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Oglala revisited after 25 years

OGLALA, S.D. - A few participants at the incident at Oglala 25 years ago returned here to pray, ask forgiveness, and start a new legacy of peace and autonomy.

They were joined by an estimated 75 people who came to support the effort of peace and promote the movement to gain clemency for Leonard Peltier.

On June 26, 1975, three people were killed in a gunfight that has been a subject of controversy between federal authorities and supporters of the man convicted in the killing of two FBI agents.

But, this was a time for prayers, and a time to move on for some people. Others, who said they would pick up arms and defend their people if asked and needed again, pledged it would be with a different attitude.

"If I pick up the rifle again I will not fight out of hatred, I will fight for the love of my people," said Darrelle Dean "Dino" Butler. Butler was charged with the murders but was acquitted at trial in Cedar Rapid, Iowa.

The cemetery where Joe Killsright Stuntz is buried on the Little family land was scene of the June 26 prayer service planned to bring about reconciliation and healing for many families affected directly or indirectly on that fateful day 25 years ago. Stuntz was the only American Indian killed that day.

The gathering was there more for the healing process than to promote Peltier's clemency. The only person convicted of killing Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, the two FBI agents, Peltier has been incarcerated for 24 years and continues to declare his innocence. The FBI adamantly claims it charged the right person. But, if Peltier did not kill the two agents at point blank range, who did?

"When the person admits to killing the agents there will be a lot of healing," Norman Patrick Brown said.

Brown, Din?, was at the Jumping Bull Camp that day. He said shots were fired at him, he fired back. Brown went to the site where the FBI agents were killed and prayed for them. "I told them I'm very sorry it happened that way. But you made your choice. I asked them to leave us alone," Brown told the crowd.

He said it had been a hard 25 years for the Lakota people. And 25 years later, "Things haven't changed for us. They haven't honored the treaties. I hope it doesn't come to violence.

"I want to be left alone. We need to forgive ourselves. I want to look for the little Navajo boy who I left behind," Butler said.

Brown said the deaths were acknowledged in ceremony with the Pipe. "It was not a good day. I understand how the FBI feels. It was a sad day for all of us."

Brown, like others at the gathering, asked the Congress to investigate the events that occurred outside of Oglala the same as the incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco are under legislative scrutiny. "Ask why the FBI was there that day. Why was there such massive firepower? Why haven't they come to us, those of us who fought that day?

"My role that day was to stand up. I had no choice," he said. "I made the decision to stay and fight. There were women and children there.

"They say time heals. I hope it will. It all happened so fast. I know I was shot at and I responded," Brown said.

"All we want is peace to make our decisions and live and worship they way we want," he said.

Butler said the reason the American Indian Movement members were at Oglala in 1975 in the first place was because the elders asked them to come to form a security force against terrorism on the reservation at the time. The movement members claim that Goon Squads under the direction of then-Tribal President Dick Wilson terrorized the reservation and murdered AIM members and others. Figures released by the Peltier Defense Committee claim that 64 unsolved deaths occurred at the time on Pine Ridge.

What has changed since 1975?

Jean Day, Peltier Defense Committee member and a Ho-Chunk, said much has changed. Before the terrorism started in the early 70s people from communities would come together to talk and socialize, she said. At Oglala a convenience store was built with the help of the community, but tragedy hit and things changed.

"Dick Wilson didn't want them to succeed. One man died. The people were scared and they quit.

"People still are afraid to say anything because they may lose jobs. Billy Mills, an Oglala, says the leaders have to be accountable." She said Mills isn't listened to in his own community.

The fiery speech delivered by Vernon Bellecourt, a founder of AIM, carried with it the message that the movement was alive and ready to carry the fight into the new millennium. "We must leave this sacred ground as determined as ever to carry on the fight. This is rooted like a tree in Mother Earth. Blood was shed at Wounded Knee and at Jumping Bull. Blood that has nurtured that tree," Bellecourt said.

He asked the crowd to keep the memory of Joe Stuntz and others he said sacrificed their lives - Anna Mae Aquash, Buddy Lamont, Frank Clear Water, Pedro Bissonette - as among those who martyred during that turbulent time in the early 1970s.

The families of the two FBI agents killed were invited to take part in the prayer and healing ceremony, but Day said the committee received no response from the families.