Brandon Ecoffey: Transparency needed on Black Hills land claim

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

A note from the editor's desk
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

In this week's paper we have a short story about an attempt by the Oglala Sioux Tribe to hold President Barack Obama accountable for a statement made by his campaign regarding the Black Hills land claim.

The statement made by an Obama staffer basically implied that if the Senator from Illinois happened to win the presidency he would be open to discussing ways to settle the longstanding Black Hills Land Claim. When I first heard of the statement several year's ago I did not put much weight behind it. Obama was in a tough race and statements like this were an everyday occurrence as he attempted to gather enough votes to take the White House.

For many however, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the statement by the campaign was an opening that needed to be pressed. As far as I know there hasn't been another president willing to sit down with tribes on this issue and I can see the reasoning. My only problem with the move is it would seem that the people should somehow be brought into the conversation on this matter.

As someone who grew up in Pine Ridge I've known of people my age who have talked about taking the money that has grown with interest to somewhere in the range of $1 billion. The urgency of lifting oneself out of poverty has always been the motivation behind some of my friend's desire to settle the dispute and take the money.

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To be completely honest the number of people I know who would take the money are very few. The majority of the people I know have long stood by the belief that the Black Hills are not for sale. Of course I do not speak for everyone and will of the silent majority on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is notoriously hard to gage but that is exactly why they must be consulted. Any attempts to wade in to his realm must be done so with the approval of the people and our allies. Are there truly innovative ways to settle this claim that do not result in our people giving up our aboriginal claim to these lands that we hold sacred?

That is a question to be answered by people far more intelligent than myself and the truth is there are many in our communities who could provide these answers but were they consulted? If there was ever a need for transparency on an issue -- this is it.

(Brandon Ecoffey is editor of LCT and an award winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He earned his education at Dartmouth College and is the owner of Badface Indigenous Media Consulting.)

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