On the 50th anniversary of the Wounded Knee occupation, a journalist reflects Fifty years ago, Oglala Lakota activists took over the village of Wounded Knee in an occupation that lasted 71 days. Journalist Kevin McKiernan reflects on the standoff and the legacy it leaves.

Native Americans seized Wounded Knee 50 years ago. Here's what 1 reporter remembers

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Fifty years ago today, around 200 activists and members of the Oglala Lakota tribe occupied a small town that few people had heard of until it appeared on outlets such as NBC News.


JOHN CHANCELLOR: A group of American Indians has taken over the town of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, and they have been holding it for nearly a whole day.

MARTÍNEZ: They would go on to hold the town for 71 days.


The activists from the American Indian Movement were protesting poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Their grievances included decades of religious suppression and broken promises from the U.S. government.

MARTÍNEZ: Kevin McKiernan was a rookie reporter assigned to cover the story for NPR.

KEVIN MCKIERNAN: People were in the gutter, and they wanted to get up. They wanted to do something. They were desperate.

FADEL: In February 1973, as the Wounded Knee occupation intensified, the federal government banned reporters from covering it.

MCKIERNAN: They thought that the press was kind of oxygen, and if you choked off the oxygen, the confrontation would come to an end.

FADEL: Two protesters smuggled McKiernan into Wounded Knee.

MCKIERNAN: They were afraid, as they expressed it, of another massacre once the press was gone and there were no witnesses.

MARTÍNEZ: McKiernan captured hours of recordings that served as a counterpoint to the narrative from the Department of Justice.

MCKIERNAN: The feds said this is an armed insurrection. You know, it's criminal. The real story, in my mind, were the religious ceremonies that took place inside Wounded Knee. And this became a kind of laboratory for the hundreds who came there - getting their religion back, learning some of their language, which led to a revival.

MARTÍNEZ: McKiernan's recordings are now part of a documentary called "From Wounded Knee To Standing Rock: A Reporter's Journey."

FADEL: South Dakota Public Broadcasting airs the film tonight to mark the occupation's 50th anniversary.


EARL BULLHEAD: (Singing in non-English language).

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