From the archives: The sounds of the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation

Indian Reservation  AIM  Wounded Knee South Dakota
Wounded Knee, S.D., on March 27, 1973 during negotiations between members of the American Indian Movement and federal agents.
Associated Press file 1973

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Throughout 2017, Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the air by sharing highlights from our archives, connecting Minnesota's past to its present. | This segment of MPR News' Midday program originally aired May 16, 1973.

In late April 1973, reporter Kevin McKiernan brought his tape recorder into the town of Wounded Knee, S.D.

For two months, about 200 members of the American Indian Movement and Oglala Lakota tribe members had been occupying the site of an 1890 massacre of Lakota at the hands of the U.S. Army.

The occupation of Wounded Knee began when members of the Oglala Lakota tribe, based on the Pine Ridge Reservation, called for the impeachment of tribal chairman Richard Wilson. When the impeachment didn't happen, some tribe members, along with a group of American Indian Movement members, took over the town.

Native Indian women demonstrate in Pine Ridge, SD
Native American women demonstrate on March 16, 1973, in Pine Ridge, S.D., for the rights of indigenous people.
AFP/Getty Images | File 1973

In addition to opposing what they said was a corrupt tribal government, the group was frustrated with the U.S. government, saying it had not fulfilled its treaties with the tribe — and demanded that the federal government honor its promises, and reopen treaty negotiations.

Obit Carter Camp
A U.S. flag flies upside-down outside a church occupied by members of the American Indian Movement on March 3, 1973, on the site of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D.
Jim Mone | AP file 1973

The 10-week occupation had quickly become a media circus — and turned violent. At least two people were killed between Feb. 27 and May 8, 1973.

Not long after the occupation ended, McKiernan spoke with MPR News host Marvin Granger, sharing the sounds of the occupation: Listeners heard gunfire and radio communications between the Native American activists and federal officials.

McKiernan has since reported around the world, including parts of Central America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and is now working on a new film, "From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock."


American Indian Movement
Harlington Wood, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, third row center (without hat), is escorted into the village of Wounded Knee by AIM members on March 13, 1973. In the second row at left, wearing a mackinaw, is AIM leader Russell Means. Carter Camp, another AIM leader, walks beside Wood. Wood was sent to the reservation in an effort to find a solution to the problem.
Associated Press | File 1973