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If They’re Not For Sale, What Are the Black Hills For?

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The Supreme Court in 1980 found the United States guilty for basically land misappropriation (stealing), ordered a money payment to the Sioux. The Sioux tribes responded that the Black Hills are not for sale.

After maintaining this stance for over a third of a century, Oglala tribal leadership in 2009 asked “If they’re not for sale, what are the Black Hills for?” The sentiment was timely and responsive to Obama’s 2008 challenge that he’s willing to talk with the Great Sioux Nation about the longstanding issue, but not with constituent tribes, factions, or individuals.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmans Association, the closest representative body of the Sioux tribes, supported the idea and launched the He Sapa Unity Alliance to take up the issue. Wide public input was needed, chairmen noted, since the last time the Black Hills was before Congress the issue failed to reach the full floor due to lack of public input in the materials being presented, according to Associated Press reports.

The GPTCA named Theresa Two Bulls, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe; councilwoman Barbara Dull Knife; Loretta Afraid Of Bear Cook (appointed fundraiser); and Stacey LaCompte, secretary. Their first meeting was held at Green Grass in July, 2009.

Three tribal presidents smoked a pipe with Arvol Looking Horse at the pipe house, followed by a meeting in front of seven tipis with about 80-100 Lakotas under a big tent. The tribal presidents recognized Looking Horse as the spiritual leader of the Great Sioux Nation on behalf of the chairman’s association, and asked his help in the hopeful dream of uniting the tribes around a strategy for regaining federal lands in the Black Hills. Looking Horse accepted the request for prayers of spiritual unity for the tribes; noting afterward he is open to cooperation because the cause is just, but his actions are limited since his role is to watch over the sacred pipe and not be involved in politics.

President Two Bulls described GPTCA’s wish that the federally recognized tribal governments open the door for the Great Sioux Nation leaders to sit at the negotiating table. The public input needed for planning will be gathered by a series of reservation meetings, she said, and all sectors of Lakota people will be invited and welcomed to present their thoughts and ideas.

Thus began meetings over the years at seven of the nine reservations on the Black Hills claim. Public meetings were held at Eagle Butte, Flandreau, Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Yankton, Lower Brule, and Standing Rock. Copious materials were generated. The only disheartening meeting was Pine Ridge in 2010 when members of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Council rebuffed everything put forward, saying the elected system takes an oath of office to the US Constitution and so do not speak for the true and rightful Lakota people. And the 1868 Treaty says “men to sign off on any changes”, therefore women are excluded. And on their way out, two prominent members of this council said to the women present: “You women stink, you shouldn’t be in men’s meetings, the Black Hills concerns men and you’ve no right to be here.” And the other quipped: “I can still get hard, if any of you women have needs, let me know and I can take care of you.” Harsh words, boasting, accusation and sexual harassment were the reception the unity alliance received from the Black Hills Sioux Nation council in 2010.

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The Black Hills Unity Concert September 9-11 near Piedmont, is featuring its third year of raising awareness of sacred sites and the dream of regaining the Black Hills. It is direct action, akin to the Dakota Pipeline resistance camp in North Dakota. Unity consciousness will prevail, it is hoped, over the powers of destruction and disease.

As Steve Russell has written, and countless of us feel: “We remain less than one percent of the population of a land where we used to be one hundred percent. Therefore, we must do politics with allies or we will not be heard. We, too, have a dream.”

All who are concerned about the Black Hills and its proper return to the rightful heirs of the Hills are invited to join us September 9 – 11 at the 3rd annual Black Hills Unity Concert near Piedmont.

Tom Kanatakeniate Cook, Wolf Clan Mohawk of Akwesasne, lived on Pine Ridge 40 years, has sun danced 42 times including 19 in the Black Hills, and still directs a gardening program that made 239 gardens in 2016 on Pine Ridge for Running Strong for American Indian Youth. His wife Loretta is a member of the He Sapa Unity Alliance.

George Sword, September 5, 1896 ‘Foundations,’ in Lakota Belief and Ritual, J Walker:

“There is a pipe that belongs to all the Lakotas. This is held by a keeper and kept from view except on important occasions when it is unwrapped with much ceremony and is only lighted when there are matters of interest to all the Lakotas. When it is smoked, what is then done is binding on all the Lakotas.”

Tom Cook is a field coordinator for Running Strong for Indian Youth.