One of the country's poorest Native American tribes wants to buy a historically significant piece of land where 300 of their ancestors were killed, but tribal leaders say the nearly $4 million price tag for a property appraised at less than $7,000 is just too much.
James Czywczynski is trying to sell a 40-acre fraction of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The land sits adjacent to a gravesite where about 150 of the 300 Lakota men, women and children killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890 are buried.
Czywczynski, whose family has owned the property since 1968, recently gave the tribe an ultim purchase the land for $3.9 million or he will open up bidding to non-Native Americans. He said he has been trying to sell the land to the tribe for years.
The ultimatum comes right before the tribe is poised to receive about $20 million from the Cobell lawsuit— a $3.4 billion settlement stemming from a class-action lawsuit filed over American Indian land royalties mismanaged by the government for more than a century.
"I think it's ridiculous that he's putting a price on it like that," said Kevin Yellow Bird Steele, a tribal council representative from the Wounded Knee district, who thinks Czywczynski is putting pressure on the tribe because of the impending money. "We need to come down to earth and be realistic. We're not rich. We're not a rich tribe."
Czywczynski insists the site's historical significance adds value.
Along with its proximity to the burial grounds, the land includes the site of a former trading post burned down during the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising, in which hundreds of American Indian Movement protesters occupied the town built at the site of the 1890 massacre. The 71-day standoff that left two tribal members dead and a federal agent seriously wounded is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles and giving rise to a wider protest movement that lasted the rest of the decade.
Czywczynski, who also is trying to sell another 40-acre piece of nearby land to the tribe for $1 million, also noted a coalition of Sioux tribes raised $9 million in December to buy land about 100 miles away in the Black Hills — although the Oglala Sioux Tribe did not contribute to that effort.
"I'm getting older now and my family and myself want to dispose of this property," said Czywczynski, 75, who now lives in Rapid City. "We just want to see it in the hands of the Indian people rather than put it on the open market to the public."
Craig Dillon, a tribal council member on the Land Committee, said he would like to see the tribe buy the land at Wounded Knee because then they could build a museum commemorating the massacre with artifacts, food vendors and a place for local artists to sell their art to visitors.
"But with the price the way it is, I don't think the tribe could ever buy it," Dillon said.
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