Depp's interest in Wounded Knee causes a stir
FILE - This file publicity image released by Disney shows Johnny Depp, right, as Tonto, in a scene from "The Lone Ranger." For months, questions have swirled about whether developers, activists or tribes would be willing to plunk down millions to buy the Wounded Knee National Landmark. Now there’s a new potential buyer in the mix: Johnny Depp. (AP Photo/Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc., Peter Mountain, File)
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — For months, questions have swirled about whether developers, activists or tribes would be willing to plunk down millions to buy a portion of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark. Now there's a new potential buyer in the mix: Johnny Depp.
But is the star of "The Lone Ranger" really preparing to be the one who buys the property where hundreds of Native Americans were killed? Or is it just the latest rumor in the contentious debate over the landmark's future?
Depp touched off the story when he told London's Daily Mail newspaper that he is working to buy a piece of the landmark on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to give back to the tribe because it's important to their culture. The site is where 300 Native American men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry in 1890.
"I am doing my best to make that happen," he told the newspaper of a possible purchase. "It's land they were pushed on to and then they were massacred there. It really saddens me."
Landowner James Czywczynski, whose family has owned the property since 1968, is trying to sell the 40-acre fraction of the historic landmark and another 40-acre parcel for $4.9 million. The two parcels of land have been assessed for $14,000. The sale has sparked outrage among tribal members who feel Czywczynski is trying to profit from the killing of their ancestors.
Since the interview was published last week, Depp's been quiet, and there's been no record of an offer made for the land. Depp's publicist did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment, while Czywczynski, who has said his goal has always been to get the land back to the tribe, did not return calls.
Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer, whose tribe lives on Pine Ridge, said he has not been contacted by anyone in Depp's camp and was first notified of the actor's interest when someone from England called him for reaction. Brewer said he and a group of descendants of Wounded Knee survivors are hoping to meet with Czywczynski soon.
The possibility of the celebrity purchase is generating debate in Native American communities. Some question Depp's motives due to the timing of "The Lone Ranger" release, which debuted with a dismal $19.5 million in ticket sales on its opening weekend in early July. Depp, who plays the part of the Native American character Tonto in the film, has been accused of playing into stereotypes and misappropriating Native American culture. Tonto speaks broken English, wears a stuffed crow on his head and has a face painted with white and black stripes. Some Native Americans view the character as a parody.
Depp's also been criticized for saying that he does have Native American ancestry, but he's unsure if it's Cherokee or Creek.
"People I've talked to think he's in it for redemption because he's gotten bad reviews," said Oglala Sioux tribal member Dawn Moves Camp, 30.
Besides its proximity to the burial grounds, the land includes the site of a former trading post burned down during the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising, in which hundreds of American Indian Movement protesters occupied the town built at the massacre site. The 71-day standoff that left two tribal members dead and a federal agent seriously wounded is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles and giving rise to a wider protest movement.