Insult And Injury

As though what white Europeans did to the native people on this continent isn’t bad enough, we read about yet another attempt to screw the remaining people out of what is rightfully theirs. As a recent Yahoo News story tells us,

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A small patch of prairie sits largely unnoticed off a desolate road in southwestern South Dakota, tucked amid gently rolling hills and surrounded by dilapidated structures and hundreds of gravesites — many belonging to Native Americans massacred more than a century earlier.

The assessed value of the property: less than $14,000. The seller’s asking price: $4.9 million.

Tribal members say the man who owns a piece of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is trying to profit from their suffering. It was there, on Dec. 29, 1890, that 300 Native American men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry in the final battle of the American Indian Wars.

James Czywczynski, whose family has owned the property since 1968, is trying to sell the 40-acre fraction of the historic landmark and another 40-acre parcel for $4.9 million. He has given the Oglala Sioux Tribe until Wednesday to agree to the price, after which he will open it up to outside investors.

Tribal president Bryan Brewer has said that the tribe doesn’t have that kind of money and shouldn’t have to buy back that which was stolen from them and he makes sense. There is something obscene about the attempt by Czywczynski to take land with an assessed value of $14,000 and demand millions from those to whom the land means so much and from whom it was simply taken. And he is not above extortion as he has threatened to sell the land to outside investors if the tribe can’t come up with the money. One suspects that “outside investors” translates into Walt Disney or one of his clones and that the site would be turned into a playground for the middle classes to bring their kids, go on rides, glory in the exploits of heroes such as General Custer and Kit Carson, and buy souvenirs.

I have read accounts about the tactics the U.S. Cavalry used to wipe out the remaining groups of native people late in the nineteenth century — such as the Nez Perce in Montana. They surrounded the camps in the dark of night and fired on command low into the sleeping people in the tents in the hope of killing off the women, children and older folks, thereby demoralizing and isolating the warriors for later slaughter. It isn’t a pleasant story. Yet it foregrounds the actions on the part of greedy folks such as James Czywczynski who wants to sell to the few remaining descendants of those slaughtered at Wounded Knee land that ought to be handed back to the them with great humility and an abject apology.

When we are told to take “pride” in our country, we are obviously not thinking of our treatment of the native people throughout our history, the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in the present day who are currently on hunger strikes, or the drones being sent regularly as I write this into crowded areas in the Middle East to target suspected militant terrorists regardless of “collateral damage.” We do have much to be proud of as a nation, including our willingness to come to the aid of our allies during the First and Second World Wars, as well as such things as the Marshall Plan following the latter war; but of late the actions of this country mark a sharp departure from those generous deeds. Further, the stigma that attaches itself to this nation’s baser actions is augmented by the urges of people like Czywczynki and others of their ilk. These people truly are the “ugly Americans” that add to this country’s bad reputation around the world that seems increasingly to be well deserved.


15 thoughts on “Insult And Injury

  1. Further along “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire”. Are you ready to join Mr. Gibbon in a “scribble, scribble, scribble, Dr. Cutler”? I am being a wise-ass but the obvious decline of the US proceeds with alarming alacrity. The question is: how far will we fall and when we reach bottom, how will we know it? Rome lasted another 400 years after the demise of the republic. The last gladiators fought some 400 years after Augustus. Romans never did figure out what they were doing wrong. Will we?

      • Curtler, right! Sorry about that!
        THe Brits have managed to lose their empire and still retain their democracy. Maybe we can follow their example.

      • No question! So are we now to resort to the Jeffersonian solution: “the blood of patriots and tyrants”?

      • I am not all that up on how the Brits do it, but they seem less oligarchical than us and they have divested themselves of empire.
        Looking back on it, how do you regard your time at SJC now?

      • Looking back on it, I regard it as the most critical four years in my life!! How about you and Lorna?


      • Just so! Not a day passes but that I thank my lucky stars that I went there. It introduced and opened the life of the mind to me. Lorna also. She taught for many years in the Open University of University College at the U. of MD after she got her masters there. She won many awards for excellence in teaching. I had a thirty year career with the IBM Company during which I worked with a lot of smart guys. Lots of Ivy League, MIT, Caltech, etc. Not one of them had any sense of who they were past their immediate technical or marketing goals. Their place in Western Civilization was unknown to them and hence their priorities were often distorted. I never let the corporate culture impact me and managed to steer my career such that I worked on many technically challenging projects such as the Global Positioning System. What scares me is that I stumbled on St. John’s almost by accident!

  2. Hugh, this saddened me as well. What is interesting to me is by far the worst damage done by our European ancestors are the diseases we brought to these shores and those in South America. Far more native Americans were killed off by the pestilence that was brought to them than by gun or knife. On this issue, there needs to be some mediation. In the past few years, Chimney Rock Park in NC which was owned by a family looked to sell after years of benevolent ownership. To keep it preserved as a park, the State stepped in and bought it for a reasonable price, but not entirely what was asked. That needs to happen here. Ironically, “The Last of the Mohicans” was filmed at Chimney Rock. Good post, BTG

  3. Considering the continued profits our country reaps from stolen American Indian land, perhaps the BIA — or better yet, one of the 1 percent who perhaps has made or is still making his riches from oil, natural gas, crops or any food industry that uses corn oil (almost all of them), or land development, would somehow be moved to do the right thing — will pay the guy his $4.9 million with the caveat that he moves back to where his ancestors came from. $4.9 million is a pittance compared to the riches of all sorts that have been stolen from Indians and their land, let alone the death our European ancestors brought to them.

    Otherwise, why not eminent domain? If it is part of the National Landmark terrain, the government is well within its rights to claim it in the public interest and pay the guy the assessed value only.

    • The native people have threatened to take it to court. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out, but I fear that it will not shake out to the advantage of the native people! Your solution seems the right one, dreamer though you are!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s