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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux man calls on US to honor its word

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

A view of Badlands National Park in the Blacks Hills of South Dakota. Photo from National Park Service

‘It is time for the United States to honor our treaties’
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Staff Writer

PINE RIDGE RESERVATION –– Sitting in his house on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, Gerald “Jump” Big Crow looks out his window and sees the deplorable conditions that prevail on his reservation, the poverty, the high suicide rate, the lack of adequate housing, and lack of jobs and knows things shouldn’t be this way.

Big Crow, reaching out to the media, finds a platform where he can vent his frustrations over one of the greatest injustices in United States history, the illegal taking of Sacred He Sapa (the Black Hills) and the subsequent removal of more than $4 billion worth of gold.

“We sat on top of one of the richest gold deposits in the world, yet we are the poorest people in the nation,” Big Crow, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, laments.

In the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty the United States Government recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, which was set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people.

Article Six of the U.S. Constitution states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

“I think the Supreme Court of the United States needs to take a look at this law, Article Six of the U.S. Constitution,” Big Crow said. “They screwed around with the constitution and the treaties which our Indian people made with the United States.”

Is it naiveté or does Big Crow have a point?

The law seems clear cut: “All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

To Big Crow, the answer to all his people’s woes is simple; the United States needs to honor their word.

“I think the Supreme Court needs to take a look at this and they will see all the injustices created by the United States government against the Indian people. Taking their land, their water rights, their coal, their gold, their timber and make things right,” he said.

Big Crow next addresses the Many Penny fiasco wherein the government knowing they could not keep the thousands of gold prospectors out of the Black Hills concocted what has become known as the “Sell or Starve” act of 1877.

His frustration is over the fact that the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty stipulated that any cession of land required that a new treaty be executed that had the signatories of three fourths of the adult male population to be valid.

Gerald "Jump" Big Crow

“We as Indian people got screwed over that,” he said. “It is a double-edged sword, because of that, the land was taken from our people and it was never approved by three-quarters of the males and somewhere down the line the government has to answer for that.”

Then there is the issue of the Fifth Amendment which requires that the power of eminent domain be coupled with “just compensation” for those whose property is taken.

“We as Indian people still own the Black Hills and all that has been taken out of it, the gold, the timber, the water, the air. We have never been compensated for it, so we still own it,” he said. “Somehow Congress to this day has turned a deaf ear to us.”

Perhaps it’s the legal wrangling that has gone on for nearly a century that frustrates him the most. Unable to accept the forced taking of their sacred He Sapa, the Sioux in 1920 began a lawsuit against the United States Government that continues to this day.

In 1980 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the taking of property that was set aside for the use of the tribe required just compensation, including interest and that they “were entitled to the value of the land as of the 1877 taking which was $17.1 million, the value of gold prospectors illegally took out of the land computed at $450,000, and 100 years’ worth of interest at five percent per year which would be an additional $88 million.”

But the Sioux tribes by consensus have refused the money and instead have demanded the return of their sacred He Sapa. The money remains in a Bureau of Indian Affairs account accruing compound interest. As of 2011 the Sioux interest on their money has compounded to over 1 billion dollars.

“Going back to the 1980 Supreme Court ruling, we never have been given compensation for the taking of the Black Hills and all the gold that was taken out of it,” he said. “We as Indian people have been screwed over that.”

His understanding of that has occurred over the past century may not be much more than what the rest of his people understand, but what he does understand is the fact that his people remain poor, marginalized, that they’ve been robbed, and taken advantage of by the very entity that was entrusted with their care, the United States Government.

He knows something has to change and whether he will see it in his lifetime remains to be seen. In the meantime Big Crow will continue to vent his frustrations.

“We won the Battle at the Little Big Horn in 1876 but we lost the war because they made us here in South Dakota some of the poorest people in the United States. Without even talking to us, telling us what they were going to do. They did this to us on their own, so the congressional people need to wake up and do something to correct this, today or tomorrow or next week,” he said.

“Because all the tribes are living with this and it should be up to congress to do something about this. They need to live up their treaties and to the constitution and live up to their ability to serve us in the right way,” Big Crow concludes.

(Ernestine Chasing Hawk can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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