PBS: Sioux tribes refuse to accept money for theft of Black Hills

"Pine Ridge Reservation stretches across some of the poorest counties in the United States. Plagued by an unemployment rate above 80 percent, arid land, few prospects for industry, abysmal health statistics and life-expectancy rates rivaling those of Haiti, it’s no wonder outsiders ask: Why do the nine tribes constituting the Great Sioux Nation, including those on Pine Ridge, staunchly refuse to accept $1.3 billion from the federal government?

Driving from nearby Rapid City to the reservation on Pine Ridge, it's easy to see why the tribes want to reclaim some of that unused land -- and why it was parceled as it was. Unlike the barren stretch of land that encompasses the reservation, the Black Hills are green, resource-rich, and thick with the smell of Ponderosa trees. Stretching across western South Dakota to neighboring Wyoming, they've been a draw for tourists and investors alike. In addition to gold, timber and minerals have been extracted, reaping profits for people other than the Sioux.

Fast forward to 1980. The Supreme Court agreed with the Sioux: The land, long since settled, had been taken from them wrongfully, and $102 million was set aside as compensation. The trust's value continues to grow well beyond $1 billion, but the Sioux have never collected.

One key problem: The tribes say the payment is invalid because the land was never for sale and accepting the funds would be tantamount to a sales transaction. Ross Swimmer, former special trustee for American Indians, said the trust fund remains untouched for one reason: “They didn’t want the money. They wanted the Black Hills.”"

Get the Story:
Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion (PBS 8/24)

Related Stories:
SDPR: Sioux tribal members lose case over Black Hills trust funds (8/16)
Native Sun News: Lawsuit over Black Hills trust fund dismissed (8/11)
Judge dismisses lawsuit that sought to disburse Black Hills trust (8/9)

Join the Conversation