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Panel 4: "Dancing Again: History, Memory, and Activism at Wounded Knee"

Volzke, Owen
This study examines the role history and memory played in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by Oglala and other Native American protestors. Previous histories of the event focus largely on the role of the American Indian Movement, while overlooking those factors capable of motivating Oglala citizens to risk their lives in protest against the United States. This paper aims to understand the relationship between the history of United States-Oglala relations and the collective memory of those Oglala protestors both within and around Wounded Knee. Through examining newspaper articles published from within Wounded Knee, as well as congressional hearings and several participant autobiographies, this case study seeks to better understand the Wounded Knee occupation as viewed through a lens of historical and memorial motivation. The research demonstrates that a historical and memorial understanding of Lakota culture and relationship with the United States played a critical role in the identity protestors consciously sought to create and define for themselves during the occupation. In particular, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 provided key events that, while interpreted and utilized for varying purposes, helped legitimize the struggle of Oglala protestors as they sought an improvement in their immediate living condition. Furthermore, Oglala protestors sought and consciously cultivated the revival of a Lakota culture long dormant or suppressed within the Pine Ridge Reservation, with memories of Lakota tradition passed down through tribal elders providing the crux upon which this new culture rested. Although ultimately unsuccessful in its immediate efforts, the Wounded Knee occupation demonstrates the inherent power associated with historic interpretation and memorial remembrance, particularly when applied towards the creation of new collective identity rooted in the past and directed towards the future.
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