It is always interesting to me whenever anyone in western South Dakota “sells” their land, since the correct English term for “selling” stolen property is “fencing.” However, when the state of South Dakota (also an illegal entity) and the federal authorities condone such illegal activities, then what would these otherwise criminal actions properly be called? And who will enforce their prosecution?
Homestake Mining Co.’s most recent agreement to “sell” land to the state of South Dakota reminds many of us of the historic, illegal trespass into western South Dakota by the gold miners and by Homestake. This illegal trespass was a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, Article VI, and the congressionally ratified Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 that was made between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation. In that treaty, all of western South Dakota and parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota were to be for the exclusive use and occupation of the Great Sioux Nation.
The “wrongs” were started at the time when President Ulysses S. Grant secretly ordered the U.S. Army not to stop any gold miners from coming into the treaty territory. He should have been impeached then and there for violating the Constitution. But greed always has a way of making some people turn a blind eye to atrocities. Adding the word “progress” also has a nice ring so immoral and illegal actions are condoned by those that don’t care to be called “greedy.”
The “wrongs” continued in the destruction of the economic base of the Great Sioux Nation, the buffalo, and the deliberate spread of smallpox-filled blankets and rotten food. The “sell or starve” treaties that some Sioux leaders were forced into signing in 1877 were still illegal, as there was still not the three-fourths adult male signatures as required to change the 1868 treaty. Those leaders knew that only a few signatures were not enough to change the treaty.
The U.S. government also knew that public opinion would not condone the total genocide of the Great Sioux Nation so they created prisoner of war camps, now commonly known as Indian reservations. Children were taken away to “have the Indian taken out of them.” If there was no one left who remembered the treaty, then who could remind anyone that this was a gross violation of the very principles that created the Constitution of the United States in the first place? How many of the grandparents of the trespassers had come to North America because of the oppression in their own homelands? How could they have forgotten so quickly?
Thankfully, for the sake of the people of the United States, and for the survival of the Lakota people, the information of the treaties continued to be passed on from generation to generation of Lakota people. My grandmother told me and her grandmother told her.
The list of the “wrongs” is miles long. But the greatest “wrong” is the lie that the federal government told to the non-Indian American people by allowing them to believe that they could homestead in this region. That lie continues to this day.
Homestake has no more authority to sell stolen land than a thief has to sell his stolen goods. The state, the federal government or any private individual who continues to participate in these illegal activities is just as guilty as a common criminal convicted of fencing stolen wares. The state, the federal government and every individual who becomes aware of this has a responsibility to correct these “wrongs.”
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 is still a legal document. The Constitution of the United States is also a legal document. Both of these were made to insure the survival of their peoples with the ability to live in freedom. Violating the treaty by the federal government was not easy and tens of thousands of people, albeit Lakota people, died as a consequence.
What effect will violating the Constitution of the United States have on the American people?
Charmaine White Face is spokesman for the Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council and coordinator for Defenders of the Black Hills, a volunteer non-profit organization.
She may be reached at