SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — American Indian Movement founder Clyde Bellecourt lashed out at the son of a former FBI agent who was in charge during the Wounded Knee takeover in 1973 on Friday at a conference meant to foster reconciliation.
The exchange took place during a panel discussion as John Trimbach was talking about the book he and his father wrote, "American Indian Mafia." His father, Joseph, was the special FBI agent in charge of the region when protesting AIM activists took over the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation for 71 days.
"The FBI wanted to kill us. The FBI brought in all the military branches from the United States federal government," Bellecourt said.
John Trimbach was focusing on what he called a hidden side of the uprising in which activists were beaten, raped and killed. He claimed the crimes were condoned by AIM leadership.
At various points during the speech at the annual Dakota Conference at Augustana College, Bellecourt stood up from his front-row seat and waved an affidavit that he said proved Joseph Trimbach wanted to kill American Indians and lied about investigations.
"In this document, Mr. Trimbach was chastised many times as head of the FBI in Minneapolis for falsified affidavits," said Bellecourt, who wasn't part of the panel discussion. "This has all been proven. You were sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Trimbach responded only by saying answers to those allegations were in the book.
Later in the evening, former AIM activist Russell Means spoke to a crowd of about 400 people about what he said was the misrepresentation of AIM choosing violence.
"Not one time in the history of AIM can you name an offensive violent action. We just didn't turn the other cheek," he said.
Bellecourt founded AIM with Dennis Banks and others in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of American Indians and demand the government honor treaties with tribes. One of the group's most well-known events was the 71-day armed takeover of Wounded Knee to protest government corruption.
The exchange between Bellecourt and Trimbach was one of many emotional moments at the conference's session examining key questions from the takeover.
At one point, the widow of civil rights activist Ray Robinson broke down in tears as she pleaded with anyone with information about her husband to come forward. Ray Robinson disappeared during the occupation in 1973. His body has never been found, though he has been declared dead.
Buswell-Robinson said she's not looking for arrests or prosecutions. She insisted that she simply wants to know where her husband's body is located so that she could bring his remains home for a proper burial. Copies of a black-and-white photo of Robinson from 1973 were handed out to audience members.