Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 26, 2023

Honoring the 1973 Matriarchs of Wounded Knee -- Fourteen Minutes of Power

Women pictured at a rally to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Wounded Knee Occupation on February 27, 1974, at the University of Minnesota. Some 1500 people gathered to hear speeches by Russell Means and Denis Banks, who were both on trial in St. Paul Minn. at the time, for their participation in the takeover. Photo by Cindy Karn

Fourteen Minutes of Power: The Matriarchs of Wounded Knee describe the birth of the occupation of Wounded Knee in a special film release of oral history at the 50th Anniversary of Wounded Knee

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

PORCUPINE, Oglala Lakota Nation --  In a powerful 14-minutes, the Matriarchs of Wounded Knee describe how the Occupation of Wounded Knee began during a time of terror for Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge. The special presentation of oral history by the Warrior Women Project on Saturday is part of four days of events celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Wounded Knee.

"When I think about my people, Indian people, I think of Wounded Knee. That was the awakening, the rise of our people," says Madonna Thunder Hawk, as the film begins. She is speaking at Oceti Sakowin Camp on Standing Rock in 2016.

Thunder Hawk describes how, and why they were asked to come.

"There was always a committee or group of people that would request our presence."

"We would do a protest in the tribal office, and the Goons would just push the women aside and laugh at us," said Geraldine Janis, referring to the regime of Oglala Chairman Dickie Wilson, and the BIA, who violently opposed traditional Lakotas.

Geraldine Janis remembers how she and Pedro Bissonette -- who was later shot and killed by a BIA policeman serving a warrant in October of 1973 -- decided to take action and formed the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization.

"Two people couldn't even talk on the street, they'd throw you in jail," Janis remembers.

"We were down at Calico Hall, about four miles from here, that's when we started meeting with the elders and asking what to do."

Pat Bellanger, AIM cofounder and veteran of Wounded Knee, said she had three phones on her desk that she would juggle. "We need help," was the call from Wounded Knee. It was Gladys Bissonette, whose first language was Lakota. "We need help, we need you AIMs to come down here."

Bellanger said it was the people from Wounded Knee that began it.

Ellen Moves Camp describes how the people were being terrorized on Pine Ridge, and how the people there lived with guns pointed at them. The people were scared, but she wasn't scared anymore.

Later, she described how prayers carried them through.

"We didn't have firepower, but we had our prayers," Moves Camp said.

"I think that was the main thing that helped all of us. We did a lot of praying."

"It was really for the people and the people all knew it."

The women gathered in Calico Hall, and it was the women who decided to go to Wounded Knee. As they looked back, the people in the caravan saw nothing but lights behind them.

Lavetta Yeahquo looked back, riding in the fifth car in the caravan to Wounded Knee, and saw nothing but lights. "And I thought, 'Wow, that is awesome, a sight to see, and it has stayed with me until now." Lavetta turned 19 years old at Wounded Knee. 

When they were passing through the town of Pine Ridge, on the way to Calico Hall, there were military vehicles, shooters on rooftops, and around the BIA building.

Arlene 'Choach' Means, among the first to arrive, remembers how the women began digging the bunkers with little army shovels. Alongside her was Regina Brave, and Buddy Lamont, a veteran, who knew how to dig the bunkers. Buddy was killed by a federal sniper at Wounded Knee.

Regina Brave said the young men had just joined AIM, and she describes teaching them how to clean their guns and chop wood when they had to make their own stoves.

Regina Brave. "They took so much firepower,"
she said, remembering the bullets raining down on them.

"There were a lot of people that got shot in Wounded Knee," said Lorelei DeCora, Madonna's sister. She describes creating a clinic with Madonna to care for the wounded. Back in Minnesota, Pat Bellanger made the phone calls for medicine, she was able to get cough syrup and penicillin.

Nellie Red Owl, elder, describes going to jail with other elderly women and girls. When given the chance to leave because of her age, she chose to stay in jail with the girls.

"That was the first time I was in jail."

"I was really proud of it, when I was in jail, for my people."

Stephanie Autumn describes the personal sacrifice that she saw at Wounded Knee --  grandmas working 16-hour days that weren't sleeping, weren't eating, and men with freezing feet. "Before that, I knew no personal sacrifice."

"It was all because they believed in the people, because they believed in the land, and because we were so strong there, that you were willing to do anything to hold on to that, to hold on to that freedom," Autumn said.

Madonna Thunder Hawk and Marci Gilbert.

"When you are fighting for your land, it's a whole different ballgame," Thunder Hawk says.

Marcella Gilbert says people think the Indian wars were over in the 1800s, but no, this happened in 1973.

"Our people got killed. We were taking on this government."

"This is something we need to celebrate."

Olowan Martinez is being honored by Red Warrior
Society for her life of resistance during the events in Porcupine.
"For me, AIM is a state of being."
Listen to her words before she passed to the Spirit World:

Watch 'Warrior Women' full-length documentary

As a part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, the film Warrior Women will be available to watch online live from Friday, Feb 24 - Monday Feb 27. Click here to watch. 👉🏽

From Warrior Women Project

Warrior Women Project’s Interactive Oral History Exhibit honoring the women of Wounded Knee 1973 was held on Saturday, February 25 from 11am to 5pm, at the Porcupine Cafeteria & Gymnasium at Pahin Sinte Owayawa School in Porcupine, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Lakota Nation.

Madonna Thunder Hawk—a narrator and advisor for Warrior Women Project and a key figure in Wounded Knee history herself—this event marks a significant shift in the power dynamics surrounding the telling and archiving of oral history.

"Many of the women’s interviews and voices in the archives, they passed on; they're gone. And if it wasn't for the archives, a lot of their stories wouldn't be known,” says Thunder Hawk.

Marcy Gilbert, Thunder Hawk's daughter, also a narrator and advisor to Warrior Women Project, feels similarly. “What the Warrior Women Project offers is our right to exist as warriors to protect our people; we had warrior women societies. And so I believe the future is empowering women. It's a woman's future,” she says. “I mean, look what's happening, you know, it isn't just happening among our people. It's happening everywhere. Women are powerful. And so we're taking our place in that movement.”

Warrior Women Project is a collaborative of matriarchs, historians, community organizers, and multimedia storytellers working to bring to light the critical impact of Indigenous women through recent history. Dr. Beth Castle, the project’s director, co-directed the award-winning 2018 documentary film Warrior Women, which is available to watch online during the four days.

The exhibit is one of several events taking place to honor the anniversary of the occupation. Community members will gather over the course of four days, February 24 through February 27, with a Wacipi on the 26th and the Four Directions Walk to commemorate Liberation Day on the 27th.

For more information about the exhibit or to sign up to share your story of Wounded Knee, contact

Watch the 14-minute film on Facebook, during the panel discussion on Saturday

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