Black Elk Peak is a sacred peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo: Austin Matherne

Native Sun News Today: Tribes promise 'war' over gold mining in sacred Black Hills

‘There’s gold in them thar Black Hills’

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY – Great Plains tribal leaders, at a meeting with U.S. Forest Service personnel here November 21, fired a barrage of constitutional arguments against proposed federal permitting of new gold exploration in the Black Hills.

The Forest Service asked for the meeting to address public comments recently received about a Canadian company’s plans for prospecting on thousands of acres of mining claims near Pe’ Sla, or the “Heart of Everything” central to the Oceti Sakowin traditional star knowledge and understanding of the universe.

The arguments may be only the first salvo in an all-out fight to defend the Great Sioux Nation’s treaty rights to the Black Hills, if the Forest Service caters to the designs of Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd., which seeks to reopen the historic Rochford Mining District.

“You will have war if this happens,” Oglala Sioux Tribal Chair Scott Weston told administrators of the Black Hills National Forest. “There will be bloodshed, because we have to stand up for our children and our grandchildren.”

The 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty guaranteed that the Black Hills and Lakota Territory, covering parts of five present-day states, would remain under control of the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation. Gold discovery less than a decade later led the federal government to break the treaty and the state of South Dakota to usurp jurisdiction.

“A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealing may never be found in our history,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun stated in awarding tribes $105 million for the theft. With interest, the sum has reached more than $1.4 billion today. However, the Black Hills Sioux Nation Council refuses to accept it, seeking return of the land instead.

Oglala Sioux Tribal Councilor Collins “CJ” Clifford pointed out that a Forest Service manual explains to employees that treaties are the supreme law of the land, and that the federal government has a trust responsibility to tribal governments.

“You’re taking my minerals, my soils, and doing irreparable harm to my land,” he said. “Your job is to protect my land and my people under the treaty and under the Constitution of the United States of America. What part of that trust responsibility don’t you understand?” he said. “We don’t want it. What part of no don’t you understand?”

Crow Creek Tribal Chair Brandon Sazue reminded the Forest Service, “The land is not for sale. It never was and never will be.” Permitting mining is like approval for unearthing native ancestors, he said. “It would be like us going into your graveyard and making a process out of it,” he said.

“I hope you understand the significance of how astronomical this is,” he said, noting traditional and elected tribal leaders’ unity in opposition to Black Hills gold mining.

He compared their consensus with that achieved in 2016 during the unprecedented tribal alliance to prevent the Dakota Access oil pipeline construction across the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.

“One percent of each tribe was at Standing Rock. Imagine 5 percent here, where you’ve got trees, hills and mountains, and we’re against it totally,” Sazue said, adding that the mining company is a foreign interest. “It’s not even your country doing this. It’s another country. Why would you let them in?” he asked.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Steve Einstein said the tribes “look at the whole Black Hills as one land form, such as the Grand Canyon. We look at it as historic and cultural,” he said. “The tribe’s position is for the no-action, no-build alternative.”

Yankton Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Kip Spotted Eagle took issue with findings of the Forest Service to date that have determined “no adverse effect on cultural or historical resources at the site.” He argued that no law effectively results in restoring mining sites.

“When you drill, radioactive waste comes up with tailings,” he noted. “This is in a watershed. There’s no way you can’t adversely affect the cultural and water resources.”

Oglala Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Trina Lone Hill called opposition to the proposal “a group effort” for the treaty tribes. “For us, it’s our land, water, and treaty rights. The Black Hills is a spiritual place for our people. This is where we emerged according to our creation story,” she said. The mining and exploration activity is “very invasive and destructive to our environment. It goes against everything we are,” she commented.

Opposing the project on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Chair Harold Frazier said, “These lands have taken care of us. That’s why we need to take care of them.”

Frazier, alluded to the by-laws of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, which he chairs; their Section 1 mandates that the organization “will participate in federal and state meetings on a Government-to-Government basis with the highest government level or delegate empowered to commit to any action derived from that consultation.”

He expressed bitterness over the permitting system. “In your eyes, we don’t matter. Your bosses already made up their minds. You’re just gonna check the box and move on,” he challenged.

“But I really hope that you say no to this company coming into our forest, our Black Hills,” he said. He beseeched the Forest Service employees to deny permits in order to protect not only the cultural resources but also the water supplies.

The proposed exploration drilling would use the waters of Rapid Creek and Castle Creek located within the claim boundaries. The maximum amount of water used for the duration of the project on public land is projected to be 1.8 million gallons. The mining company has a temporary state water rights permit to withdraw that amount. The permit expires December 31.

The company violated its state permit in previous exploration 22 miles to the southeast near Keystone, when its drilling polluted an adjacent creek, and two former gold mines of the scale anticipated in the Rochford district both made Superfund sites out of Black Hills streams that constitute headwaters of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Speaking on behalf of the 16 elected government heads of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Executive Director A. Gay Kingman said the organization has strongly opposed “any threat to our sacred Black Hills and our water.

“This would affect all the people who drink water from the Pactola Watershed,” she reminded listeners. Pactola Lake on Rapid Creek is a drinking water source for Rapid City. “This being in close proximity to Pe’ Sla makes it even more difficult. We are asking you to not consider the project before you,” she said.


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‘There’s gold in them thar Black Hills’
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