Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

A Collection of Interesting South Dakota Cases

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

A Collection of Interesting South Dakota Cases

Article excerpt

This Article presents a collection of interesting South Dakota cases. It is not claimed, in this Article, that the most interesting cases are covered, or that any case is covered exhaustively. Nonetheless, the cases presented are interesting. South Dakota has a rich history of dramatic cases. This Article represents an effort to preserve some of that history.


In 1968, the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) was founded in Minneapolis. (1) Initially, the movement was formed to patrol Minneapolis and guard against police brutality towards Indians. (2) By 1973, the movement had grown nationwide. In February 1973, A.I.M. gained national attention for seizing the town of Wounded Knee for 71 days. (3) Wounded Knee is situated within the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation, a Reservation which stretches 1 1/2 million acres. (4) Wounded Knee was seized by 200 armed A.I.M. members. (5) The A.I.M. protesters established roadblocks around Wounded Knee, (6) set up headquarters in a Catholic church, looted a trading post, and took eleven hostages, (7) all of whom were Indian residents of Wounded Knee. Russell Means, an A.I.M. leader and Oglala Sioux Tribe member, announced to the media: "We've got the whole Wounded Knee valley, and we definitely are going to hold it until death do us part." (8)

The New York Times reported that, for much of the occupation, except for the danger present, the occupation was "like some strange carnival" with policemen by the hundreds surrounding the occupiers and hostages, the former who staged and restaged events for the media in their mobile campers. (9) During the occupation, chartered planes dropped supplies to the town and hundreds of media members "speaking dozens of languages," bunched over the reservation's headquarters, annoyed A.I.M.'s opponents and fought over the two telephones. (10)

Two days after Means' statement to the press, amidst a backdrop of rental cars packed with reporters and camera crews, a helicopter carrying Senators James Abourezk and George McGovern of South Dakota and aides to Senators Edward Kennedy and J. William Fulbright descended upon the Movement. (11) Shortly before the Senators arrived, the hostages, including one with a severe heart condition, had been informed that they were free to leave. (12) All hostages were unharmed and made an apparent choice to remain in Wounded Knee. (13) After that, the Senators held a lengthy meeting with an "AIM spokesmen to discuss grievances." (14)

A.I.M. called for an immediate investigation of the B.I.A. and for a renewed examination of treaties Indians entered into with the U.S. Government. (15) The A.I.M. members also called for the removal of Dick Wilson, Pine Ridge tribal council president. (16) Negotiations dragged on for weeks and at times were "held by an old teepee." (17) The hostages were freed and a tentative agreement was established April 5, but talks ultimately fell apart. (18) Negotiations resumed, focusing on disarmament, but they were disrupted by a vicious fire fight, which resulted in two A.I.M. members, Lawrence Lamont and Frank Clearwater, being fatally shot. Lloyd Grimm, one of the "more than 300 Federal agents" on scene, was paralyzed. (19)

Subsequent to the fire fight, the Solicitor General of the Interior Department presented a letter to President Nixon. The letter reaffirmed a previous promise of a meeting between no less than five representatives of the White House and Oglala Sioux tribal elders if the occupiers left Wounded Knee by a certain date. (20) The elders, some of whom were supporters of A.I.M., delivered the letter to the occupiers. The occupiers responded favorably, believing their agenda would be best served by ending the confrontation. (21) The confrontation ended amidst a few skirmishes. (22)

"Carload by carload the 120 remaining occupiers [half of whom were Indians] were ferried to a Government road block. …

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