Indian Country Today
Charges against Nick Tilsen, Oglala Lakota, President and CEO of NDN Collective, and all other treaty defenders arrested at a Black Hills protest on July 3 will be dropped, announced NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led advocacy organization.
The initial charges came after Tilsen and more than 200 treaty defenders protested former President Donald Trump’s visit to the Black Hills last summer, as he traveled to speak at Mount Rushmore for an Independence Day celebration.
The Lakota have long attempted to have the Black Hill region returned to tribal authority, as specified under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
The treaty defenders gathered on a highway leading to the monument, using cars and vans to block the road for nearly three hours. In response, law enforcement officers and members of the South Dakota Air and Army National Guard were called in, leading to a skirmish between protestors and law enforcement.
Twenty-one treaty defenders ended up being arrested and charged with misdemeanors, with Tilsen receiving a combination of misdemeanors and felonies -- a sentence that could have resulted in up to 17 years in prison. He told the Associated Press that he will participate in a prison diversion program in exchange for all but one charge against him being dropped. The final charge will be dropped once he completes the program.
In the aftermath, thousands of supporters came to the group’s defense through petitions, social media campaigns, and national media coverage of the cases. In December, the United Nations weighed in with a statement in support of the treaty defenders.
“This victory and the dropped charges are a direct result of the Movement showing up and standing up for all the Land Defenders who took a stand in the Ȟesápa (Black Hills) on July 3,” Tilsen said in a statement. “Tens of thousands organized, called, donated to our legal and bail fund and signed the petitions to drop these charges, and we acknowledge their invaluable support.”
“I have so much gratitude for the thousands of supporters who prayed, donated, called, emailed, signed petitions and reached out over the past nine months. This is a wake up call for our communities,” said Krystal Two Bulls, Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, director of the LANDBACK Campaign at NDN Collective. “We will continue to organize forward and fight for all our targeted and incarcerated Relatives!”
Nataani Means, Oglala Lakota, Navajo, and Omaha, will join Tilsen and Two Bills in a discussion about the news on NDN Collective’s livestream show “NDN Live” on Tuesday at 6 p.m. MST.
“This is a day of victory for our Movement and our People,” said Tilsen. “We will utilize it to catalyze our cause forward.”
The Pennington County State’s Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press to confirm the charges were dropped.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Meghan Fate Sullivan, Koyukon Athabascan, is a writer for Indian Country Today. She grew up in Alaska, and is currently reporting on her home state from Anchorage.