Keeping key historical locations from being destroyed is a way of preserving the nation’s memory, and the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in South Dakota is well worth protecting. In that incident, federal cavalrymen killed about 300 Native American men, women, and children. A man named James Czywczynski gained possession in 1968 of land next to where many of the dead were buried. He now wants to sell two 40-acre tracts, valued by federal officials at about $14,000, for $4.9 million. He set a Wednesday deadline for the Oglala Sioux tribe to buy the land.
Some tribe members have accused him of trying to profit from their ancestors’ troubles. In fact, Czywczynski’s motives appear complicated. In news reports, he has maintained that his goal has long been to sell the land to the tribe, and that no one took his effort seriously until he set a deadline. He’s also hinted at a level of bitterness that property he owned was destroyed in a 1973 protest at Wounded Knee by Native American activists.
The land’s anguished history is all the more reason it should be preserved. Czywczynski maintains that he’s had nibbles from outside development groups. But last week, Czywczynski extended his deadline by at least a month. The federal Department of the Interior should step in to broker a deal between the tribe and Czywczynski, or offer a reasonable price to buy the land itself.