SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The FBI says a black civil rights activist was killed during the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, and it suspects militant members of the American Indian Movement are responsible, according to recently released documents.
Hundreds of pages of reports provided to Buffalo, N.Y., attorney Michael Kuzma shed new light on the 40-year-old case of Ray Robinson, an activist and follower of Martin Luther King Jr. Kuzma sued the U.S. Justice Department in June in an effort to help Robinson's widow, Cheryl Buswell-Robinson, and their children get some closure.
The father of three from Bogue Chitto, Ala., traveled to South Dakota in April 1973 to stand alongside Native Americans in their fight against social injustice. He never returned and his body was never found.
Buswell-Robinson, of Detroit, has said the family wants to bring his remains home for a proper burial.
According to the FBI documents, an unidentified cooperating witness told agents that "Robinson had been tortured and murdered within the AIM occupation perimeter, and then his remains were buried 'in the hills.'"
Another witness told agents that Robinson was in Wounded Knee for about a week and seemed to have difficulty adjusting to the conditions of having no food, the area constantly being under fire and unilateral AIM command. That witness said Robinson immediately wanted to open discussion on strategies in the bunker but no one listened to him or gave him any serious consideration.
The witness said Robinson got into a heated exchange with another person and was taken to a house by a security team. When Robinson grabbed a butcher knife from a table, security formed a full circle around him, according to the witness.
"The next thing, I heard a loud bang and saw Mr. Robinson's lower leg spin from the knee and rotate outward as he started to fall forward," the witness said. "His eyes rolled up as he went down."
Other parts of the documents relate to the knowledge of the incident by leaders of American Indian Movement, which was founded in the late 1960s to protest the government's treatment of Indians. For decades, AIM leaders have denied knowledge of Robinson's death.
One witness told agents that AIM leader Vernon Bellecourt expressed knowledge and awareness of Robinson being killed during the occupation. The witness said Bellecourt "made a statement to the effect that AIM had 'really managed to keep a tight lid on that one' over the years.'"
Bellecourt died in 2007.