Because I have served with the title “Expert Witness for History” five times on behalf of four tribes of Sioux before the federal courts, from experience I know that non-Indians’ legal representatives use scare tactics to arouse public opinion as well as to influence federal judges to favor their clients. This is an inevitable strategy in the Anglo American legal process, which I have encountered in the preparation of formal exhibits, during pre-trail depositions, and through appearances on witness stands – twice on behalf of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.
The only suitable reaction to scare tactics for the expert witness or the tribe is a presentation of historical reality. Across Anglo American (in the Dominion of Canada as well as in the United States) a government-to-government relationship first was established in colonial Virginia. Spokesmen for King James I and tribal spokesman Powhatan agreed that ownership and resulting jurisdiction over the ancestral acreage claimed by a tribe belonged to the tribe until its representatives formally relinquished ownership. In Anglo America, non-Indian officials employed the European written treaty for the transfer of ownership, which provided monetary or other compensation in return for a land cession.
This British policy regarding treaty making and federal recognition of ancestral “Indian country” was adopted by the United States government during the last quarter of the 18th century. (Verification is available in a massive study of federal Indian policy by Francis Paul Prucha entitled “The Great Father,” published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1984.) Federally recognized boundaries surrounding the ancestral land of the Yankton Sioux Tribe included approximately 13.5 million acres between the upper Des Moines and Missouri rivers – more than 6,000 acres per member of the tribe – which non-Indians thought was more than an amount necessary to meet basic tribal needs.
In 1830, tribal leaders surrendered 22 million acres to the United States in return for the promise of annual annuities. In 1858, tribal leaders gave up 11,155,890 acres (according to 20th century claims evaluations) in return for $1.6 million to be provided in annuities and services over 50 years. In 1894, Congress initiated an individual allotment process that allowed the sale of “surplus acres” (after allotment). Since then, many allottees and their heirs have acquired fee simple title and have sold their land to non-Indians.
All Indian land within the boundaries of the present-day Yankton Reservation remains ancestral land under federal protection (except fee lands that the tribe or individual Yanktons have purchased and retained). With ancestral ownership, the tribe and its members retain jurisdictional authority. On these 36,700 acres inside the original reservation boundaries, jurisdictional authority includes a power of taxation and, in addition, control over wildlife, for example, and access by roads on the reservation. Tribal ownership and jurisdictional authority over ancestral land provides the inclusion of federal trust responsibility benefits assured by the government-to-government relationship between federal and tribal governments that has existed since the founding of the United States. For the Yankton Tribe in particular, this relationship was first formally established by terms in a treaty approved by tribal representatives and federal officials in 1815.
Persons with interest in the Yankton history surveyed above are encouraged to read “The Yankton Sioux,” Chelsea House Publishers (1988). The other is a final manuscript for the Yankton Tribe in “Sioux Country Encyclopedia,” which may be examined at the Augustan College Center for Western Studies in Sioux Falls.
As a professional service, I will be happy to discuss the accuracy of contents in this letter with anyone who first has become at least generally familiar with contents in the works cited above. No non-Indian who understands the rights of the Yankton Tribe and its members to ownership and jurisdiction under federal protection on its remaining ancestral land has any cause to fear taxation or other intrusion on his or her fee land within the federally recognized boundary of the Yankton Sioux Reservation.
– Herbert T. Hoover
Herbert T. Hoover is emeritus professor of history at the University of South Dakota.