by Debra White Plume, writing from the banks of Wounded Knee Creek
“As long as the water flows and the sweet grass grows” are words Red Nations people take seriously, like in Treaty Making. We have learned the so-called United States is a trickster. They are settler invaders who occupy our lands across Turtle Island. As Lakota people, we know who we are and where we come from. We went deep under ground for generations, and emerged through Wind Cave in the sacred Black Hills, a place that is located in the middle of this land, to live on Mother Earth again.
We call the Black Hills He Sapa. In our Lakota language, we call He Sapa “The Heart of Everything That Is”, it is sacred land. To make a long story short, our Lakota Nation fought the US military for decades for our freedom and territory, we made Treaty with them in 1851 and 1868 after they begged for Peace. We retained a land base including the He Sapa. After the US made bounty on the Buffalo Nation and almost wiped them out as part of the Scorched Earth Policy to get us off the land (in violation of the Treaties), we came in to be counted. We were each given an Indian Number, and assigned to Prisoner of War Camps. Pine Ridge Reservation was POW Camp 344. We, the Oglala Band of the Lakota Nation, live the closest of the Tetuwan Oyate to the He Sapa, the other Lakota and Dakota Bands located nearby.
When our ancestors came in off the land they had a star map and a land map they had preserved through decades of warfare with the US. The Star Map shows constellations, the Earth Map shows land where our people are to be when the stars are in a certain position, and what ceremony we are to have in that place at that time. As traditional Lakota people, we are schooled in this way from the womb, so by adulthood, we know this deep in our spirits, hearts, and minds. We teach it on to the next generation, and to those who grew up assimilated and colonized but want to reclaim their Lakota identity. We are to hold our ceremonies at a certain place on Mother Earth when the stars travel to their special place in the sky during the seasons, when done this way by the Lakota people, we call this the Good Red Road. This is what Lakota people are talking about when we say we are walking the Good Red Road, we are traveling through He Sapa in ceremony just as the Stars are traveling through the sky. We also say “He Sapa is the Heart of Our Home, He Sapa is the Home of our Heart”, so our ancestors fought for it, and so do we. Love is a very powerful force!
One part of the Good Red Road is a prairie area called Pe Sla, in Treaty Territory that the US stole when gold was discovered. Unilaterally approving laws in violation of the Treaty, the US made land available to settlers through gradual encroachment. The Reynolds family began obtaining parcels of land on Pe Sla 136 years ago. Local legend has it they tried to mine for gold there, but found none, no one did, so they bought out the other settlers, one by one. Now the descendants of the early settlers want to sell the land through auction on August 26 in Rapid City. Every bone in my body tells me this is wrong. Not just illegal, but wrong. It tears at my heart to think part of our Good Red Road is being auctioned. Pe Sla is a place that fills your heart with love and joy, and when you go there, you just want to cry, and the healing tears fall, the power there is so strong. It is a place where generations of Lakota have sent their voices to the Universe. We want our generations to be able to go there, too. All of our Lakota way, belongs to our children’s children, and so on. We are keeping care of the Lakota way, for them, to carry on. So we are in a dilemma.
Certain circumstances can prevail upon a person to behave in a manner that is fundamentally contrary to one’s belief system, instincts, and historical frame of reference. To even sporadically arrive at this conclusion is shocking! Talk about a paradigm shift!
Such is the situation when faced with a very real possibility that sacred ancestral land, that in living memory has not been available to the people, is suddenly obtainable! Imagine that YOU must get permission from those who withhold it, when you want to pray in ceremony, how would that make you feel? Deprived of your ancestral identity, who will you be? Our Lakota ceremonies are who we are. Without our ceremonies, we cease to be Lakota. We must have access to our sacred places that collectively make up the Good Red Road, for us, here on earth.
While paying money for Pe Sla in the paradigm of western thought is repugnant, knowing what may happen if it developers buy it is more horrendous. The lesser of two evils is to purchase that land to get it off the auction block. The worst scenario is to do nothing, and risk the land passing into hands of a big Fat Taker who will wring every red cent out of it that he can, carelessly destroying the land. While the land purchase is not a happy option, it is seen by some as realistic, the temptation is there to go for it. Buy the land, get it back, even if it is already ours. Take care of it like a good relative!
One does not easily get comfortable with the decision. Inner conflict rises, you know that feeling of uneasiness, like a distracted thought, just out of reach? Doubts rise, begin to spread, just as that first glimmer of chance that “yes, we can get that land back!” brought elation. If we could see what it looks like, the going back and forth between the conflicting paradigms, intellectually and emotionally, I imagine the image would look like waves in the ocean, rising, falling, going this way and that way, as we change our minds, is it right or wrong to buy this land? Many people suffer this.
Meanwhile, a group of people has committed to the land purchase option and they are taking action. They are the steady rock of firm belief that this is the route to take, they are leading the way for people to accept the purchase option and have spurred a collective action to raise funds and awareness. This group is called the Last Real Indians, an organization of professional, educated, dedicated Red Nations people. While most Tetuwan Oyate have identity based on ancestral freedom and way of life, it is also possible, and often necessary, to be able to successfully navigate life in the western world’s processes on an ‘as needed basis’, without relinquishing ones’ ancient ways.
Such rationale supports the immediate option that requires about $10 million, maybe more, and it is a peaceful option. Will it hurt our stance that the land is our Territory by Treaty? Legal minds say no, because it is not Traditional Government doing this work, raising funds, or bidding at the auction; it is Tribal Councils, individuals, organizations that operate in the framework of the US.
A discussion in Indian Country reflects the belief that it is ludicrous that land purchase is the ONLY immediate option, when most Red Nations people believe that it is ALSO an option for the US government to honor the Ft Laramie Treaties, and relinquish its’ illegal and immoral “title” to the land. After all, the Treaties are legally binding international documents. The US does not make treaties with ethnic minorities now, does it? It makes treaties with other Nations and its Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. The US Supreme Court in 1980 ruled that the illegal taking of the He Sapa was the “ripest, rankest case of land theft in its history” then awarded millions of dollars to compensate the Lakota Nation, who refuse the money. Other Governments all over the earth are returning stolen lands and territories to indigenous people. What is preventing the US from taking such action?
The United Nations Special Rappateour, Mr James Anaya, acknowledges how the return of the Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation would be a way for the US to begin reconciliation with the Lakota Nation, stating: “that’s a situation where indigenous people have seen over time, encroachment on to their land, and they’ve lost vast territories. there have been clear instances of broken treaty promises. It’s undisputed that the Black Hills was guaranteed them by treaty and that treaty was outright violated by the United States, That has been recognised by the US supreme court,” he said. he reserves recommendations on a plan for land restoration until his final report to the UN human rights council in September. “I’m talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what they’re entitled to and have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not devisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation,” he said.
As folks everywhere prepare to go to the auction, it is important to know where they are going. While the richest gold mine in the history of the world was in the He Sapa, it has closed, mined out. Alot of the settlers who came here back in the day were gold miners, people who were FAT TAKERS, our term for selfish greedy people. They saw us, along with the 7th Calvary who grew tired of fighting us, (we are known incorrectly as the Great Sioux Nation) as folks who should be rubbed out. Indeed, many US leaders said so! Dig deep into history to find those old quotes. Mt Rushmore is carved into a mountain in our sacred He Sapa, four faces of American Presidents, a major attraction in a state dependent on tourist dollars. Crazy Horse, carved into granite, is a desecration that attracts major tourist revenue, and is commonly viewed as a twisted Fat Taker gesture to “honor” a great War Chief who gave his life to protect the Lakota people, lifeway, land. Tourist attractions are protected by SD law, while Lakota are prohibited from sacred lands so tourists can free roam to spend dollars. James Anaya of the UN knows what he’s talking about!
Rapid City (RC) is the site of the auction to sell 2,000 acres of Pe Sla. RC was the site of a US Civil Rights Hearing years ago to examine many violent crimes against the Lakota by whites; RC is known for the dozen deaths of Lakota men who “drown” in Rapid Creek, while it is rare for Lakota men to drown in their homelands, for some reason, they drown in RC; RC is known for shoot-outs between the RC Police and Lakota men, sometimes the police die, sometimes the Lakota die. Sometimes both die. Who said the ‘wild west’ was over?
There was recently a march there of Lakota people demanding justice for a blind elder who came out of heart surgery with KKK burned or cut into his torso; indeed, a town nearby still displays photographs of their last KKK Rally in full regalia, held in my childhood. SD social services is under investigation for high rates of Lakota children taken from their families and placed in non-Lakota homes that all get a pretty penny from the state, while Lakota relatives are ignored, overlooked, and never receive one red cent, anyway. RC is where a big trial was held for a white attorney who was guilty of taking pornographic photographs of his foster Lakota daughters. SD was the second place in the US to pass the “show me your papers” law targeted at immigrants from “Mexico”.
So in RC, where Human Rights and Civil Rights hearings have to be held, we can think that there will be nicey-nice doings at the Pe Sla auction, yes we actually have many friends and allies among the white people in SD! Yet, SD history shows wherever there might be more than 3 Lakota people, there is intensified police presence, like state troopers, US Marshalls, FBI, and Homeland Security. Like at the US State Dept Hearing in Pierre, SD recently regarding TransCanada’s proposed oil pipeline. They expected many Lakota to testify on behalf of sacred water and earth, therefore, against the Keystone XL Pipeline, so police presence was intense!
A comment in an area newspaper this week says: “The US stole all that land fair and square. They stole pretty much the whole of this nation. It is one’s right as a European to steal anything under the notion of manifest destiny. Make those Indians pay something to get back what was stolen from them. After all giving back stolen goods is not in the best interests of the thieves.”
While the purchase option is controversial, it is an immediate solution to a BIG problem: access to sacred places that are part of our identity. It is achievable, to make the fast purchase now, and to keep working to get the Ft Laramie Treaties upheld, a struggle that has been going on since 1868 and that we have not abandoned.
Lakota elder Leonard Little Finger when asked by a reporter about the possibility of being outbid at the auction said, “if someone else buys Pe Sla and won’t let the Lakota go there to pray, we’ll still go and if they shoot us or disallow us, there’ll be others that come.” We have the inherent right to be who we are, so do our children’s children, no government should have the power and support of its people to deliberately take our people’s identity away, to break apart our Good Red Road.