A quote from the U.S. Court of Claims decision in the Sioux Nation's Black Hills land claim case appears on a sign on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Hamner_Fotos

Tim Giago: Black Hills Bradley Bill died because of a lack of unity

Notes from Indian Country
Black Hills Bradley Bill died because of a lack of unity
Where is the Lakota leadership?

There is nearly $2 billion in the Black Hills Settlement Fund. The Settlement was made in 1981 and the accrued interest has been building since...

That was 40 years ago. But 40 years later the people say “The Black Hills are not for sale.” Here is the history of one U. S. senator trying to introduce a bill that would return some land in the Black Hills to the Sioux people.

When Gerald Clifford, Oglala Lakota, and his then wife Charlotte Black Elk, convinced New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley to introduce a bill in Congress to reclaim a small portion of the Black Hills for the people of the Great Sioux Nation, Bradley did just that. He introduced a bill that called for the transfer of 1.3 million acres of land to the Sioux Nation. The bill was not accepted by Congress.

Bradley was a friend of Mike Her Many Horses. Her Many Horses met Bradley when Bradley was a member of the NBA and playing for a professional basketball team. He talked Bradley into coming to Pine Ridge to hold basketball seminars for the Lakota boys. Bradley became extremely interested in the history of the Lakota and he met Gerald Clifford and members of the Black Hills Treaty Council while he was at Pine Ridge.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

It took a senator from New Jersey to introduce a bill to get land returned to the Lakota because the elected legislators from South Dakota knew it would be political suicide for them to even go near any legislation involving the Black Hills. Although the He Sapa (Black Hills) are sacred to the Sioux, the money produced by the gold, uranium, timber and water was more sacred to South Dakotans.

Bradley tried to reintroduce the legislation again in 1987, however, internal political divisions amongst the representatives on the Black Hills Steering Committee diffused the momentum behind it. Black Hills Steering Committee leader Oliver Red Cloud proposed that the new legislative effort be led by Phil Stevens, a businessman from California who claimed Sioux ancestry, instead of Clifford.

Stevens claimed that the Bradley Bill was not sufficient and demanded in addition to the restoration of 1.3 million acres of territory, a sum of $3.1 billion in compensation and the guarantee of future rents on an additional 7.3 million acres that were included in the original Treaty of 1868 at a value of one dollar per acre to be paid each year. Stevens’ proposal earned him widespread support among many Sioux representatives, however, others in the Clifford camp were weary and criticized him for focusing too much on money rather than the return of Sioux land.

Senator Bradley decided to hold back on the new bill until a resolution was reached for this internal dispute. Ultimately, Stevens proved unable to secure any congressional support behind his alternative proposal, and the momentum behind the initial push behind the Bradley Bill was lost.

Bradley finally conceded that when the tribes began to act in unison, or as he put it, “Got their act together,” he would continue to pursue the Black Hills Claim Settlement for them. They never did “get their act together.” Instead of sticking with Gerald Clifford the Tribes turned to a man named Stevens with a questionable background and little or no knowledge of the Sioux history or treaties. It was a bad choice. Stevens was a very wealthy Californian claiming to be Sioux even parading around in buckskin and a ceremonial bonnet.

In recent years several meetings were held by the tribal leaders of the Sioux Nation and nothing ever came of the meetings. Most Lakota will tell you that “The land is not for sale,” but without the leadership among the different tribes to come up with a unified plan it is apparent that there will be no settlement of any kind, either monetary or by the return of some Black Hills land. These days’ tribal leaders are afraid to place a resolution on the table giving the people the right to vote on it and decide, as a people, what they want to do in the Black Hills Claims Settlement.

Most Lakota with any common sense know that there will never be a deal struck to return all of the Black Hills to the Indian people. Bradley’s Bill had the best chance because it asked for only 1.3 million acres of land and that land would have been taken from the National Forest Service only. No private residences or townships in the Black Hills would have been touched.

Where is the leadership? Without unity nothing will be accomplished and we lost our greatest opportunity with Senator Bradley because we were so divided. This editorial in no way implies that the Hills are for sale, it only questions why there is no united front in seeking a solution. The Oyate of the Great Sioux Nation deserve the right to continue this fight in light of all the publicity surrounding this issue since Donald Trump and Kristi Noem decided to defile their hallowed ground on July 3.

I have a complete copy of the Bradley Bill that was introduced to Congress in 1987 in an effort to get back some land in a revised settlement. Internal squabbling among our leaders killed that bill. If anyone wants to see a copy of the original Bradley Bill click here.

It is very important that the folks of the Great Sioux a Nation know their history and this was a very important part of that history and we must learn from it in order to move forward in hopes of resolving a problem that has heretofore been unresolvable.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Note: Content © Tim Giago

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