Sunday, February 22, 2009

Airlift to Wounded Knee

In the first couple months of this blog, one of my readers told me that his favorite book was The Island at the Center of the World. So last weekend I headed for my public library, looked that book up in the online catalog and went upstairs to find it. But the book wasn't where it was supposed to be. I figured that as long as I was there, I'd browse that part of their collection. A few feet away was the book you see on the right, Bill Zimmerman's Airlift to Wounded Knee.

As soon as I saw the cover photo and the "absolutely spellbinding" recommendation, I knew I would borrow the book (and read it too), but as I made my way through it over the course of the week, I kept asking myself one question: Is this the stuff of Algonkian Church History?

It is for this reason: The 1973 siege of Wounded Knee (although it was very much about the Oglala Sioux), for reasons that are explained in the book, marked a nationwide change in the self-image of American Indians. In less than three months, the scale that had been tipping towards shame dramatically tipped to pride.

If you aren't familiar with the siege, here's some bare-bones background on it: As a protest, many Oglala Sioux "occupied" the village of Wounded Knee (which was part of their Pine Ridge Reservation anyway). The FBI, other federal agents, and the hired "goons" of a crooked tribal official, surrounded Wounded Knee and attempted to block anybody from going in and out, even if all they were bringing in was food.

Essentially the Wounded Knee siege was a 71-day armed standoff and although both sides experienced casualties, the government wielded much more firepower. As starvation became an issue, Bill Zimmerman, the book's author and an amateur pilot, was called on to organize an airlift of supplies.
Zimmerman alternates chapters between the Sioux and his own adventure with the Airlift. Reading his book in 2009, I felt that he made too many references to the Vietnam War, but he nevertheless convinced me that the federal government was doing roughly the same thing in South Dakota as they were doing in Indo-China. The author has a bias, but when you risk your life to deliver food to starving people, you have a right to tell things from your own point of view.

When the author expects to die at any minute and then survives to be chased by the FBI, you know you're reading a true thriller! So much the better if it's a true story.

Here's a couple articles about the Wounded Knee siege: From a Libertarian viewpoint and from a Liberal viewpoint.

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