Response to Tim Giago’s AIM/Wounded Knee column

By Johnny Flynn

Mr. Giago would have you believe that the American Indian Movement is solely responsible for all the ills of the Pine Ridge Reservation for the past thirty-five years. It is one thing to critique the motives and effects of any particular event, group, or individual. It is quite another to engage in criticism using hyperbole and exaggeration in order to seek support for your end of the political spectrum.

I am not from Pine Ridge, not Oglala, but I was on the reservation for some time before the events that led to WK II, during and after. The failure of the US Government to redress the grievances of the Lakota people over the theft of land and resources from the 1870s forward is a more likely suspect for the continuing poverty on Pine Ridge.

As many Indian people know, the American Indian Movement was only one organization of many that was part of a general movement of Indian people seeking social justice in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Any student of Indian history knows that every generation and every tribe has been part of that movement for five hundred years.

AIM did not control the housing and infrastructure budgets which led to siphoning off millions of much needed dollars into the coffers of non-Indians. And we sure did not build houses on Pine Ridge with plumbing in areas with no running water. AIM did not institute an IRA form of government which in turn led to the dictatorship of Richard Wilson. In fact, the Indian Reorganization Act has led to 'mini-dictators' all over Indian Country.

Every week stories can be found in the local and national Indian press about corruption and theft by tribal leaders which in many ways relate to the imposition of IRA governments all across the US. These horrible mistakes were in place for forty years before AIM came along.

AIM did not allow only non-Indians to open stores on the reservation (like the Gildersleeve "trading post" at Wounded Knee cited by Giago) and certainly did not establish the border towns which tend to suck the life and resources out of reservations like Pine Ridge and all over Indian Country.

We did protest in Gordon and Custer where it was, and many ways still is, OK to murder Indians without fear of arrest or prosecution.

AIM made a lot of mistakes, but we were only a small part of the national movement of Indians to gain a modicum of control over our own lives. An effort, by the way, which led Mr. Giago to be able to start and run his own newspaper, and later become a successful national columnist.

In some ways, Mr. Giago has turned into a bitter old man settling decades old grievances without concern for the facts or the truth of what others may know, or have experienced.

Sad really, cause there is still so much work to be done.

Johnny Flynn is a Citizen Band Potawatomi from Oklahoma who teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Dr. Flynn joined AIM as a student at Haskell in 1971 and participated in the takeover of the BIA in 1972 and the Wounded Knee incident in 1973.