SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A small patch of prairie largely unnoticed off a desolate road in southwestern South Dakota is tucked amid gently rolling hills and surrounded by dilapidated structures and hundreds of gravesites, many belonging to Native Americans massacred more than a century earlier.
The assessed value is less than $14,000. The seller’s asking price: $4.9 million.
Tribal members say the man who owns a piece of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is trying to profit from their suffering. It was there, on Dec. 29, 1890, that 300 Native American men, women, and children were killed by the Seventh Cavalry in the final battle of the American Indian Wars.
James Czywczynski, whose family has owned the property since 1968, is trying to sell the 40-acre fraction of the historic landmark and another 40-acre parcel for $4.9 million. He has given the Oglala Sioux Tribe until Wednesday to agree to the price, after which he will open it up to outside investors.
Oglala Sioux tribal president Bryan Brewer told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the tribe does not have the money and that, if it did, tribal members should not have to buy back something that is theirs.
“We are hoping no one will buy this land. And I’d like to tell investors that if someone thinks they can go down there and commercialize this, it will never happen. We will not allow it,” he said.
Czywczynski did not return calls Wednesday. Earlier this month he said he had three offers from West Coast investment groups interested in buying for the original asking price.
The ultimatum has caused anger among many tribal members and descendants of the massacre victims.
“I know we are at the 11th hour, but selling this massacre site and using the victims as a selling pitch is, for lack of a better word, it’s grotesque,” said Nathan Blindman, 56, whose grandfather was 10 when he survived the massacre. “To use the murdered children, the murdered teenagers, the unborn, women screaming and running for their lives, using that as a selling pitch ... that has got to be the most barbaric thing ever to use as a selling pitch.”
Czywczynski acknowledges the historical significance adds value to each parcel, which have been appraised at less than $7,000 apiece.
Besides its proximity to the burial grounds, the land includes the site of a trading post burned down during the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising, in which hundreds of protesters occupied the town built at the massacre site. The 71-day standoff — which left two tribe members dead and a US agent seriously wounded — is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles and with giving rise to a wider movement.
The land is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but many descendants of the massacre victims and survivors are members of different Lakota tribes, said Joseph Brings Plenty, a former chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Brings Plenty said the tribes are not in a position to pay millions. Although tribe members are not opposed to development that would preserve, beautify, or better educate the public about the land and its history, they are opposed to commercialization, he said.
“You don’t go and dance on grandma and grandpa’s grave to turn a hefty dollar sign.”
Tribe members and descendants have reached out to President Obama to make the site a National Monument, which would better guard it against development and commercialization, Brings Plenty said.
Still, a site can lose its designation if it does not retain its physical integrity. Soldier Field in Chicago lost it when it was remodeled a decade ago.