Notes from Indian Country
'The Black Hills are not for sale'
Time for a little history lesson for those wasicu (White people) who may not know this.
When Donald Trump and Kristi Noem decided to join forces and hold a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on the 4th of July, most wasicu news reporters wondered why the Lakota people would be upset about this. Well, it wasn’t about the flagrant politics of this outrage.
For centuries the Lakota and other tribes of the Plains have considered the He Sapa, Black Hills, to be a sacred place. To the Lakota the He Sapa were like the Holy Land of the Jews or like Mecca as a holy place for the Muslims. This is very hard for the average wasicu to understand. Maybe it is because that Americans have become so immersed in money that money has become their holy land. European Americans do not have a place they can call their holy land. They left their holy lands behind when they immigrated to America.
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For centuries every summer the Lakota and other tribes would gather at Mahto Paha, Bear Butte, in the He Sapa, to hold their sacred ceremonies like the Sundance, to have hunka (making of relatives) ceremonies, play hand games, dance, see old relatives that may have moved on to another tiosypaye, (family), hold horse and foot races, and it would be a time when young men would meet young women, fall in love and hold their marriage ceremonies. Naming ceremonies were a big part of this annual time of prayer and celebration. There would be hundreds of lodges or tipis stretching for miles along the big lake.
In 1874 the Black Hills Expedition led by George Armstrong Custer discovered gold near the town that now bears his name. He immediately informed the U. S. Congress that the gold would be a welcome bonanza to America and they should take control of the Black Hills. Congress did the thing they do the best. They offered money to the Lakota people for the Hills. The Lakota replied, “The He Sapa are not for sale.” They added, “One does not sell their holy land.”
This angered Congress so much that they set in motion a “sell or starve” policy. They drastically cut rations to the tribes and since the United States had nearly decimated the once mighty buffalo herds, the main food source of the Lakota, starvation became a reality. And yet the Lakota refused to sell the He Sapa. Congress attempted to diminish the Lakota’s refusal to sell by propagandizing a lie, “The Black Hills were never sacred to these Indians. In fact they believed the Hills were filled with evil spirits and were afraid to go there.” Such poppycock.
Congress confiscated the He Sapa anyway under its power of eminent domain with one peccadillo, it had to pay Just Compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. The Court of Claims awarded $17 million for the He Sapa and added $85 million in interest. The U. S. Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Claims $102 million award on June 30, 1980. In his dissenting opinion Justice Harry Blackmun wrote referring to the underhanded dealings of Congress, “A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history.”
Congress then tried to force the money down the throat of the Lakota, but Oglala Sioux Tribal Attorney Mario Gonzalez was successful in stopping the payment money to the Tribe for two years while the Tribe appealed its case. It will now take a new act of Congress to authorize the use and distribution of the funds.
After 40 years it is now time for the Sioux Tribes (I use the word Sioux here because that is the name used in the legal documents) to come together and negotiate with the U. S. Government to resolve the Sioux land claims. This should include a claim for return of federal lands and just monetary compensation for the denial of the use of the He Sapa under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
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Mount Rushmore was carved on a mountain in the Sacred He Sapa while the Sioux Nation still held ownership of the land. It was carved on their land without their consent. The Wicasa Wakan (Holy Men) of long ago considered this a desecration of their holy land. The feelings among the Lakota have not changed. The same goes for the carving at Crazy Horse Memorial. Tasunka Witko, Crazy Horse, would never have consented to an image of himself being carved in his Sacred He Sapa.
It is way past the time when this horrific and obvious theft of Lakota land be addressed by Congress in consultation and cooperation of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. With accumulated interest there is now $2 billion held in the U. S. Treasury awaiting for the Lakota people to accept it. The adage “The Black Hills are Not for Sale” still holds true for the Lakota people.
Noem and Trump were treading on the sacred ground of the Lakota; plain and simple.
Thumbnail photo of #LandBack action in Keystone, South Dakota, by Willi White, Courtesy NDN Collective
Contact Tim Giago at email@example.com
Note: Content © Tim Giago
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