Today is the 40th anniversary of the June 26, 1975, shootout at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota between two FBI agents who drove in with unmarked cars and several members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a Native American rights group operating out of the reservation at the time. Both FBI agents were wounded by gunfire before appearing to be shot execution-style, and a member of AIM, Joseph Stuntz, was also fatally shot. The FBI never investigated his killing but reports he was “apparently shot by a law enforcement officer at the scene” during the shootout.
Despite having a population of just 12,000, there were more murders in Pine Ridge in the two years before the shootout than in the rest of the state of South Dakota combined. Three years ago, the FBI resolved to reinvestigate 45 homicides contemporary tribal leaders say remain unresolved. In the 1970s, many of the unsolved murders were attributed to the “Guardians of the Oglala Nation” (GOON) squad, a vigilante-like group organized by the tribal chair, Dick Wilson. AIM and others blamed Wilson, a “progressive” (as opposed to the “traditionalists” of the AIM), for the campaign against “traditional people,” and accused him of widespread corruption, not uncommon in tribal governments at the time.