I keep writing about native land sovereignty here, because I think it’s a central piece of not only present-day social and environmental justice but also of healing much older historical (and ecological) trauma here in North America and elsewhere around the world. And I also think that you really, really cannot understand the current-day ecological and socio-cultural situation in the USA without understanding the history of relations between the European colonial population and native peoples. For the most part that history is brutal and tragic, to put it mildly, and it’s easy to feel a lot of despair in the face of it.
So I’m definitely heartened by small steps towards land justice, even if they’re still just potentials like those alluded to in this short article.
Tribe members insist that the 1877 act of Congress that moved the Sioux from their sacred Black Hills is not valid: it wasn’t agreed to by enough tribe members, and the land was never for sale in the first place. When the Supreme Court in 1980 affirmed the original award of $102 million, Gonzalez told me, “there was some jubilation among some of the tribal members. But there were a lot of younger people, including me, who felt that the Indian Claims Commission process, as it applied to the Sioux land claims, was a sham, and we should not participate.”
After all, if the land was never for sale, how can you ever accept money for it?….Some Sioux want to take the money now, Gonzalez says. “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.’”
The whole history of the Sioux nations, the Black Hills, Pine Ridge, and the present-day situation there is gut-wrenching and also fascinating (see Dee Brown and others). There is really no good reason that I can see for the federal government to retain ownership of the Black Hills. And the choice on the part of Sioux leaders to keep the “payment” for the unsold land in trust rather than cashed is frankly kind of astonishing. No judgment for or against there, just amazement at the long-term perspective that that choice suggests. I imagine it would be very easy to want to take the immediate buyout, but as the tribal lawyer quoted in the article says, the longer-term cultural consequences could be even more severe than the present-day crisis. Another perspective on the same predicament from the LA Times from 10 years ago.
Since I’m not Sioux, though, and in fact related to this whole topic, here’s one framework for dominant-group members for how to think about and take leadership from targeted groups: Rafter Sass’s Liberation Ecology working paper.