(RAPID CITY, S.D.) — Native American tribes declare themselves outraged by the pending sale of lands hallowed by the blood of murdered ancestors: Two 40-acre tracts of Wounded Knee are on the block for $4.9 million. They’re for sale to any buyer, including any commercial developer.
At Wounded Knee in 1890, U.S. soldiers opened fire on Native Americans being held captive, killing 300, including women and children.
One of the two tracts for sale contains the last known burial place of Chief Crazy Horse.
Joseph Brings Plenty, a former chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux and a teacher of Lakota culture, writes in the New York Times that he fears the cries of his dead ancestors are in danger of being “drowned out now by bulldozers and the ka-ching of commerce.” He has appealed to the Obama administration to buy the land for preservation as a national monument forever safe from development.
Seller James Czywczynski of Rapid City, S.D., came into possession of the two tracts in 1968, through a process known as allotment, by which, starting in the late 1800s, the federal government divided up reservations into smaller parcels, giving some to Indians and some to non-Indians.
Czywczynski tells ABC News he has tried for 30 years to sell the property for lesser amounts to local tribes, who have, he says, consistently ignored his overtures. Only when he offered to sell the property to any bidder—including anybody wanting to develop it—did the tribes protest.
Brandon Ecoffey, managing editor of Native Sun News, first to break the news of the pending sale, confirms Czywczynski’s account: “For 30 years he’s been trying to sell it to the tribes. He’s sent letters to tribal leaders and to congressmen. He’s never gotten anyone to bite. It’s only this time, when he put a deadline on it, that the story has taken off.”
Originally Czywczynski set a deadline for bids of May 1. He now tells ABC News he has decided to extend that by as much as a month, during which the acreage will remain up for grabs to the tribes, to a commercial buyer, or to a philanthropist who might want to buy the land and give it back to the tribes.
The value of the land, as appraised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is $7,000. At the surface, one might think Czywczynski’s price of almost $5 million is an unseemly attempt to cash in.
But he tells ABC his price is predicated, in part, upon his own commercial loss: He acquired the property in 1968, at which time it included a single-family home in which he and his family lived, a trading post, a museum and four cabins. In 1973, Indian activists seized control of Wounded Knee by force and burned his buildings to the ground.
He and his family, he says, were made homeless and were never compensated for their loss.
If he were a billionaire, he says, he might consider giving the tribes the land. But he is not, and he won’t.
“Am I taking advantage of the dead? No. In ’73 I was burned to the ground and left homeless. No compensation whatsoever—from the government or anybody else.”
He calls a $4.9 million deal a potential win-win, if the tribes were to buy: “We could recover our loss, and the tribes would back get their 1890 property.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio