Mural with the message "The Black Hills Are Not for Sale"

This photo shows a Los Angeles mural by artist Shepard Fairey with the message "The Black Hills Are Not For Sale," as seen on November 26, 2011.

(Photo: Neeta Lind/flickr/cc)

Sioux Tribes Want US to Come Clean on Treaty Deceit

"For centuries, the U.S. government has broken every promise it's made to Native tribes," says Standing Rock Sioux Chair Janet Alkire. "It's time for that to stop."

Leaders of the Standing Rock and Oglala Sioux said Wednesday that the two Native American tribes are joining forces in an effort to pressure the Biden administration into a reckoning over a dubious 19th-century treaty that—like just about every other one signed between the U.S. and Indigenous peoples—was broken by Washington.

The two tribes are seeking nation-to-nation consultations between U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Indian Affairs Secretary Bryan Newland—both Native Americans—and the remaining signatory tribes to the Fort Laramie Treaty.

"This is about correcting an injustice," Standing Rock Chair Janet Alkire said. "For centuries, the U.S. government has broken every promise it's made to Native tribes. It's time for that to stop."

"Furthermore," she added, "we're calling on the Biden-Harris administration to take active steps to correct the record."

Treaty rights remain a critical point of contention for the Sioux, who in recent years have fought against violations of their land, water, and sovereignty, including the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines—the latter of which was canceled by President Joe Biden.

"We'd like the current government to take an honest look at what happened."

In the 1860s, fierce Indigenous resistance to Euro-American encroachment on the Great Plains and an Army already weakened by the Civil War resulted in a series of U.S. defeats, including a December 1866 ambush led by Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors that killed all 81 soldiers under the command of Capt. William Fetterman during the Powder River War. It was the worst defeat of U.S. forces on the Great Plains until Little Bighorn a decade later.

In 1868, the U.S. signed the Fort Laramie Treaty with the Arapaho and the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Sioux. The treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation and designated the Black Hills as "unceded Indian territory" to be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of Indigenous peoples.

However, the tribes claim U.S. officials subsequently—and surreptitiously—added language to the treaty stating that the Indians "relinquish all claims or rights" to lands outside the designated reservation. The U.S. then blatantly abrogated the treaty following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota and, when Indians fought back, unleashed a fresh wave of genocidal violence against them.

"U.S. treaty negotiators snuck the relinquishment language into Article II of the treaty after it was signed by the Sioux chiefs to end the Powder River War," said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Comes Out. "We'd like the current government to take an honest look at what happened."

The Indian Claims Commission, a judicial relations arbiter between the U.S. government and Indigenous tribes, concluded in 1976 that the treaty "effectuated a vast cession of land contrary to the understanding and intent of the Sioux."

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the United States had illegally taken the Black Hills and awarded over $100 million in reparations to the Sioux Nation, which refused the money—now worth over $1 billion—on the grounds that the tribe never wanted to part with its lands in the first place.

"The Black Hills are not for sale," Alkire said Wednesday, "and they never were."

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