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.