CharlesTrimble: Reconciliation and restoration of Black Hills

Former NCAI President Tex Hall has demanded President Obama apologize to America’s native people for the country’s mistreatment of the tribes since the nation’s founding. Hall’s letter to the President, posted on Indianz.com, got me to thinking about the whole issue of reconciliation, which might begin with sincere and meaningful apology on the part of the chief executive of the United States.

Indeed, an apology would be only a hollow statement unless it leads to some measure of reconciliation and healing (whatever “healing” might entail). The US Congress has officially enacted a statement of apology to the American Indian people. A few state governors have also apologized, and even the Prime Minister of Canada and his counterpart in Australia have apologized to their respective aboriginal populations.

Pope Benedict himself has issued a statement of apology, directed at the aboriginal peoples of the New World. But I don’t know if any substantive benefits, or even any measurable solace, have come to Native peoples as a direct result of any of those apologies.

And reconciliation itself is not lasting unless efforts to achieve reconciliation are mutually defined by the Native Americans and the non-Native colonizers, and goals are set as to what the desired outcomes of the efforts are.

This is what I was looking for when I researched the internet for any reports on the 1990 Year of Reconciliation in South Dakota. Online I found an excellent 1991 report by Episcopal Bishop Anderson of South Dakota, a summary report on activities that were undertaken in the South Dakota YOR, and positive results in terms of understanding and changes in attitudes.

However I found an even better report on the Minnesota Year of Reconciliation, which was actually observed three years earlier than the South Dakota YOR. It was the first Year of Reconciliation in any state. In response to a group of Native and non-Indian people in the state, Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich proclaimed 1987 as the state’s Year of Reconciliation.

This surprised me because I was led to believe that Dakota activist Harold Iron Shield was unsuccessful in his efforts to get the state of Minnesota to undertake a year-long reconciliation effort, so he went to South Dakota with the idea, which was then picked up by a Lakota newspaper publisher and proposed to Governor Mickelson. Actually, Iron Shield was involved in the 1986-87 Minnesota effort and is quoted extensively in their report.

The Minnesota YOR clearly outlined what reconciliation involves, and what should be the goals of its efforts. This is what I was looking for – the substantive goals and outcomes beyond the speeches and proclamations, handshakes and sound bites and photo ops by white and Indian politicians alike. Here’s what the Minnesota YOR effort identified as principal goals and outcomes:
1. Reconciliation means peace with self, other and world
2. Reconciliation means honor and respect
3. Reconciliation means understanding
4. Reconciliation means restoration and restitution
5. Reconciliation means educating
6. Reconciliation means healing and forgiveness.

To most Indian people, I imagine, the most important objective of those listed above would be that of restoration and restitution. To Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, who have already rejected restitution for the taking of the Black Hills, restoration is the most important.

Otherwise, restitution is obvious alternative for Indian Country, despite its rejection by the Sioux nations in the case of the Black Hills. Restitution was the obvious intent in the establishment of the Indian Claims Commission in 1947, which provided compensatory payment to tribes in exchange for quit-claim agreement by them to lands in question.

Later on, however, some tribes did secure return of lands through legislation, such as the return of Blue Lake lands to the Taos Pueblo, Mount Adams to the Yakama, and lands in Maine to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy nations.

The year-long effort in Minnesota was “focused on specific communicative events and experiences of reconciliation between and among the Dakota and non-Indians in the State of Minnesota” over the lingering resentment on the part of Indians about the so-called “Indian War of 1862,” and the hanging of 38 tribal leaders at Mankato. The report was impressive, but didn’t address any mutual agreement on outcomes in terms of restoration and restitution.

Both the South Dakota and Minnesota reports described changes in attitudes and promises to improve contents of books and materials in the schools to reflect more accurate historical accounts of the treatment of Native peoples, and both reports told of a general air of good will that resulted from the year of reconciliation.

It is a shame that the issue of return of certain Black Hills lands to the united Sioux nations was not taken up in such an atmosphere that the South Dakota YOR reportedly engendered. Perhaps a movement of support could have been developed among people of good will to support the tribes’ quest for the restoration of those sacred lands.

If a plan such as the late Oglala scholar/activist Gerald Clifford had proposed, and as was proposed in the resulting Bradley Bill, could have been made to non-Indians in the atmosphere of reconciliation, it may have generated significant support.

The Year of Reconciliation in South Dakota was not a waste of time, energy or cost. In time, with a more progressive Congress and a less organized Yahoo element at large, perhaps the Black Hills restoration can again be pushed by the Tribes, along with a new effort for reconciliation.

Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at cchuktrim@aol.com and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.

More from Charles Trimble:
Chuck Trimble: Firebomb incident at Pine Ridge still a mystery (1/24)
Charles Trimble: Nebraska's Ponca Tribe loses a great leader (1/16)
Charles Trimble: Indian youth share important lesson with us (1/2)
Charles Trimble: Gyasi Ross is a great new writer among us (12/12)
Charles Trimble: Stop treating Indian students like the victims (11/29)
Charles Trimble: Thanksgiving out among the colonized people (11/23)
Charles Trimble: Doing right for the 'Children of the Plains' (10/24)
Charles Trimble: Two Oglala Sioux men earn places in history (10/10)
Charles Trimble: Injustice in removal of Cherokee Freedmen (9/12)
Charles Trimble: Don't mess with this 84-year-old Dakota lady (9/6)
Charles Trimble: US manipulation of tribes goes back centuries (9/2)

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