The United States hereby agrees and stipulates that the country north of the North Platte River and east of the summits of the Big Horn mountains shall be held and considered to be unceded Indian Territory, and also stipulates and agrees that no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the same; or without the consent of the Indians.
– Article XVI: 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie
In the year 1876 the Black Hills were set aside for the Lakota people as part of what was then called “The Great Sioux Reservation”. Less than ten years later the US illegally grabbed this land in the Act of 1877 soon after the Battle of Little Big Horn with General Custer in 1876.
The 1868 treaty states in Article 12 that no changes could be made to the treaty unless three-fourths of all the adult male Indians agreed. The Act of 1877 was not a treaty it was simply an Act of Congress that illegally annulled the nine year old promises.
In the Year 1979, the United States Court of Claims, commenting on the federal government’s underhanded dealings with the Sioux Nation, including its tactic of starving them, before it appropriated the land, wrote, “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealing will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”
A century after the theft the Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of the Lakota. But tragically instead of returning the land the Supreme Court ruled that the Lakota would be given $106 million in compensation. The Lakota never wanted the money, only and land, and has since refused to accept any of the money.
In the summer of 2012 a large portion of this land was put up for auction by the Reynolds family, a white family that has “owned” the land since 1877. It is located just west of Rapid City SD and called Pe’ Sla and considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of their creation story.
The Lakota were outraged and sent out a appeal to the Reynold family to sell the property to them and take it off auction. Activists and people from all over the world publicly stated their support for the Lakota and money donations started to trickle in. The family finally met in private with the Lakota and agreed on a price of Nine Million Dollars.
This was truly a quandary for the Lakota people who now have to buy back land that was stolen from them. The ultimate insult to a people and a culture that traditionally believes that the land cannot be bought or sold.
But what choice do they have?
On November 30th 2012, the deadline for them to come up with the purchase price, the Great Sioux Nation, or Oceti Sakowin announced that is has managed to raise the Nine Million Dollars necessary to secure the sacred land in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
According to Rosebud Sioux Tribe Chairman Cyril “Whitey” Scott, the purchase is a done deal. “I can tell you that Pe’ Sla, the sacred land on behalf of the Oceti Sakowin, is secured. The $9 million was secured, Pe’ Sla has been purchased.”
Here is an excerpt from the only official statement released by the Great Sioux Nation.
“We are grateful to stand together before the creator and to help our people in reclaiming one of our most sacred sites. We are not waiting for the United States to deal with this justly on the Black Hills rights and we ask that now that we are exercising our inherent sovereign authority to protect this most sacred site. We must perpetuate our way of life for future generations. We thank the members of the public who donated to this cause to create justice for all people and now we are more determined than ever that the United States must provide justice for our people. We thank the Reynolds family for working with us in our requisition of Pe’ Sla as a sacred site for Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people.” [Emphasis mine-TW]
Personally I don’t know whether to rejoice or mourn. I can rejoice in the fact that people donated and created a small island of justice for the Lakota, but I also mourn for the Lakota who cannot depend on or wait for the United States, a nation that claims “justice for all”.
In this case Nine Million Dollars was the price of justice. But what does it say of our Nation and what does it really cost us all in the end?
Miigwech Bizandowiyeg (thank you for listening).