FBI accuses American Indian Movement of killing black civil rights activist in '73 SD uprising

The Associated Press

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Robinson family shows civil rights activist Ray Robinson. Documents recently released by the FBI to a Buffalo, N.Y., lawyer shed new light on the 40-year-old case of Robinson, an activist and follower of Martin Luther King Jr. The FBI says Robinson was killed during the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, and it suspects militant members of the American Indian Movement are responsible. His body was never found. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Robinson Famiily, File)

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By DIRK LAMMERS, Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — 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.

The hundreds of pages of reports provided to Buffalo, N.Y., attorney Michael Kuzma and shared with The Associated Press on Wednesday shed new light on the 40-year-old case of Ray Robinson, an activist and follower of Martin Luther King Jr. But the documents fall short of pinpointing where Robinson was buried and do little to fulfill his family's wish to have the remains brought home to Detroit.

Desiree Marks, who's held out hope for 40 years that she'd see her father again, said she was crushed by the FBI's confirmation of his death.

"I've always thought that might not be the case. He may come home. He may be alive. He may, he may, he may," Marks told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "And yesterday, when I was reading the documents it was very difficult. It made it real final."

AIM co-founder Clyde Bellecourt said Wednesday that he was only in Wounded Knee for 51 days and knew nothing of Robinson.

"I don't know who he is," Bellecourt said. "I never met him. I don't know what he looks like."

Robinson, a father of three from Bogue Chitto, Ala., traveled to South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in April 1973 to stand alongside Native Americans in their fight against social injustice. The 71-day standoff between AIM members and federal agents at Wounded Knee left at least two tribal members dead and a federal agent seriously wounded. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation occupation is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles.

The documents were released in response to Kuzma's June lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department to help Robinson's widow, Cheryl Buswell-Robinson, and their children get some closure.

Buswell-Robinson, of Detroit, said her husband's nonviolent approach conflicted with the violent situation at Wounded Knee and that it's possible AIM members suspected he was a federal informant. The personable, 6-foot-2 black man with a deep baritone voice would have stood out on a Midwest American Indian reservation, she said.

Robinson's family just wants to bring his remains home for a proper burial.

"I'd just like to have my dad. I'd like to have a place where I can sit down and talk to him and know he's there," said Marks, who also lives in Detroit.

The Robinson case, which has been opened, closed and reopened over the years, was most recently closed again in July, said Greg Boosalis, an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis.

"If new information comes forward that is substantial, we will reopen it," Boosalis said.

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.'"

Any search or excavation attempts would likely be complicated by the reservation's sovereign status. Buswell-Robinson and her two daughters traveled to Wounded Knee in 2004 to walk areas that Robinson likely walked, but they came back without answers.

Another witness told agents that Robinson was in Wounded Knee for about a week and had difficulty adjusting to the lack of food, the chaos of the scene and the unilateral AIM command. That witness said Robinson immediately wanted to open discussion in the bunker about AIM's strategies but no one listened or took him seriously.

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 knife from a table, he was circled by AIM security guards, according to the witness. A shot rang out, and Robinson's eyes "rolled up as he went down."