By Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Staff writer
RAPID CITY — Wounded Knee, the site of one of the most horrific and tragic events in all of American history, is being offered up for sale by its owner.
The family of James A. Czywczynski, owners of two 40 acre sites of land where the slaughter of approximately 300 Lakota men, women and children took place on Dec 29, 1890, has agreed to sell the land for $3.9 million dollars.
“It is time for our family to sell the land. We would really like to see the land returned to the Lakota people and that is why I am giving them an opportunity to purchase the land before I open it up to others for sale,” said Czywczynski. “I could offer it up for public auction like the Runnels did with Pe’ Sla, but I would prefer that the Lakota people be the ones to purchase it.”
The Runnels family was the owner of the Pe’Sla sacred site located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Runnels family placed the land up for sale asking $9 million dollars. The price reportedly reflected the potential development and investment opportunities there. The offering forced tribes to scramble to raise the $9 million dollars needed to purchase the site, which they eventually did.
The final $1 million needed to purchase Pe’Sla was driven by a social media campaign by Native American attorney, activist and founder of LastRealIndians.com Chase Iron Eyes said that the site should be offered up for sale to those with the financial ability to purchase the lands.
“I feel that as part of asserting our own role in the telling of our stories and our history, we should have a proper monument and cultural exchange center near the spiritually heavy and tragic grave site where we can tell the world what happened and how we are healing from this scar on our hearts to make a way for ourselves,” said Iron Eyes. “A seller would need to talk to the people with the financial means to make that happen,” he said.
The site does not include the mass gravesite where the members of the United States 7th Cavalry piled the bodies of those who were murdered that day. However, the parcels of land do include the immediate surrounding area where the massacre took place and the area surrounding Porcupine Butte (the site of KILI radio is not included). It does include the site of the original Wounded Knee Trading Post.
The Czywczynski family has owned the property since 1968, when they purchased the property from the Gildersleeves.
During the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement, Mr. Czywczynski had his home, all of his personal belongings, the trading post he owned (including all of the artifacts inside) and several vehicles destroyed. At the time he and his family were returning from a high school basketball game and were told by the United States Marshall Service that he could not return to their home that night.
The losses the he incurred during the occupation have been included in the $3.9 million offering.
“I was never repaid for the property losses I had as a result of what happened there in 1973,” he said. “The price that I have placed on the land is an attempt for me to reclaim my losses, and an attempt to get fair market value for the land.”
In a conversation with Native Sun News, Mr. Czywczynski made it known that he does have several potential non-Native buyers who are ready to purchase the land but, would prefer that someone representative of the tribe be the ones to buy it.
“I could sell the property to someone from outside the tribe but I really do not want to do that,” said Czywczynski. “This is a real chance for the tribe to take advantage of an opportunity to bring more money and people to the reservation. It could be done in a respectful way for those who passed there,” he added.
In the past the tribe has been hesitant to develop the land at Wounded Knee as a result of some tribal members voicing the opinion that any attempt to make the site a tourist attraction, would be disrespectful to their family members who were gunned down there in 1890. However, there are other tribal members who believe that a museum and cultural center would be very beneficial to the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. It has been rumored that the National Park Service would support such a project and South Dakota’s Congressional delegation would also find such a project favorable. A recent survey of sites European tourists would most like to visit if they came to America put Wounded Knee near the top.
The tribe however, has very few options in regards to bringing in new revenue to the reservation without tapping in to natural resources because of public outcry against it. The recent protests against potential uranium mining and the Keystone XL pipeline are indicative of this public sentiment.
For many years there has been a movement by those in the economic development field on the reservation to further expand the tourism industry on the reservation. Mr. Czywczynski feels that the purchase of the site will help to spawn more investment opportunities for the tribe.
“People are interested in what happened here and this could potentially bring in millions of dollars to the reservation,” he said.
Native Sun News will continue to follow this story as it develops.
Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright permission by Native Sun News.