Thomas Bad Cob, a 73-year-old full-blooded Oglala Sioux, leaned back and looked through his crinkled eyes at the black hills that surround Wounded Knee. "This is our land," he said, "and this is all we have left. You white men have forced us all the way from the East to this small reservation."
Bad Cob sat on the entrance gate to the mass grave, where 200 Indians massacred by the U.S. cavalry in 1890 are buried. His tepee stood adjacent to the grave, faintly reminiscent of an older, almost forgotten culture.
When members of the militant American Indian Movement (AIM) seized this wind-swept hamlet on February 27, Bad Cob, a life-long resident of the Pine Ridge reservation, stayed inside the occupied village.
This week, Bad Cob is in Washington, 1600 miles away from the reservation. He was one of three Indians chosen to meet with Leonard Garment, a Presidential assistant, to set up a commission that will study Oglala treaty rights.
The meetings are part of a peace accord signed last Thursday by top AIM leader Russell C. Means and assistant attorney general Kent Frizzell. The accord brought an end to the 37-day occupation of Wounded Knee.
Bad Cob accompanies Means and Leonard Crow Dog, a spiritual leader from the nearby Rosebud reservation, to Washington for the meetings. The selection of Bad Cob for the trip seems to indicate a desire on the part of AIM leaders to include symbolic representatives of the oldest living Oglalas.
In an interview inside Wounded Knee three weeks ago, Bad Cob talked about his family heritage. He spoke fondly of his grandfather, who lived to be 101.
"My grandfather, he had big chest, small stomach," the craggy-faced Bad Cob said. "I have small chest, big stomach. Too much of the government's canned food."
Throughout the takeover, Bad Cob stayed in his tepee, even during a blinding snowstorm that struck the Dakota reservation in the third week of the occupation. He moved to the trading post, the nerve-center of the village, for only one night, when winds caused snow drifts up to five feet.
Bad Cob is the second-to-last generation of Bad Cobs. "My son, who is 50 years old, is only a young buck," he explained. In Oglala slang, a "young buck" is an unmarried male.