March 17, 2016

Legislature Blocks Lakota’s Efforts to Regain Black Hills

Albert Austin

The South Dakota state legislature unanimously voted to prevent the Lakota people from regaining their rightful inheritance – the Black Hills.

In February, South Dakota state representative Shawn Bordeaux’s resolution to return select lands in the Black Hills was shut down in a unanimous decision.

In 1877, The Black Hills, a mountain range extending from western South Dakota into Wyoming, was unjustifiably taken from the Lakota Tribe by the United States Government in an illegal taking. Since the seizure of their land, the Lakota people have been trying to take back their rightful land.

Bordeaux, who is a Rosebud Sioux Tribe treaty council member, called for “fair and full compensation,” the return of “select lands” in the Black Hills National Forest and the creation of a national commission in his resolution.

The resolution excluded private lands and homes and said that federal lands such as Mount Rushmore and other lands “essential for the national interest” shall be undisturbed.

“The Black Hills, if we could get 1 acre back, would be a big thing for our tribe and for the generations to come,” said Bordeaux to the Rapid City Journal, who suggests that the returned land would be used for religious observances, as well as to make presentations to tourists about tribal culture.

This history of broken promises must be addressed if the U.S government sincerely wishes to mend relations with Tribal Nations.

The U.S officially recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, setting aside the land for exclusive use by the Lakota people.

Six years later, General George Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners seeking gold. Once gold was found, hordes of miners flocked to the land demanding protection from the U.S Army.

In 1877, after Chief Crazy Horse prevented Custer’s army from taking the land by force, the U.S government seized the Black Hills by occupying the land and relocating the Tribes and families in violation of the 1868 treaty.

In 1980, the Supreme Court Case United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians resulted in the Sioux nation being awarded $106 million for the illegally seized territory, yet since the deal wouldn’t allow the land to be returned, the Lakota Sioux Tribe refused the offer. The decision called the loss of the land as an “illegal taking.”

The Black Hills is considered to be a sacred place for the Lakota, and its return would mark a step toward healing relations between Tribal Nations and the U.S government. The Fort Laramie treaty is one of hundreds that have been broken, nullified or amended by the U.S government. This history of broken promises must be addressed if the U.S government sincerely wishes to mend relations with Tribal Nations.

A series of fifteenth-century papal bulls known as the Doctrine of Discovery has been used as justification by the U.S Supreme Court for the taking of Native lands, asserting that the land foremost belongs to the colonizers, which was passed down to the U.S after independence.

The Doctrine of Discovery, which has been referenced in court cases as recently as 2005, is archaic, dehumanizing and must be revoked.

Help us end the legacy of the Doctrine by signing-on to the Romero Institute’s petition calling on Pope Francis to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery.