History is Made in the Washington Seminar Center

March 1979 — 50 Sioux from Wounded Knee Reservation in North Dakota

 Summarized by Gene Larkin

 In 1978 the Washington Seminar Center was established in the basement of the Church with two sleeping rooms, additional bathrooms, and remodeled kitchen.  The Session was grateful for the grants received from General Assembly and the Presbytery to accomplish this.  In February 1979, the Office of the Presbytery called the Church and requested that the Washington Seminar Center house 50 Sioux Indians (Men, Women and Children) while a legal case involving Leonard Peletier, a resident of the Wounded Knee Reservation, was pending before the Supreme Court.  Presbytery would pay the fees.

 Background:  By 1890 the Indian tribes were confined to reservations.  The Northern Sioux were bitter because the U.S. Calvary Sioux had killed 300 women and children at the Wounded Knee Reservation.   In February 1973 Native traditionalists and members of the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee Reservation to protest the tactics of the Sioux tribal leader.  In June 1975, FBI agents went to the reservation to investigate the disorder and 2 were killed by gunshots.  Leonard Peletier, a Sioux, was tried and convicted of their murder.  His case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The use of the WSC was agreed to.  The Sioux arrived in February 1979 and set up housekeeping in the newly furnished Washington, Seminar Center. Their daily activities were as follows:  The women stayed at the Seminar Center, took care of the children and cooked the meals.  The men (braves) would take their drums and other noisemakers over to the plaza in front of the Supreme Court and from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM they would beat the drums loudly.  In addition, the group requested a room in which no woman was allowed be set-aside in the Church to house their “medicine.”  The Clergy Robing Room in the balcony was made available for this and a man guarded it day and night.  

After a couple of weeks of this activity, the Session of the Church requested that Elders Rindi Belshi and Eugene Larkin make an inspection tour of the Church.  The living conditions in the Seminar Center were rough but the Sioux seemed to get along with them.  Belshi and Larkin attempted to check the status of the Clergy Robing Room. They were confronted by a Sioux brave on guard.  He made an aggressive movement toward them and they retreated.  The “medicine” in the Clergy Robing Room was never revealed.

In the mean time the drumming in front of the Supreme Court continued, and the Chief Justice was complaining about the racket. On March 10, 1979 the Supreme Court declined to review the case and sent it back to the lower courts.  The Sioux packed up their belongings and went back to Wounded Knee.