Newcastle — Everyone recognizes that Native Americans (or Indians as they used to be known) have gotten pretty short shrift here in the Land of Milk and Honey. Most of us are happy that some restitution of wrongs is and has been going on, and rather unhappy that the effort has not been more successful.
Probably no tribe has been more mistreated than the Sioux., a people who have been in North America for many thousands of years, in modern times living as nomads chasing the buffalo. This became easier after the Spaniards dropped off some horses in the 1500’s, but that might be the last time we did the natives any real favor. As Whitey began to take command of the land, things rapidly deteriorated for the Sioux. By the time of the Uncivil War, conflict over the possession of the frontier had become intense (e.g., the Dakota War of 1862), and, as a bonus, the boys with the thundersticks were well down the path to decimating the buffalo herds. The government decided that an egalitarian solution was to atone for the land grab by putting the rightful owners on reservations and paying small annuities to the tribes.
The Sioux regained some dignity when they whupped the U.S. Military in Red Cloud’s War of 1868, and the Lakota and Cheyenne received title to The Great Sioux Reservation, which included all of South Dakota west of the Missouri river and a small part of Nebraska, in the Treaty of Laramie. The victors also received hunting rights in Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle.
Unfortunately for the Sioux, gold was discovered in them thar (Black) Hills, and following the economic panic of 1873 a flood of prospectors/miners invaded the area. The army tried to keep the encroachers out, and Congress offered to buy the land back (for $25000, suggesting relocation of the inhabitants to Oklahoma) but to no avail.
Meanwhile, some bands of the Lakota and Cheyenne who were not signatories of the Treaty of Laramie continued to occupy other lands of the Midwest coveted by white settlers. Initially the government was concerned about launching a war against these miscreants without provocation, but after declaring the bow and arrow weapons of mass destruction (just kidding) Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds with six companies of cavalry located a village of about 65 lodges and attacked on the morning of March 17, 1876, setting off the Great Sioux War of 1876-77.
A high point for the defenders was the defeat of George Custer at what the Native Americans call The Battle of the Greasy Grass in 1876 involving such household names as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. But, as we know, the white man triumphed in the end.
After the war, the Manypenny Commission posited an arrangement whereby the Sioux would cede the Black Hills back to the United States or the government would cease to supply rations to the reservations. Preferring not to starve, the Indians returned Paha Sapa to the U.S. but never accepted the legitimacy of the transaction. So began an extremely tedious negotiation culminating, after 40 years of litigation, in a United States Supreme Court decision in 1980 acknowledging that the Black Hills had been taken without just compensation, and the government was enjoined to pay.
A recent Sioux frustration was featured in the New York Times this week. The sacred land of the Pe’ Sla, 1,942 acres of prairie in South Dakota, was put up for sale this summer by the Reynolds family who owned it. (You don’t suppose they’re related to the colonel who started the war do you?) The Sioux bid of $9 M was accepted. With a $900 K down payment, the tribes have until November 30 to complete the purchase, but there are problems.
I have little sympathy for and even some feelings of guilt over what the Honkies have perpetrated against the Redskins. However, all people must to some degree take responsibility for themselves. The Sioux people are extremely poor, with the exception of a tribe running a lucrative casino outside of Minneapolis, and the Times article points to “tribal unemployment rates as high as 80 percent, and disproportionate levels of violence, alcoholism and preventable death.” There is a very real possibility that they won’t be able to come up with the remainder of the purchase agreement for the sacred land and lose the down payment. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Apparently for misguided reasons of pride, the Sioux refused the compensation ordered by the Supreme Court in 1980. Nevertheless, the money was put aside and, accumulating interest in a federal bank account has grown to more than $800 million. Take the money! You’ll get your land back and have $791 M left over to do something about your miserable conditions!
Some of the activities of all races of homo sapiensless never cease to astound me.