The Black Hills: The Heart of Everything That Is (Wamaka Ognaka e’cante)

One of the foremost voices in the Great Sioux Nation calls on President Obama to rectify historic wrongs and protect the Black Hills as his last act.

I was dropping my daughter off at the airport when I received shocking news. According to the reporter who had just called me, I had become the first Native to receive an electoral vote in the history of the United States. My father’s and grandfather’s teachings came into my mind - there are no accidents with God, the Creator. So, what was America trying to say? How could I help to provide a response that would honor the prayer that was in the heart of the person who cast this vote? How could I best serve those in our country who are deeply concerned about the future of Grandmother Earth and the next seven generations?

My name is Faith Spotted Eagle, and I am of the Dakota and Nakota Nations within the Oceti Sakowin, otherwise known as “The Great Sioux Nation.” I have been described as many things, such as “activist,” “pipeline protester,” “elder,” even “general hell raiser.” To those who know me, I am a mother, grandmother, and a woman who strives to protect the sacred, whether it is through my work on the Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee, my commitment to those suffering from PTSD and generational trauma, or through the Brave Heart Society, a traditional circle that seeks to “enhance and preserve the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota culture for coming generations.”

I would like to begin by first saying, Wopida, (the greatest of thanks) to President Obama for a decision that I believe has impacted Native Nations forever. On December 3, 2016 the easement for the DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE (DAPL) was denied. If this decision is respected by the Trump administration, it will prevent Energy Transfer Partners from drilling under the Missouri River, a vulnerable river body that provides drinking water for over 17 million people. Furthermore, in an answer to the prayers of our water protectors, the Army Corps announced that an EIS or Environmental Impact Statement would be mandated. For the first few minutes after the announcement, the 10,000 + people at the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) camp, were in shock. Then drums began to pound with reserved celebration, spreading prayers throughout the Cannonball River Camps. We were each aware that this announcement was merely a respite in a battle that is being fought in communities around the world. For those few days however, Ina Maka, Mother Earth donned her white shawl of snow, and a blizzard celebrated along with us for four sacred days. With this decision, federal agencies have chosen to acknowledge that Native Peoples are still intact and that our ability and commitment to protecting sacred sites helps to strengthen relationships with the natural world for all Peoples. This includes, of course, protection of the first medicine of life … Mni Wiconi, the water of all life. 


There is one decision that remains to be considered by a brave President of United States history. The spiritual homelands of the Oceti Sakowin, the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota Peoples, are in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, known to us as Paha Sapa. As has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court and is known by international governments throughout the world, the U.S. government illegally seized the Black Hills, our most holy of places. We have watched with tears in our eyes as this sacred mountain range and the surrounding lands have been cracked open and “resources” extracted. We have cried as generations have become sick from the poison that is being extracted from these hills.

President Obama, we understand that you can protect Paha Sapa, The Sacred Black Hills, by declaring it a National Monument of the Sioux peoples, as defined in the Ft. Laramie Treaties of 1851, 1868, and the Great Sioux Nation. Monument status would not change the status of Treaty or unceded lands, as those rights would be retained and respected. In doing so, President Obama, the consistent, steady process of decolonization and deconstruction can begin to be reversed. When this occurs, true healing will begin, not just for our own Peoples, but for the United States of America and for the world. Any potential “resource revenue loss” to the state and federal governments will easily be exceeded by the tourism dollars of visitors from around the world who will come to experience our culture and traditions, as we have been taught by our Elders and Ancestors to always share our traditions and teachings with those who come to us with an honest and sincere heart. President Obama, The Black Hills contains our “cante,” or our heart. Long before the settlers came, the Oceti Sakowin knew that The Black Hills were made in the shape of a heart. NASA later verified this with satellite imagery. President Obama, please help to restore our heart.

Faith Spotted Eagle, Tunkan Inajin Winya, (Dakota/Nakota) is a mother and grandmother. She is committed to her work on Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee, leading the Brave Heart Society and counseling people suffering from PTSD.