When U. S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote his brief on a case that had dragged on for 60 years before reaching his desk in 1980, a case dealing with the illegal taking of the Black Hills from the Sioux Tribes, he wrote in describing the role of the United States government in the theft of the Hills, “A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history.”
Twenty-nine years have elapsed since the Court awarded the Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation $105 million in a case marked as Docket 74A. Although these tribes are among the poorest people in America (three of the reservations in the suit were among the top 10 of the poorest counties in America in the 1980 U. S. Census) they have refused to accept the monetary award.
For most of those years they have faced an unfavorable Republican regime and when they did get a Bill introduced by Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) in the early 1980s, the lack of a united front by the tribes caused Bradley to withdraw.
Many elders of the Sioux Nations believe that it now a most favorable time to introduce new legislation. President Barack Obama promised them during his campaign that he would not force a monetary settlement upon them. He is open to discussion on this most touchy of topics, at least touchy in South Dakota.
Attorney Mario Gonzalez, an Oglala Lakota, said that the time to negotiate a settlement is now, while there is a favorable administration in Washington, DC. His idea bears serious consideration by the leaders all the Sioux tribes involved in the settlement. Gonzalez suggests that the tribes nominate one of their strongest leaders, perhaps Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and then select a strong representative from each of the remaining tribes to put together a list of realistic demands and suggestions.
He believes that if the tribes found a powerful spokesman, former President Bill Clinton for example, to take their points of negotiation to President Obama, and once the negotiating points are discussed and approved, they could then introduce a bill to finally settle the Black Hills Claim. In this fashion all of the sticking points would have been decided and clarified with assistance from the President of the United States before introducing a bill to Congress.
Every tribe of the Sioux Nation would have to be in agreement on all of the negotiating points. Of course the return of some land and a monetary settlement would head up the negotiating points. And all of this would have to be done with an eye on the realistic evaluation of America as it stands in 2009.
One consideration that several prominent Lakota have put forward is that the Black Hills be considered as property of the Sioux Nation (I used the term Sioux Nation as it is written in all of the legal documents concerning the Black Hills) and that a lease or rental agreement be enacted that would provide annual income to all of the tribes and that a portion of the Hills under the control of the U. S. Forest Service be returned to the Tribes to be used as a religious sanctuary. In other words, the Sioux Nation would become the “landlord” over the Black Hills.
I believe Gonzalez and other prominent tribal members when they say that this is a window of opportunity that must not be wasted. My newspaper, Native Sun News, is presently running a survey that would give every Native American that is an enrolled member of the tribes involved in the Black Hills Claim, to vote. The survey is intended to let the United States government know once and for all the feelings of the People of the Sioux Nations.
The results of the survey will be announced on May 20, 2009 and without giving away the results, let me say that so far the votes are leaning heavily in favor of those who honestly believe that, “The Black Hills are not for sale.”
Much too often in the past the people involved in this settlement decision have been inexplicably divided. And that is hard to decipher because, in the long run, all of them are reaching for the very same goal. They just have a variety of ways to approach that goal and too often end up lining up behind someone who can only lead them to division and eventually defeat.
The most opportune time to strike is now and this will require a lot of rethinking of objectives and a strong pull towards communicating with those among the people with different views. The only way the Black Hills Claims Settlement will ever be resolved is if the people of the Sioux Nation finally unite behind a common theme and a common negotiating platform.
Through all of these years I have heard so many say, “The Sioux people are their own worst enemies.” We can only hope that this accusation is false, and if not, that it can be overcome. Perhaps the majority of Americans will support a reasonable bill if the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation can unite and also support it.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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