Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law - University of Tulsa College of Law
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Opinion
Tim Giago: It's time for action on the Black Hills


Once again there is talk by non-Indian lawyers to pursue the allocation of the monies awarded the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation for the theft of the Black Hills in South Dakota.

The amount of that money was around $863 million several months ago and it is probably much larger by now with the accrued interest added. Many of the young people do not understand the history of the battles of life and death that led the leaders of the Sioux people to reject the acceptance of even one penny of that monetary award.

I do not want to anger those Indians, mostly non-Lakota, that would work with an attorney to find ways and means of accepting the settlement. But they should remember that it was Lakota warriors that gave their all in the struggle for the Black Hills and the rest of the land that once made up the Great Sioux Reservation.

There was Tatanka Iyotanka, Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota, Tasunka Witko, Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota, and Sinte Gleska, Spotted Tail, a Sicangu Lakota, who lived, fought and died to preserve the lands of the Sioux people. And it their descendants that say, “The Black Hills are not for sale.” And although he was not present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Mahpiya Luta, Red Cloud, fought furiously to keep the whites off of the lands of the Lakota.

The Lakota elders that have lived with this premise since the lawsuit to reclaim the land was filed in 1921 are solid in the belief that, “One does not sell one’s mother,” and to the Lakota, the Black Hills are considered to be Maka Ina, Mother Earth or Maka Unci, Grandmother Earth. It is not a concept but a deeply spiritual, cultural and traditional belief.

Many times I have written about this struggle of the Sioux people to reclaim a portion of the Black Hills. Generations have come and gone and still the issue is unsettled. Before the senatorial election in 2004, I announced that I would run against Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) for his senate seat. I knew it would have been a losing proposition, but I wanted to be able to bring issues such as the Black Hills and other issues so important to the Indian people to the debate. I wanted the Lakota to have a voice in the senate race, win or lose.

I got a call from Daschle’s office and we agreed to hold a meeting at the Rodeway Inn Restaurant in Rapid City, SD. Daschle had been saying for years that the U. S. Supreme Court had settled the issue by awarding $105 million to the Sioux people for the Black Hills. I took it to be a politically motivated comment by Daschle because the largest part of his South Dakota constituency was white and any talk of returning any portion of the Black Hills to the Sioux people would have been political suicide for Daschle.

We had a good one hour discussion and at that meeting Daschle took under advisement my request that he meet with the leaders of the different tribes of the Great Sioux Nation and work out an agreement to return Wind Cave National Park to them along with other National Forest Service Lands and the monetary award. I told him that I believed if he sat down with the tribal leaders and seriously discussed these points he would eventually come to an agreeable settlement with the people of the Sioux tribes. He agreed and I dropped out of the race.

It all turned out to be a moot issue since Daschle lost the election to John Thune, a Republican, by just about 4,000 votes.

Daschle is now a civilian and a man not without great political acumen and clout. He can still put his money where his mouth is and pick up the banner for the Lakota people. Wind Cave National Park is a national park and not a state park. In most of the stories of origin, the Lakota people believe that it is from the depths of Wind Cave that their ancestors first emerged into what is now the Black Hills. The Black Hills was there place of birth and therefore a very sacred place.

And so, as I have been writing about since 1981, the leaders of all the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation should be initiating a joint meeting of all of the tribes to come up with a game plan that would include introducing new legislation that would return at least 1.3 million acres of National Forest Service land, no cities or towns, no state parks and no private lands, to the people of the Sioux Nation.

I believe it is time for the tribal leaders to get off of the political pot and start the ball rolling to an equitable and satisfactory solution for all of their people. The Sioux people and their leaders do not need one or two non-Indian lawyers trying to settle the issue for them. As the impatience from mostly non-Lakota Sioux begins to grow, it is time for them to stand up and be decisive.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com or by writing him at P.O. Box 818, Rapid City, SD 57709.

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