Vi Waln: Yankton Sioux Tribe fights state to protect reservation

Oppression is a word used by Indian people on a regular basis, I believe. My favorite online dictionary lists one definition of oppression as “an unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” I believe one effect of long term oppression is losing your ability to speak up for yourself. That is, you have been held down for so long that you actually fear voicing your concerns. The voices of many of our Indian people are silenced through fear.

The oppression against the Lakota and other tribes on this Turtle Island began over five hundred years ago when the illegal immigration of foreigners started from all those overseas countries. Soon the foreigners took over most everything by establishing themselves all along the westward trail. The march of illegal immigrants from the east to the west coast brought us to where we are today; steadfastly clinging to our last few acres of land within our reservation boundaries. Many tribal members are diligent in keeping their land holdings intact, even though a grand scheme is being planned to entice us into selling our land with money offered through a dead end settlement.

Other subtle forms of oppression against the Indian tribes located within the state of South Dakota are evidenced through the many legislative and legal actions engaged in by our backstabbing opponents. There have been many detrimental rulings against Indian Tribes in this country over the last two centuries. These actions were often initiated by either state or federal governments to enact legislation designed to take our land away, such as the Black Hills Act of 1877. Other contemporary actions are designated to chip away at our right to self governance along with our right to regulate business entities or utility companies operating within our reservation boundaries.

Furthermore, I believe many of the illegal acts which took place during the 19th Century may have been done with the underlying thought that the Indian people of Turtle Island would all just eventually fade away by sinking deep into the melting pot of assimilation sometime during the 20th Century. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Indian people living in the 21st Century are becoming highly educated. Many of us have used the education systems to our own advantage. We became well versed in the language of our oppressors so we could speak up for ourselves.

Consequently, the Yankton Sioux Tribe continues the hard battle for their right to regulate the activities of non-tribal agencies located on their reservation. There was a court case in which the “Yankton Sioux Tribe and its members sought declaratory and injunctive relief against officials of Charles Mix County… and the State of South Dakota…in respect to the boundaries of the Yankton Sioux Reservation.” This court case boiled down to an attempt by the State of South Dakota to have the Yankton Sioux Reservation “disestablished.”

The 8th Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled on 05-06-2010 that “In the absence of any clear congressional intent to divest allotted lands on the Yankton Sioux Reservation of their reservation status, those lands retained such status, and all outstanding allotments continue to be reservation under § 1151(a). Furthermore, lands originally part of the Tribe's 1858 reservation regained their status as reservation land under § 1151(a) when acquired in trust under the Indian Reorganization Act. The miscellaneous trust lands, by contrast, qualify as part of a dependent Indian community and are therefore Indian country under § 1151(b). Finally, the record regarding fee lands continuously held by tribal members is not ripe for review.

With respect to the judgment of the district court, we therefore: (1) affirm insofar as it concluded that the agency trust lands, the outstanding allotments, and the IRA trust lands are part of the Yankton Sioux Reservation and are Indian country under § 1151(a), (2) affirm its alternative holding that the miscellaneous trust lands constitute a dependent Indian community and are Indian country under § 1151(b), (3) vacate the district court's holding that fee lands continuously held in Indian ownership are reservation under § 1151(a), and (4) affirm its denial of all other claims for relief.”

Obviously, the State of South Dakota continues to resent the fact that they must follow regulatory law duly established by federal and tribal governments. On 01-18-2011 Petitions for Writ of Certiorari were filed with the United States Supreme Court by the State of South Dakota (through Governor Dennis Daugaard), et al., Southern Missouri Recycling and Waste Management District, and Charles Mix County (through Pam Hein State’s Attorney), et al. A Petition for Writ of Certiorari is filed by a losing party requesting the Supreme Court to look at a ruling from a lower court. These petitions seek to address the 05-06-2010 ruling made by the 8th Circuit US Court of Appeals.

Several organizations quickly joined this recent court action. They include the Charles Mix Electric Association, Inc., Rosebud Electric Cooperative, Inc., Colin Soukup, Wagner Community School District 11-4 and Randall Community Water District. These organizations all filed an Amicus Curiae Brief with the US Supreme Court on 02-10-2011. An Amicus Curiae Brief is “the name for a brief filed with the court by someone who is not a party to the case.” http://www.techlawjournal.com/

The Tribe filed a Conditional Cross-Petition for a Writ of Certiorari on 02-22-2011. I commend the Yankton Sioux Tribe for continuing their fight to regulate outside business entities within their own lands by standing firm against the oppressive tactics of the State of South Dakota.

I encourage all tribes in this country to stand up for their people against the oppressive actions of county, state and federal officials who want our Indian Reservations to be “disestablished” so they will not have to follow the regulations put into place by tribal governments. The time has come for all our elected tribal officials to move past their fear and summon the courage to fight to protect our right to regulate on our own lands.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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