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News Alert: PBS Accused of Distorting Indian History
Joseph and John Trimbach -- American Indian Movement Myth Busters Joseph and John Trimbach -- American Indian Movement Myth Busters
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For Immediate Release

Atlanta: May 13, 2009 - A group calling themselves The Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans Association (WKVAVA) has issued a scathing letter to Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS. The letter, faxed to PBS headquarters on May 10, accuses the organization of fronting what the group says is a distorted film on Indian history, the last in the ?American Experience - We Shall Remain? series. The film, entitled ?Wounded Knee,? describes the occupation of the historic village in 1973 by members and supporters of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Wounded Knee, the site of an Indian massacre in 1890, sits near the southern border of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The FBI and the U.S. Marshal Service erected roadblocks around the small town after AIM members looted the store, set fires, and shot at responding emergency crews. AIM leaders held 11 residents hostage. The occupation lasted 71 days as government lawyers tried to negotiate a peaceful end to the hostilities. The conflict left the village in shambles. Two occupiers were shot to death, although rumors persist that several victims were murdered behind the scenes during heated arguments and interrogations.

The group charges PBS with failure to hold ?Wounded Knee? to PBS standards for editorial integrity, fairness, and historical accuracy. Many of the association?s complaints center on the film?s lack of information about the Wounded Knee villagers. ?The real victims of Wounded Knee were the people who lived there,? said Joe Trimbach, author of the book, American Indian Mafia (americanindianmafia.com). 'Most of the residents were Indians. They lost everything they owned and yet they are invisible in this film. It doesn?t even show the devastation.' Upon learning that PBS had omitted his book from their bibliography, Trimbach contacted their legal department. PBS has since added Trimbach?s book to the list. 'We call Mafia, ?The history book they do not want you to read.? Well, here?s a good example. We try to tell the truth about what happened and some people don?t want to hear it.'

JoAnn Gildersleeve Feraca, daughter of Wounded Knee residents Clive and Agnes Gildersleeve, recalled what it was like to watch the steady demolition of her community while the media appeared oblivious to the destruction. 'The reporters did one of the worst disservices to real news gathering that I have ever seen. The media wanted to film a western. They created the good guys and the bad guys, and never even had to pay for ruined property and lives. And now we have a film from PBS that pays homage to the perpetrators all over again. My parents suffered greatly at the hands of their assailants. They were taken hostage. Their trading post store was burned to the ground. They even stole my mother?s wedding ring and gold bracelet. My parents lost everything they had spent a lifetime building.'

Among the signers of the letter are Saunie and Romona Wilson, daughters of Tribal Chairman Richard Wilson who is criticized throughout the film. The sisters plan on making a documentary which they say will tell a different story about their father and about Wounded Knee. 'I am upset how this film exploits historical issues painful to all of us as natives, like the boarding school era,? said Romona Wilson. 'My father was whipped and forced to chew soap for speaking Lakota in school. He was fluent and would speak it when he chose to. This film demonizes him by distorting his record and misreporting the facts. We intend to change that.'

Paul DeMain, editor of News from Indian Country (IndianCountryNews.com), said that parts of the film ?take us to a well-charted fantasyland? because it fails to hold AIM accountable. 'AIM leaders Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and Madonna Thunderhawk [all featured in the film] are named co-conspirators in several murders, like that of civil rights worker Perry Ray Robinson.' Robinson, a colleague of Martin Luther King, was said to be the only black man inside the village during that period of the occupation. AIM is believed to have buried his body near Wounded Knee Creek in an effort to keep his death a secret. Added DeMain, 'These same AIM leaders were involved in the execution of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash. They are not heroes. Several people tried to warn Producer Stanley Nelson and PBS about this. They chose to ignore us.' The group has called for justice for Robinson and for Pictou Aquash who was murdered in 1975 because AIM leaders mistakenly thought she was a government informant. Pictou Aquash was also at Wounded Knee but does not appear in the film.

Richard Two Elk, a former AIM member, was not interviewed for the film partly because of his first-hand account of the Robinson shooting. 'I witnessed the incident when Robinson was shot in the leg and carried away after an argument with some of the leaders. Carter Camp knows that Robinson died after bleeding to death and he has lied about even meeting him.' Camp, an AIM leader interviewed extensively for the film, defends his actions as an instigator of several gun battles during the occupation. Two Elk laments that PBS now appears to be a part of the effort to cover up the Robinson murder in order to ?glorify? AIM leaders. ?AIM hijacked the legacy of Wounded Knee and exploited it for their own gain. They cashed in and left their fellow Indians behind, homeless and destitute. That should have been part of the story. Another fact not mentioned in the film is that most of the invaders were from outside the reservation. They were not local people with local grievances.'

Shawn White Wolf, CEO of White Wolf Media Group (native-view.com), judged the film to be little more than vintage AIM propaganda. 'I am disgusted with this film. Producer Stanley Nelson has done nothing more than propagandize in favor of the murders, terror and violence committed by members of the American Indian Movement. This film only adds more salt to the wounds of the true Wounded Knee victims. And I ask the public schools to stop teaching our Native youth that AIM is a legitimate organization.'

The group is asking PBS to make amends for shortcomings in the film. ?We want equal time to dispel the myths and correct the damage done to the historical record by this documentary,? said John Trimbach, co-author of American Indian Mafia. 'We cannot let PBS or any other entity dismiss the hardships and horrors endured by the villagers and the victims. It is up to all of us to remember them as best we can. PBS owes it to the American public to get it right.' Patrick LeBeau, professor of Indian Studies, Michigan State University, added that the PBS-endorsed curriculum reflects the film?s distortions. 'I will not brainwash my students with the AIM litany of lies promoted by these leading questions. I will teach my students how to distinguish between factual history and propaganda. And I?ll use the PBS study questions as a prime example.'

Ray Robinson?s widow, Cheryl Buswell-Robinson, wrote a letter that accompanies the group letter to PBS. In it, she wrote, 'Ray was able to connect with all sorts of people more than anyone I have ever known?. I am saddened to learn that the whole history of Wounded Knee, where my murdered husband rests in an unmarked grave, was suppressed.' She added that Anna Mae Pictou Aquash was an important figure at Wounded Knee. 'It would have been a positive addition to the historical record to finally document other aspects of Anna Mae?s life, particularly her role during the occupation of Wounded Knee. Anyone?s death is a tragedy, but not to have the death acknowledged is a double tragedy.'

The group plans to launch a media campaign to voice their concerns and to persuade PBS to either change or challenge the Wounded Knee film. They want PBS to have a panel discussion about how to accurately portray Indian history. Members of the Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans Association can be reached at WKVAVA@cs.com . They would like to hear from people who were inside Wounded Knee during the occupation or who would like to share information. They assure confidentiality to all those who ask for it.

The letters sent to PBS can be found at AmericanIndianmafia.com/woundedknee.html
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