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In this April 26, 2004, file photo Cheryl Robinson, center, and her two daughters, Desiree Marks, left, and Tamara Kamara read a map outlining various landmarks at Wounded Knee, S.D. / Carson Walker, AP

Cheryl Buswell-Robinson of Detroit has spent decades not knowing the true fate of her husband, civil rights activist Ray Robinson.

But she's getting closer to an answer.

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, 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. Kuzma sued the U.S. Justice Department in June in an effort to help Buswell-Robinson and their children get some closure.

"We've never had a funeral, we've never had anything," said Buswell-Robinson, 69, who lives in North Rosedale Park, a Detroit suburb. "It's just been this big mystery."

Robinson, a father of three from Bogue Chitto, Ala., traveled to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in April 1973 to stand alongside American Indians 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 occupation is credited with raising awareness about Native American struggles.

Robinson never returned, and his body was never found.

Buswell-Robinson said her husband's nonviolent approach conflicted with the violent situation at Wounded Knee, and 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 an American Indian reservation, she said.

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

"My daughter, Desiree, it's been really, really hard on her. She always secretly kept hoping against hope that he was alive. ... She wants to have a place where she can go and she can sit quietly and talk to him, and tell him about her life," Buswell-Robinson told the Free Press.

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.' "

The location of Robinson's remains is a mystery, and any search or excavation attempts likely would be complicated by the reservation's sovereign status. Buswell-Robinson and her two daughters traveled to Wounded Knee in 2004 to walk in an area rumored to be Robinson's possible resting place and the site of the Denby bunker, where witnesses say Robinson engaged with AIM members.

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 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 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."

Buswell-Robinson questions that account and believes Robinson was in the Wounded Knee occupation area for hours, not weeks. She said the most likely account of her husband's death is one passed on to her by Barbara Deming, a writer and political activist who was asked by Buswell-Robinson in the mid-1970s to look into the killing.

According to Deming's account, Robinson was eating oatmeal one day but hadn't yet checked in with an AIM leader. He was ordered to report to the leader immediately but said the check-in had to wait until he was done with the meal. He was then shot, according to the story.

"Ray did not respond well to that authoritative direction," Buswell-Robinson said.

Other parts of the documents relate to the knowledge of the incident by leaders of the 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.

Bellecourt died in 2007.

Buswell-Robinson said Robinson fought for integration in the South, an end to the Vietnam War and other social justice causes. He followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent strategy and later came to respect Malcolm X's advocacy of self-defense, she said. "We all believed that we could make a difference," she said.

Buswell-Robinson never remarried. She said she, like her daughter, would occasionally imagine that Robinson was still alive, perhaps suffering amnesia or brain damage and living in a nursing home somewhere. Sometimes, she said, she would spot a man on the street and think it was her husband.

"I tried to tell them about him," she said of her children, "but my memory isn't so good anymore. They want their father."

Contributing: The Associated Press



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: New clues on activist's death in Wounded Knee protest

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