These Native American protesters are commemorating the Oglala Lakota occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. The upside-down American flag is a symbol of “dire distress” and has also been adopted by the pipeline protesters.

Photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic
  • On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and other Native Americans occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The protesters demanded greater civil rights. The standoff with the tribal and federal governments would last three months.
    Members of the Oglala Lakota nation had been suffering bitter and violent internal conflict. Many Lakota opposed the election of the tribal president, who had the support of the white business community surrounding the reservation. Critics of the tribal government and AIM supporters originally met with tribal and federal government leaders, but hostilities only increased. 
    Opponents occupied the small town of Wounded Knee, site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where hundreds of Lakota were killed by U.S. military forces in 1890. The federal government set up barricades around the town. Both sides were armed, and gunfire was frequently exchanged.
    At the end of the standoff, one U.S. marshal and two Native Americans were dead. The tiny town of Wounded Knee was so damaged, no one lived there for more than a decade. Today, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation remains plagued by poverty and unemployment—two of the chief issues AIM sought to address. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    barricade Noun

    barrier constructed to halt an enemy's advance.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    federal Adjective

    having to do with a nation's government (as opposed to local or regional government).

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    marshal Noun

    federal law-enforcement officer.

    Native American Noun

    person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

    poverty Noun

    status of having very little money or material goods.

    protest noun, verb

    demonstration against a policy or action.

    unemployment Noun

    state of not having a job.