A Rapid City S.D. newspaper reports that on this year’s anniversary of “Victory Day,” as Lakota people call the defeat of Lt. Col. George Custer, the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council was meeting at Fort Laramie National Historic Site with the aim to determine what might yet be retrieved from the old promises about the Black Hills.
Two treaties were negotiated at Fort Laramie between the U.S. government and Plains Indian tribes. The treaty of 1851 attempted to secure safe passage for non-Indian migrants on the Oregon and California trails and settle traditional territorial claims of the tribes.
The treaty of 1868 created the Great Sioux Reservation, which encompassed all of western South Dakota including the Black Hills. It was “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of bands who were parties to the agreement. The U.S. government further agreed that no persons, with a few exceptions for authorized government officers and employees, “shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described . . . .”
But forever lasted only six years.
In 1874, Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and brought gold miners with him. When gold discovered, the floodgates opened. Miners and settlers demanded protection from the U.S. Army.
Under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, no new treaty to cede any part of the Great Sioux Reservation would be valid unless approved by three-fourths of the adult male Sioux population. But in 1876, such a Black Hills “agreement” was signed by only 10 percent.
Congress implemented the action anyway, in effect abrogating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
There is little doubt that the government’s maneuver was a brazen land-grab.
Courts have determined the land was wrongfully acquired, and the government is obliged to make just compensation. “That obligation, included an award of interest, must now be paid,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1980.
Settlement funds for land taken in and around the Black Hills have grown to $1.3 billion. But the Lakota have refused to accept the money.
“It’s always been ours, and it always will be ours,” Mary Jane Spotted Tail, 69, said about the Black Hills. “I don’t care what the government says. They’ll take your land, even if you have the right papers and everything.”
In 1985, a federal bill introduced by Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., attempted to convey federally held lands in the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation. It never got out of committee.