meaning of what took place. Those are our relatives that were killed. We are trying to deal with historical grief and trauma and here this man comes trying to sell it. We cannot have a tourist attraction at a sacred place,” says White Plume.
“I saw a Supreme Court judge come here one time. He made contact with this grief and was crying. He knew the significance, this is a healing place. No one should be talking about selling it.”
Brandon Ecoffey, the Native Sun News managing editor who broke the story, says the Wounded Knee Survivor's Association agrees that development on the land, or even purchasing it is not right.
“We cannot support any development or exploitation of the land. For us as Lakota we cannot sell the sacred,” Nathan Blindman, of the Wounded Knee Survivor’s Association, a group that speaks for a small number of Wounded Knee Massacre survivors, told Native Sun News.
White Plume questions how Czywczynski acquired the land back in 1968. He spoke of rumors that accuse the owner of buying the land with a $300 debt owed at his grocery store. White Plume also claims Czywczynski was a rude man who took advantage of Indian people.
Czywczynski says the rumor about purchasing the land with a store credit is ridiculous and adds that he and his family were friends with many Indian people. “We had a very good relationship with Indian people; we work with them every day. They were all friends of ours.”
“Our property was bought in the 1930s by Woodrow Wilson who signed the deed. Clive Gildersleeve’s father bought the land and store in 1935, which included 40 acres of the national historical site of Wounded Knee. In 1968, I bought the property from the Gildersleeve's which included the Trading Post Museum, a home, four cabins and museum artifacts. The 40 acres we bought included the ravine and the area where the massacre took place in 1890,” Czywczynski said.
Czywczynski and his family were there from 1968 until 1973, but when the American Indian Movement activists came to Pine Ridge and occupied where his family lived, the series of events that transpired never enabled him to live there again.
“Forty carloads came in February of 1973 to Wounded Knee and took over the complex. They stayed there for 71 days,” he said. “When I got it back, it was all destroyed, burned. Everything was burnt to the ground, my home, my store and my trading post. They stole all of the artifacts, they burned my museum, and they burned four cabins and all my vehicles to the ground.”
“A lot of people say I should give the land back and I would if I was a multimillionaire. But I am not; I lost everything at Wounded Knee in 1973,” he said.
“What makes them think that I should give it to them? Everything is given to the Indians anyway,” Czywczynski said. “There are hundreds of millions poured into the Pine Ridge reservation every year.”
Tomorrow Czywczynski will begin to consider offers. If the Oglala Sioux Tribe decides not to purchase Wounded Knee, the land will be sold to the highest bidder. As of April 30, neither the Oglala Sioux Tribe, nor the Great Sioux Nation as a collective body, has issued a formal statement about their intentions.
(Related story: "A Conversation with Wounded Knee Owner James Czywczynski")