Monday, January 28, 2008

Lakota Sioux: International Notice, Same US Sentiment

On December 20th I posted a blog on an interesting news flash coming out of Fox News, in which the Oglala tribe of the Lakota Sioux (located on the Pine Ridge Reservation), led not by their elected council but an Indian Affairs Activist Group, submitted a letter of intent to withdraw from all treaties with the United States. Around that time I also took much effort to follow the news and discussion by folks all around the world.

As I searched blogs, blog comments, and online news regarding this issue, I was completely and utterly appalled. Likewise, I was ashamed to be an American, and associated with the history of this country.

Let me explain. As I read through blogs and news articles within the US, it was the norm to come across comments suggesting that we just send the military into the reservation to kill the rest of the Indians. Sadly, this is the same mentality, and lack of regard for the lives of the Native Peoples of this continent. And to think, in the year 2008 it is being suggested that we finish the genocide which was started during the expansion of the United States into the West. In 2008, when we are struggling for freedom and peace around the world, the solution at home is to murder. Inasmuch, where we are a nation that has gained little in the last 150 years where Native Americans are concerned, I have to hang my head in shame.

But my head was not hung for long... Though I am not officially belonging to any tribe, my heritage lies with four native tribes: From my mother - Blackfoot, Cherokee, Chickasaw; From my father - Iroquois. Of course I am also of Danish, English, and French ancestry... but I have always been drawn to the heritage of my family that (because of the racist history of the US) was passed on in secrecy, or in shame... That is the heritage of my Native American ancestors. But in doing so, I have also adopted a love for the history of the native tribes wherever I was. Most of my life it was that of the Pacific Northwestern Natives, where it is amazing that in the Northwest there is such a love for the culture of the native people. And now that I live in the proximity of the Sioux land, I am taking great interest in the history of this land, and the struggle of the Native People to remain free... the very thing that we are fighting for on behalf of other people around the world.

Here we are, in 2008, where we (the United States) consider ourselves the moral authority of the world, spreading freedom, democracy, and rule of law around the world, yet we find ourselves unable to follow that same rule of law. The Oglala council of the Pine Ridge reservation has taken the actions of the activist group into strong consideration, and though they were not initially consulted, the international interest has piqued their interest. The Rosebud Reservation, which is the second largest of the Lakota Sioux, has spoken out against the actions of the activist group, though they long for the ability to win back their land. What they do not fully grasp is that the means with which the activist group acted is entirely legal, both by the constitution and by international law of the UN. I imagine that if the Pine Ridge Reservation's elected officials decides to take action on the side of the activist group, then the other reservations that comprise of the Lakota Sioux will join as well.
What I have determined in my research of this event is this:

  • In 1803, the US purchased the Louisiana Territory (530 Million acres) from France for $23 Million. The Lakota Territories where part of this territory on map, though France never owned the territory. It was occupied and protected by the Sioux.

  • In 1805, a peace treaty was signed between the US and the Lakota.

  • As tensions arose between the Lakota and US settlers, the Treaty of Fort Laramie was requested by the US in 1851. This treaty allowed for safe passage of US settlers on the Oregon trail through Lakota Territory. This treaty explicitly recognized the Lakota territory as an independent and sovereign nation, and promised it's borders for as long as the rivers flow and the eagles fly. Laramie also allowed for US forts and rail-lines to be built in Lakota territory. The treaty promised payment of protection of the US transportation lines for 50 years, later ratified to 10 years of $50,000 for the time. Nearly no payments were received by the tribes, and settlements began to pop up on Lakota land. This was in direct violation of the 1st Laramie Treaty.

  • 1866 - 1868: With no payments received, and the increased population of homesteaders in their land, War broke out between the Lakota and the US. These were referred to as Red Cloud's Wars, for lakota Chief Red Cloud. The Lakota defeated the United States, and maintained control over the Powder River. This led to the 2nd Treaty of Fort Laramie. Red Cloud was the only Native Chief to win a major war against the United States.

  • 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie: After losing the battle for the Powder River, the US defined the "Great Sioux Reservation", which is the land being claimed by the Lakota Sioux in today's legal battle. This treaty ceded the land to the Sioux as sovereign soil in exchange for peace.

  • A Gold Rush into the black hills occurred, following George Armstrong Custer's confirmation that there existed large amounts of gold. Though it was known that this was Sioux territory, the prospectors came, backed by a thousand men led by Custer. The Sioux declared war on the occupying forces, but were unable to remove the prospectors. The natural resources of the Sioux were being stolen and exported out of the territory under the protection of the US. This was in direct violation of the 2nd Laramie Treaty.

  • In 1871, the US had decided to no longer enter into treaties with Native Tribes. The US had grown significantly, and with no major wars (internal or external), the US had freed up it's military to occupy and settle the Native territories, though this was in direct violation of the treaties already recognized by both the US and native tribes.

  • 1876: the US is defeated at Little Big Horn.

  • 1883: The Ex Parte Crow Dog decision of the US Supreme Court, which recognized the ongoing freedom and independence of Lakotah

  • 1885: The US Congress attempts to violate sovereignty of Lakota- Major Crimes Act, that unilaterally extended U.S. criminal jurisdiction into Lakotah territory

  • 1903: The US Supreme Court ruled on the case of Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, which authorized congress to violate treaties made with the Native tribes. The United States not only said that it could violate, change or abrogate treaties with Indian nations unilaterally, but it also said that the U.S. Congress possesses plenary (absolute) power to legislate in any way in indigenous affairs without the consent or consideration of indigenous nations. This is in direct conflict with the Treaties of Laramie.

  • 1969: Vienna Convention on Treaties - where international agreement is made on what a treaty is, how it should be handled, and what is the justification for the breaking of a treaty. Ref specifically Article 49, Article 60 Parts I and II

  • September 2007: The United Nations passes a nonbinding Declaration of Indigenous Rights, outlining the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have States honor and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.

  • December 2007: The Lakota declare that the US has broken treaties, and wishes to withdraw from the treaties made with and broken by the US. This includes a complete hand-over of all territories taken in violation of the treaties.

  • NOTE: Article VI of the US Constitution states: All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation. 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. The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Though this is an epic legal battle 150 years in the making, I have yet to find just cause why this would not hold up in any court, with one exception: The lack of unity by the Sioux.

However, as the legality of this issue is further recognized by international leaders, and the pressure of the international community increases against the US, the Sioux are going to unite, and the United States are going to have to address this issue as a real concern.

Currently, the international community has this to say:

  • Bolivia - the demands of indigenous people of America are our demands. We have sent all the documents they presented to the embassy to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bolivia and they'll analyze everything

  • Ireland and East Timor: We're very interested in this development

  • Venezuela, Chile, Russia and South Africa are looking into the situation.

The official response from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs is:

This doesn't mean anything. These are not legitimate tribal governments elected by the people [...] when they begin the process of violating other people's rights,
breaking the law, they're going to end up like all the other groups that have
declared themselves independent - usually getting arrested and being put in jail

I am still waiting for this story to develop... but at this time, all I can really say is that I am shocked at the response by the US citizen, who would see the US return to the genocide and murder of Native Americans struggling to do what we in the US fight for around the world: To Be Free.

In the era of Communication, and the Age of Recognition, how is the US to handle this issue without public outcry from the international community... and what about those of us in the United States who understand the struggle of the Lakota? How can the US continue to be the moral authority of the world when it ceases to do what is right, and as such what is the hardest thing to do... Uphold the supreme law of the land.

The US has never been tested on the level that it is about to be tested... how will her people react?


  1. Hey Steve,

    Thanks for keeping up on this - I have been wondering what happened. And since I mentioned this issue to many of my friends after your phone call, I've had people asking me about the status on this issue, too!

    Oh, and get some rest!

  2. I don't favor genocide but a Lakota nation faces some daunting facts on the ground:
    1) Lakota people are a tiny minority over their former lands.
    2) Lakota people are a majority only on tiny parcels of their former lands.
    3) The Lakota depend on government handouts.

    This puts the Lakota in a position where they may be able to get some type of monetary compensation through the courts. However their sovereignty and their land is forever gone.

  3. Dustin - No problem! This is a very intriguing story to me... depending on how it all goes, it could affect a LOT of folks.

    Econ - I agree that the cards are stacked against the Lakota... However, if the US prides itself on being a people of rules, law, and order as we attemtp to appear then it is not as simple as "majority rules".

    Should the elected or recognized leaders of the Lakota become united, then the US will surely be facing a constitutional crisis, the likes we have not seen since the Civil War. What we are dealing with here is a legal issue, where the constitution and subsequent treaties reserved the land for the Lakota after the US lost a series of wars to them. No treaties came after the US mandated the move to the smaller reservations, and as such, legally, the land still belongs to the Lakota. It is a tricky situation, but it is not simply answered by "majority rule".

    As well, they have been offered money for their land, and it was mandated by the Supreme Court... However, the Lakota refuse to accept the money, and as such are refusing to sell their lands. Inasmuch, their lands are being illegally occupied, based on the Treaties of Fort Laramie...

    The only saving grace for the US is that the Lakota are not 100% united... should they decide to unite in this effort, there is cause for the Lakota to request peacekeeprs from the UN, etc... This is something to keep a close eye on!

  4. I am ashamed to have any white blood in my veins. Unfortunately I do. But I do and always will lean toward my native american ancestry.

  5. I wish you would identify the photographs you use in your article, especially the first one. Do you know who the woman is, and who took the picture? Where did you find it? Thanks so much.

  6. Monelle - to be honest, I simply performed a Google search for "Lakota Woman" and got the first two, non copyrighted pictures, and googled "ghost dance" and located the third non-copyrighted picture.

    Beautiful, arent they! Too bad such a tragedy was bestowed upon such a beautiful people!

  7. Mostly all of my family is Lakota... out of four brothers i am the only one to have naturally black hair and brown eyes. My brothers are blond with blue eyes... i took after my mom and grandma!