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Sioux Forgo $1B, Continue Fight to Reclaim Black Hills

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The distressed Sioux Nation, spread across 17 reservations from Montana through the Dakotas to Minnesota, will not accept federal money that has accrued in trust accounts from $102 million to about $1 billion today, reported The Atlantic.

The Sioux would rather fight for their homeland, the Black Hills of South Dakota. The federal Indian Claims Commission awarded the Sioux $102 million in 1980 for claiming the Black Hills and removing the Sioux from their land in an 1877 act of Congress that most Sioux tribal members cite as an illegitimate agreement. Not enough tribal members consented, reported The Atlantic, and the land was not for sale to begin with.

Now, the most impoverished nation in the country holds about $1 billion of untouched money in accounts at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, according to The Atlantic.

The plight of the Sioux is a story typically illustrated with staggering statistics. On the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge reservation, 80 percent of residents are unemployed, reported The Atlantic. Nearly half of Oglala Sioux over 40 are afflicted with diabetes, according to Oglala President John Yellow Bird Steeleand. The life expectancy of men is 48; women, 52.

Mario Gonzalez, the Oglala Sioux and Mexican tribal lawyer for the Sioux, told The Atlantic that some tribal members want to put the money to use now. “We tell them, ‘Our grandfathers and great-grandparents spilled a lot of blood so future generations could have a homeland that included the Black Hills.’” If the tribes accept the settlement, he added, “and the money is all gone three years from now, that’s when the Sioux will become a defeated people. That’s when you will see them walking around in shame with their heads hanging.”

Since Obama's inauguration, Gonzalez sees a light. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association established the He Sapa Reparations Alliance (He Sapa means “Black Hills” in Lakota) shortly after Obama took office "to educate the Sioux about the land claim and to create a proposal for Congress," reported The Atlantic. Their advocacy could potentially gain the Sioux shared ownership and management of approximately 1.3 million acres of federal land within the Black Hills. Gonzalez readily tells The Atlantic that this land does not include federal installations or Mount Rushmore.

Get the full story "Saying No to $1 Billion" in The Atlantic.