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Native Sun News: Cheyenne River elder recalls dam flooding
Monday, March 26, 2012
Filed Under: Environment | National
More on: cheyenne river sioux, missouri river, native sun news, south dakota
 
The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

nsn-handboy.jpg Marvel and Raymond Handboy

Part II | Part I

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA –– A direct descendant of Chief Low Dog and Chief Gall, Raymond Handboy was born in 1945 at the Old Cheyenne River Agency. His Grandpa Joe Handboy was an avid horseman who rode the breaks of the Missouri around Handboy Creek and Handboy Bluff.

Until he was 12, Handboy lived in one of the many log houses at the Indian agency settlement camp.

“We didn’t have no money. But you didn’t need the kind of money they talk about today,” he said. “My mom and grandma had a garden. I used to love to hunt. I used to go out and gather mushrooms. All summer long, we did things to get ready for winter. You knew you were doing something worthwhile in your life.”

“Before the flood, there was everything you needed to live,” he said. “The land, hunting, culture, ceremonies, powwows were all there. It was a good time.”

The “flood” was the slow but sure inundation, under terms of the 1944 Pick-Sloane Act, of more than 104,000 acres by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in building the Oahe Dam and Reservoir on 1868 treaty lands of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, located on the West Bank of the Missouri River in South Dakota.

Initiated in 1948, when Handboy was 3 years old, the damming and its consequences scored his life and that of many of his neighbors.

“My sister used to go swimming down at the river. The family put willow sticks out to show the cut-bank drop-off,” he recalls.

But the makeshift markers were no match for the mighty Missouri as the waters rose behind the Oahe Dam and the river changed its course. When she was 8 or 9 years old, Handboy’s sister went swimming with two friends and – as her family watched helplessly – the river’s current carried her away.

“The other two got out, but my sister didn’t and she drowned,” he recounted.

The federal government provided money to the tribal government to compensate individual Indian allotment owners, like Handboy’s grandmother, Sophia Black Chicken Low Dog, for their submerged fee land and homesteads. However, the reimbursement was paltry compared to the pain of moving, according to Handboy and other heirs.

“When the water was coming up, we went up on a bluff. My uncle said, ‘They finally did what they wanted to do to us,’” referring to a history of Indian land-grabs by the U.S. government in its pursuit of Manifest Destiny.

Raymond calls it genocide. “The connection we as Indian people have to the land – ‘oyate’ means the land keeps us,” he said. “That is just like your losing someone who died. We had no place to go.”

With the exception of Grandma Sophie, the whole family boarded a train in Mobridge and rode it to Cleveland, where his folks raised Handboy and his five remaining siblings on his father’s job at Ford Motor Co.

“It was scary to be on that train and then live among non-Indians for the first time. No more Lakota language, no more ceremonies – that was a big blow to me,” Handboy said. But he graduated from high school in Ohio.

“It probably hurt my mom and dad more,” he said. “They couldn’t come back to the reservation for their parents’ funerals. They couldn’t go home because there was no money.”

At age 71, Miss Sophie moved to higher ground on the reservation. Her abandoned homestead at the mouth of the Moreau River was said to be one of the best-paid after she signed her name on Feb. 27, 1956, to accept the appraised value of $6,244.20 for her nearly 2,000 acres, two-room house, chicken coop and privy.

In a lifelong endeavor to “come home,” Handboy moved to Rapid City where he worked as a mechanic and attended nearby Black Hills State University. He had three children with his former wife before her death in a traffic accident. Then, as an IHS employee, he raised seven more with his wife Marvel, a Rapid City native.

They live in a small, but modern, private apartment in North Rapid. “Ray’s a proud guy,” said Marvel. “He wouldn’t ask for housing away from the reservation.” They have never taken food stamps or welfare, she said.

But if Handboy could get what he considers the “just compensation” guaranteed by the 12-year-old federal Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Equitable Compensation Act, he knows what he would do.

The act provided $290.7 million plus $144 million in back interest to the tribe in recognition that “the federal government did not justify, or fairly compensate the tribe” for the Oahe Dam and Reservoir construction.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe notified the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs on March 13 that it had passed the Tribal Equitable Compensation Act, clearing a hurdle for receiving federal payments from the back interest.

“I’d go back to where my grandmother lived,” Handboy said.

Her home after flooding was a 2.5-acre site in Marksville, an unincorporated settlement named after Mark Garder, who donated his property to people like Miss Sophie, who didn’t relocate to Eagle Butte, Mobridge, Pierre, or far-flung cities as the majority of tribal members have.

“He would build a house so his kids would never have to beg,” Marvel said of her husband. Handboy’s ancestors are buried near his grandmother’s homestead, at Blackfoot Cemetary. And, he said, he believes the reservation is the best place for his descendants to help revive their traditional roots.

“The culture is really coming back in my kids,” Handboy said, noting that his boys and his grandson are sun dancers.

The Handboys are among 525 families relocated from Old Cheyenne River Agency.

“It’s all a sad situation because a lot people from along the river went through the same thing we did when that flooded,” Handboy said. “They are all scattered, so that band will probably never get back together again.”

Unfortunately for them, the TECA Ordinance, which the tribal council promulgated with a 9-3 vote on March 9, excludes former landowners, heirs and off-reservation tribal members from any further compensation. It pits tribal and individual tribal members’ interests against each other as a result of federal actions taken more than 70 years ago.

Not content with a new ordinance, the non-profit Oahe Landowners Association established with the compensation act money, is regrouping, said OLA board member and allotment heir Randy Davidson.

“There are too many unanswered questions as to why the landowners are not included,” he said.

Tribal Council Chair Kevin Keckler Sr. is the only tribal official authorized to speak about the ordinance, and he was not available to answer questions about the legislation or related resolutions approved last week.

(Talli Nauman is the Health & Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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