Saturday, May 8th, marks the 47th anniversary of the American Indian Movement’s 71 day occupation at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. In honor of the day, Tampa Bay activists plan to recognize the history of Wounded Knee with an event in St. Petersburg.
Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality (FIREE) is a Native American activist group from Tampa Bay that focuses on Native sovereignty and protecting the earth. On May 8th, they will speak out in front of St. Petersburg City Hall and project the video on the side of the building.
“It’s important because the genocide of our people isn’t just history,” says Alicia Norris, co-founder of FIREE. “It’s still going on, and if we don’t remember, if we don’t preserve our past and our culture, the genocide will be complete.”
The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29th, 1980. Norris points out that the tragedy is sometimes referred to as the “Wounded Knee Battle.” However, she says, it was in reality the slaughter of an estimated 300 Lakota people by the United States Army, including unarmed women and children. The Lakota camp was originally armed, but most had already given up their rifles before the U.S. Calvary troops opened fire on them.
The massacre was part of an ongoing campaign to make the Native Americans submit to reservation life and assimilate to white European culture.
In February of 1973, the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, taking over the government installed leadership. Russel Means and Dennis Banks co-founders of AIM, demanded that the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs be investigated for abuses, and asked for the investigation of several treaties broken by the U.S. government. Federal armed forces descended on the site, and by the end of the occupation two Sioux men had been shot to death. On May 8th, the occupation ended, after the government agreed to follow through with AIM’s demands.
Means and Banks were arrested, but released after the government was exposed in having manipulated the case against them, which was a common theme in court cases against Natives.
“We’re doing this to honor those who were killed at Wounded Knee, as well as all those who have fought for Indigenous liberation,” Norris says. “Also, for all those who were terrorized after the occupation and are still treated horribly to this day.”
Following the occupation was what came to be known as the “Reign of Terror,” when government supported death squads targeted and killed over 60 AIM activists and allies, and fabricated reasons to send them to jail.
FIREE contends that the persecution of Natives continues to this day. They are more likely to be killed by police than any other race. Indigenous women are missing and murdered at an alarming rate, with 90% of the assaults occurring at the hands of non-native men. And the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Native community harder than any other race.
That’s why Norris has teamed up with fellow FIREE member Vanessa Garcia-Cuevas to arrange the event on Saturday, with Garcia-Cuevas curating the video installation.
At sunset on Saturday, her presentation “You Are on Stolen Land: A brief history you were never taught in school” will play on the side of St. Pete City Hall.
“It’s packed with information that a lot of us aren’t taught by the colonial education system,” says Garcia-Cuevas.
The video uses music and artistic editing to take a decolonized look at what happened at Sand Creek, Wounded Knee and explores the AIM movement. It captures the voice of Wici Tok Ab Iyanke, who’s great great grandmother survived Wounded Knee, and who also fought the Dakota access pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota. FIREE and AIM activists who are continuing the fight for Indigenous rights discuss ongoing struggles. They speak about their current efforts in Florida: from stopping drilling for oil in the Everglades, to protecting Native spiritual sites and other efforts to defend Mother Earth.
The activists invite all allies and those who wish to be educated on the history of Wounded Knee to attend.
“The more people that learn about Native history and what’s going on now, the better chance we have of changing the situation we’re in,” says Garcia-Cuevas.