Should Johnny Depp Purchase Wounded Knee?


July 14, 2013; The Inquistr


Controversy has erupted around Johnny Depp’s recent announcement that he had plans to purchase the land where the Wounded Knee massacre took place. The historic location is where more than 300 Native Americans were massacred by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1890. Depp told the Daily Mail, “It’s very sacred ground and many atrocities were committed against the Sioux there…This historical land is so important to the Sioux culture and all I want to do is buy it and give it back.”

James Czywczynski currently owns the land and is trying to sell the 40-acre property for $4.9 million. Czywczynski reportedly wants the buyer to donate it to the Oglala Sioux tribe. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation leaders have said the asking price is much too steep, since the land has been assessed at $14,000. If anyone can afford the high price, it is millionaire actor Johnny Depp, who has claimed to have Cherokee or Creek heritage.

There has been mixed feedback regarding this news within the Native American community. Some are speculating that his recent controversial portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger, which plays into inaccurate stereotypes regarding clothing and face paint, may have motivated Depp’s recent plans to purchase the land. Others feel the purchase may be misguided, and that such a large donation to the Native American community could be managed in much better ways. Native American rights advocate and journalist Chuck Trimble says, “If he wants to give millions, he should give it to a cause, and not pay it to a man who is holding the Wounded Knee site for a price—and it’s very questionable how he got it in the first place.”

The battle over the Wounded Knee site dates back to at least 1968, Trimble says. A group of investors, including Czywczynski, purchased the land from Clive Gildersleeve and his wife, Agnes, who operated a store on the location for thirty years. The investors planned to establish a monument on the site and offered the Oglala Sioux Tribe a seat on a nonprofit advisory board. Apparently, the proposal fell apart after the real purpose behind the purchase—a means to make profits on a new motel and restaurant tourism complex—was revealed.

Should Johnny Depp continue with his plans to purchase the land? Native American advocate Frank LaMere says it best: It should really be up to the Oglala Tribe to decide. “I see this as a spiritual matter. The Oglala Lakota relatives understand this, and they will know how to proceed. The resting place for those who died at Wounded Knee must be secured and protected.”—Aine Creedon

  • Quinton cloud

    It should be given to Johnny depp because his reason is the right a respectful way to do it.
    And plus this land is theirs.

  • Dinah

    Actually, his reason is not the right and respectful way to do it. The right way to do it is silently, without fanfare. And to be fair, he only speculated that if the government didn’t step in to get it back from this extortionist, he MIGHT consider buying it, and NDN Country is now claiming he said he would, even being tacky enough to start a petition to try to force him to ‘keep his word’. Everything smacks of buying an identity, buying acceptance, and that is NOT the right way to do it. He has taken NO time to learn anything about the culture he’s trying to infiltrate, and this native thing didn’t come up UNTIL he wanted to do this film. He knew it would not sit well, so he attempted to seek approval, and they let him know it was NOT okay. People are now getting openly called Tonto on the streets again, now. He is going on Kimmel and claiming, proudly, he was adopted by the Comanche Tribe, which is NOT true, he was adopted by ONE FAMILY, and means NOTHING. He needs to take time to learn the right ways before he tries to do ANYTHING. But so far, everything has been accompanied with loads of PR—“Look at me, look at what I’m doing, ain’t I neat?’. And the star-struck Depp apologists make me ill.

  • Lois Red Elk-Reed

    Yes, I believe Mr. Depp should purchase the land. His heart is in a good place as he made the offer. We Lakota people need to be gracious when someone makes such a generous offer. He is getting it back for us because he knows how important it is to us and is making the transition possible for us.

  • cynthia j. hicks / executive director /

    Johnny Depp, in my estimation, SHOULD purchase the acreage at the Massacre Site and turn it back to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. If I had had the money to do this myself, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Where is Kevin Costner at a time like this, or millionaire Bob Barker, from “The Price is Right” TV show, who grew up on the Rosebud Reservation (Sicangu) when his mother taught school there? But Costner is the guy I thought would contribute to the needs of the citizens of Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee, the rest of the districts and villages on the Oglala Sioux Reservation. And isn’t it funny? Good old James Czywczynski has raised the ante ~ last month, he was asking 3.9 million for the land he “supposedly owns”. Johnny Depp comes along and suddenly I see he’s added a million dollar price tag to the cost of the land. What a charleton. And I thought it was 80 acres, not 40. Be that what it may, if Depp wants to purchase the land and hand it over to those it originally belonged to in the first place, isn’t that the point????? It doesn’t matter if Depp has Indian blood in him or not. His heart is in the right place. Give it back to the original owners, whome we all stole their land from in the first placd. It’s about time someone had the money to put back into the area and maybe build an economy????? I’m proud of him and his generosity to do a good thing for people who have gotten the short end of the stick for hundreds of years at the hands of the whites, the government, and the military.
    Cynthia J. Hicks ~ Executive Director

  • Rob Thiede

    What, exactly, wouldn’t make you sick? Perhaps, you should step up and buy it?
    This is my point here; The fed is not going to. They have never done right by any NDN. So, who will? If its going to be “the great white hope” then so be it.
    It would be the “respectful way” to do it without fanfare. However, it is Johny Depp. That simply is not going to happen. Furthermore it would be good if he had some sense of respect to OUR culture… He does not and the reason is because so much racism exist toward whites that it is very difficult and in some instances nearly impossible for any other people of any other race to actually find someone who will “teach” the customs.
    I don’t mean to “bash” but really? Think about what the problem here really is.
    We have a catch 22 going on. Other people doing cerimony that have no idea what they are doing, charging people for moneY! All the while NDN’s claiming that whites are “stealing” the cerimonies. But nobody willing to share how or why the ceremonies are in the first place.
    Let him buy it. Teach him the way.
    Just my opinion

  • Sandra

    I think it’s wrong for anyone to make a profit off of this land, but, if the man who owns it now is going to sell it, and someone like Johnny Depp is willing to buy it and hand it over to the Lakota People, then that’s what should happen. I think it belongs to the Lakota and has always belonged to the Lakota. It think it was stolen in the first place. So,, Johnny Depp, buy it and give it back. Big the person that just does it. And all of us will say thank you now.

  • Chantz High Hawk

    And it’s a massacre not a battle for information people

  • lynx

    I’ve researched Native Americans since I was a child, and Johnny Depp, since all the hoopla. Some people love the movie, some hate it, it’s a movie. Native Americans complain they can’t get work acting in films for parts as Native Americans; which goes to show how badly we’ve treated them. Why can’t they get parts in films portraying, lawyers, gangsters, playboys or any other part? Johnny Depp (are you sure that’s a photo you have of Depp?) has loved Indians, it seems, for a long time, unless we can’t even give him the benefit of the doubt about what he says. He has a publishing company which published the work of Arlo Guthrie, who was put in a home and almost forgotten, because he ‘had the shakes.’ and a book about Bob Dylan, and of course helped the Purgatory 3, (released from being unjustly imprisoned) so it seems, obviously, he cares about people. Anyway, why doesn’t our government honor the Treaty Native Americans have to own the land?The current owner, (nice lip service asking whoever shells all those bucks out to return the land to the Oglala Tribe) according to the Oglala, got it under questionable conditions, and got it for a song. Like a $300 tune. I hate thinking Indians’ll never get a fair shake because the world needs the minerals such as oil and uranium on their land, where living on reservations often means starvation, and always poverty. Our government should step in, though their need to get the land’s minerals, pushed us to qualify as continuing genocide on Native Americans, and most of us aren’t aware of the horrifying conditions imposed on them. It’s too bad an actor has to take so much flack for trying to help out, though it has kicked up a storm of controversy.

  • Carolyn M. Appleton

    Johnny Depp is an exceedingly talented celebrity. I believe his interest is genuine, and the site is immensely important. If the Oglala Sioux Tribe will accept the 40 acres and agree to take care of it in perpetuity, then the two interests should work closely together to make this happen. It would be my thought to establish an endowment or significant reserve fund in addition to the actual land purchase price, for future management and site improvements. If the Oglala would consider making the property (or some small portion of it) an accessible historic site, and if they would provide interpretative materials for the public (both onsite and online), the impact of the project would be even greater for the long-term. One would not want to see an over-payment for the land made, of course. But, this is for the professional negotiators to handle. If the Oglala want no part of the project, I am willing to bet an historical entity (nonprofit) could be brought in for professional oversight, and long-term protection and management, one that would provide site access by the Oglala and other tribes.

  • lynx

    I believe, from Native American media I’ve seen; like a film about Poet-Activist, John Trudell, and online publications, that Native Americans want control of their land to use as they see fit, not as anyone else thinks it should be used. That may seem unreasonable to us, but isn’t it more possible that we are the ones who are being unreasonable, unable to fathom how anyone would want to live differently than the American pursuing the American Dream? Are we Americans or American’ts?

  • Robbie

    There’s different information than you have, and who can blame Native Americans for getting tacky, we slaughtered them, there was a massacre on that land. Not you and I of course, but the unending invasion of country after country that came here, ignoring their rights and Treaties. When they destroy property in protest, on occasion, I can only wonder how they restrain themselves and then manage to get tacky. Can’t someone get extremely legal? I guess there are only so many pro bono lawyers around, since Natives often can’t afford basics, no water and no electricity or plumbing are common problems. People are so suspicious; I heard someone say when, they heard Indians were asking for donations of water, that they were probably making a profit by re-selling it. I’m sure that would easily be disproved, once conditions on the reservations were seen. We should give them the courtesy of immediate aid, instead of giving it all to Third World Countries. Or at least stop stealing their land.Actually, as far as I know, and have read about, one joins a tribe, not a family. Perhaps he preferred wording it as adopted, I don’t know. Usually one has Indian blood, which Depp has, but everyone wants to say he’s making that up also, maybe everyone’s jealous.

  • Sandy

    You mean give it to the Oglala? Though maybe you’re right, it has to be twisted to make sense, it has to be given to Johnny Depp.

  • Randee

    You’re right but that’s so wrong, and I hate that, it’s their land. The owner bought it at a 1/10th of a fraction of the cost he’s trying to sell it, and got it under questionable conditions, according to the Oglala and Lakota tribes. We should all march to Albany or the White house-oh that’s right- The Native Americans have tried that, nobody would talk to them.

  • lynx

    We are being politely reminded about something that should be a national issue. I don’t know how this happens, I think we love our Native Americans, but are afraid of the unknown. But they are not asking us to join them; we keep demanding they live as we do, or get ploughed under. Don’t mean to be a peanut gallery of one, but most people aren’t aware of matters that are of utmost gravity, probably because it’s easier to get away with stealing. And Native Americans don’t have access to public communication or news. That’s why if for any reason, it’s good a celebrity has timed his film appearance to their advantage.

  • Carolyn M. Appleton

    Yes, I agree the Indians may wish to use the land as they see fit. That is certainly reasonable. Having said that, what a missed opportunity not to save the site, protect it in perpetuity, and educate the public about the Battle of Wounded Knee and the lessons learned. Maybe it should go to the state and become a state park ( I believe the site should be protected, but with a responsible, well-thought-out plan.

  • Vic Runnels

    Johnny you cannot give that land to the tribe they will drive it into the ground. There is absolutely no credibility within the tribal council. I would recommend Leonard Little Finger who is a direct decendent of Chief Big Foot. He can form a committee & develop it properly. Vic Runnels an Oglala Elder

  • Eric Jan Taapken from Holland

    I have a lot of sympathy for Johnny Depp and if he does what he says I would have more sympathy, please do what you say and speak with the people who live there!!!!!!!!!