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Wounded Knee and Property Holder Ransom

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The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 (also home to the Wounded Knee shootout between AIM and the FBI in 1973) is on the Pine Ridge Reservation. But not all reservation land is owned by Native Americans because of the allotment of Indian land under the Dawes Act. The guy who owns the land has owned it since 1968–5 years before the shootout–and he has decided to capitalize. As Ari Kelman notes in his book on the Sand Creek Massacre, the emotional power of Native American sites has given private landowners tremendous power to charge whatever they want for their land, which forces the poorest people in the United States to find the money to not see their history destroyed.

Ideally, the federal government would step in and help out the Oglala Sioux here. But that’s probably not going to happen. First, the government was interested in buying this land in the 90s, but the complexities with the tribe were too great and it backed away. Second and related, tribal politics are a labyrinthine nightmare, which makes getting anything done very difficult. Third, the tribes often don’t want the government telling their history. Fourth, there’s not exactly a lot of money to be had today from the federal government for something like this.

It’s unlikely the land actually goes onto the open market. It’s even more unlikely that if it does, a sympathetic buyer won’t come buy it and donate it to the tribe. We’re not going to see a casino on the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. But it’s at least theoretically possible that we could, given that landowners with allotment holdings have all the power here.

Personally, I’d like to see the federal government declare all allotted holdings with the reservations null and void and use eminent domain to take them back if the owners don’t sell at a reasonable price. But fat chance we’ll ever see that, in part because conservative western politicians and their often racist constituencies would go ballistic.

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