Depp's interest in Wounded Knee causes a stir

2013-07-13T00:00:00Z Depp's interest in Wounded Knee causes a stirThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - For months, questions have swirled about whether developers, activists or tribes would be willing to plunk down millions to buy a portion of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark. Now there's a new potential buyer in the mix: Johnny Depp.

But is the star of "The Lone Ranger" really preparing to be the one who buys the property where hundreds of Native Americans were killed? Or is it just the latest rumor?

Depp touched off the story when he told London's Daily Mail newspaper that he is working to buy a piece of the landmark on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to give back to the tribe because it's important to their culture.

The site is where 300 Native American men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890.

"I am doing my best to make that happen," he told the newspaper of a possible purchase.

Landowner James Czywczynski, whose family has owned the property since 1968, is trying to sell the 40-acre fraction of the historic landmark and another 40-acre parcel for $4.9 million.

The two parcels have been assessed for $14,000. Some tribal members feel Czywczynski is trying to profit from their ancestors' killings.

Since the interview was published last week, Depp's been quiet, and there's been no record of an offer made for the land.

Depp's publicist did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment. Czywczynski, who has said his goal has always been to get the land back to the tribe, did not return calls.

Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer, whose tribe lives on Pine Ridge, said he has not been contacted by anyone in Depp's camp and was first notified of the actor's interest when someone from England called him for reaction. Brewer said he and a group of descendants of Wounded Knee survivors are hoping to meet with Czywczynski soon.

The possibility of the celebrity purchase is generating debate in Native American communities. Some question Depp's motives due to the timing of "The Lone Ranger" release in early July. Depp plays the part of the Native American character Tonto in the film. Some Native Americans view the character as a parody.

Besides its proximity to the burial grounds, the land includes the site of a former trading post burned down during the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising, in which hundreds of American Indian Movement protesters occupied the town built at the massacre site.

The 71-day standoff that left two tribal members dead and a federal agent seriously wounded is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles and giving rise to a wider protest movement.

For some descendants of those killed in the massacre, how the tribe gets the land doesn't matter, said Joseph Brings Plenty, a former chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who had several ancestors killed in the 1890 massacre.

Although the land sits on the Pine Ridge reservation, many of the descendants of the massacre victims and survivors are members of several different Lakota tribes.

"Honestly, I don't think it would be a bad thing if Johnny Depp would purchase it with the cooperation of the tribes," he said.

What's most important, he said, is that the land is preserved and an accurate account of what happened is shared with visitors through a monument.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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