Lakota Sovereignty

Lakota Sioux Indian representatives declared sovereign nation status today [12/19] in Washington D.C. following Monday’s withdrawal from all previously signed treaties with the United States Government.

… Property ownership in the five state area of Lakota now takes center stage. Parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana have been illegally homesteaded for years despite knowledge of Lakota as predecessor sovereign [historic owner]. Lakota representatives say if the United States does not enter into immediate diplomatic negotiations, liens will be filed on real estate transactions in the five state region, clouding title over literally thousands of square miles of land and property.

Young added, “The actions of Lakota are not intended to embarrass the United States but to simply save the lives of our people”.

Following Monday’s withdrawal at the State Department, the four Lakota Itacan representatives have been meeting with foreign embassy officials in order to hasten their official return to the Family of Nations.

… The Lakota reservations are among the most impoverished areas in North America, a shameful legacy of broken treaties and apartheid policies. Lakota has the highest death rate in the United States and Lakota men have the lowest life expectancy of any nation on earth, excluding AIDS, at approximately 44 years. Lakota infant mortality rate is five times the United States average and teen suicide rates 150% more than national average . 97% of Lakota people live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers near 85%.

More info on the official webpage of the sovereign nation of Lakota.

UPDATE: More thorough coverage over at Culture Matters.

20 thoughts on “Lakota Sovereignty

  1. Wow. NHPA-related Native American consultation with the Lakota just became more interesting. I wonder how compliance consultation will affect this.

  2. This could defiantly be a step in the right direction. Getting rid of those treaties is a great idea, since they were all broken by the US anyway. I have the feeling though that none of this will get very far. Its good that they are no longer dealing with the BIA, Dept. Interior. I do fear that, even as little as the BIA was doing, things could be worse for a long time without them if they don’t get their land. Also, the lack of media coverage is discouraging. This post is the first I have heard of any of this.

    I also fear that without the BIA, the FBI/CIA might return to their old antics of religious oppression.

    Overall, I am very hopeful for the Lakota people, but also fearful for what might happen if things do not go well.

  3. What will probably need to happen is a new treaty to replace the old ones or, more likely, a Memorandum of Agreement in a government to government relationship (the Federal cultural resources world is really big on gov’t to gov’t relationships).

    This feels like an opening move to get the negotiations, but actually achieving a new treaty/MoA with the US (or putting liens on land) really isn’t going to do much to improve the Lakota condition. I hope (and assume) that there are follow up plans that’ll actually get things moving. I can’t wait to see what they are.

  4. It’s a non-story. The group that presented the secession included no actual Lakota tribe presidents, nor any high-ranking tribal leaders. They have no authority, no backing by any popular plebiscite of the Lakota. In fact, they declare all existing Lakota governments and tribal councils “traitors”.

    The act of filing liens may be temporarily successful. The Republic of Texas, an ultra-right-wing militia group, declared in the 90s that the treaty joining Texas to the union was illegal. They filed thousands of frivolous liens against property owned by government officials, the media, and anyone who disagreed wtih them, causing all kinds of mess in the Texas property legal system, until the legislature made it a serious felony to file a false lien. Now they’re all in prison.

  5. RE Bob’s comments – where did you get the quote “traitors”? I’ve gone through the full set of documents and the press release Means and co. released, and they say nothing of the kind; nor has any story about it online said anything similar. The question of tribal gov’t backing seems unresolved to me. Also, they met with rep’s of the Bolivian gov’t, which is taking them seriously – I doubt this would happen if Means and co. had absolutely no official backing. They specifically state that they worked with the Int’l Indian Treaty Councils on this as well.

    RE Justin’s comment: interestingly, Alex White Plume’s house at Pine Ridge burned to the ground this morning, according to DailyKos:

    They lost everything. Plus the Feds have already destroyed his entire crop of industrial hemp and brought charges.

  6. The Feds always start with the words of Chief Justice John Marshall, who was, per David Case, “the first American jurist of stature to define the nature of the Federal relationship to the American aboriginal tribes” (Case 1978, The special relationship of Alaska Natives to the Federal Government). Basically he says the relationship is as a ward and guardian, and thus no outsider can entreat with the ward without the knowledge and consent of the guardian. This annuls any sort of communication with outside governments.

    “They look to our government for protection; rely on its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief of their wants; and address the president as their great father. They and their country are considered by foreign nations, as well as by ourselves, as being so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States, that any attempt to acquire their lands, or to form a political connection with them, would be considered by all as an invasion of our territory and an act of hostility.” (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia 30 US (5 Pet.) 1, 17 (1831))

    Everything from this point on treats Native American nations as “distinct, independent political communities” which are “placed under the care and control of [the United States]” (Choctaw Nation v. US, 119 US 1, 28 (1886)). They can’t simply declare independence because there is too much historical and legal precedent for them not to be independent. Once a tribe signs a treaty with the US they can never escape this guardian relationship.

    David Case says “Congress, under principles of constitutional and international law, has plenary power over Native American communities (and their members) which, among other things, prevents Natives from disposing of aboriginal lands without Federal consent and places the political relationship of the Native community to others under the sole authority of Federal law. This unequal relationship imposes obligations on the Federal Government variously described as those of ‘fairness’, ‘trust’, ‘guardianship’, etc.” (Case 1978)

    Because of this doctrine of “fairness” and “trust” (which is only like a legal trust to a certain extent), they can claim that their treaties have been abrogated by the US and that they require new treaties to be drawn up between them and Congress. This gets around the administration by the Executive, and allows them to start over from as clean a slate as possible under the circumstances. That’s basically the only thing they can do in terms of their sovereign power to redefine their relationship with the US government. Secession simply isn’t possible, not even with a plebiscite vote, for the same reason that children cannot vote to remove themselves from their parents’ control. Only a superior power can nullify the relationship between the US government and a Native American tribe, and the fact is that there is no superior power besides Congress which has such a mandate. They can however renegotiate their treaties because the Federal government has “a distinctive obligation of trust incumbent upon the government in its dealings with these dependent and sometimes exploited people” (21 US (8 Wheat.) 543 (1823)), and an “overriding duty to deal fairly with the Indians wherever located” (Morton v. Ruiz, 415 US 199 (1973)).

    So they’re best off going to Congress to demand a new treaty, arguing that the Executive has abrogated their existing treaties and that they require a new specification of their rights and responsibilities in relation to the US government. Establishing political relationships with outside powers is however a big no-no, and will invariably incite the wrath of the Federal government. Also, it’s imperative that the representatives show they have the complete support of their community, because otherwise the Federal government will use its traditional “divide and conquer” strategy to nullify their claims of mistreatment, arguing that the complaints are coming from a disaffected minority.

  7. Bob: You’re right. I didn’t read far enough into the website to see the bit about them not being affiliated with the existing tribal governments.

    On the lien issue: That Texas example is pretty much what I was thinking of. It would make for a great opening move, but if that’s all you have, it’s not going to do much other than temporarily shake things up. That doesn’t help anyone.

    James Crippen: That’s an excellent post. Thanks. I have to wonder at the notion of insisting on a new treaty because the Executive wasn’t honoring the old one. You would think there should be some avenue to say “We don’t want a new treaty; we just want you to do what you agreed.” Treaties seem to be a more prevalent issue in Canada, although I don’t know much about it.

    Here’s a PDF, although I don’t know how accurate it is.

  8. The Lakota invaded the high plains in the early seveenteen hundreds, they didn’t even discover their “sacred” territory, the Black Hills, until 1765. The Lakota mercilessly drove out the Mandan, the Kiowa and their sometime allies the Cheyenne. Red Indian autochthony is a liberal myth, the natives didn’t even have horses until they were introduced by Europeans. The Lakota have no more right to the land they claim than Europeans do.

  9. I don’t claim to understand Indian sovereignty issues any better than anyone else (and as far as I can tell, nobody else understands them all that well, either) but it seems to me that the ward status that Crippen writes about is constituted by the same treaties that the Lakota in question want to withdraw from. Now, it doesn’t seem as if any of this current brouhaha is sanctioned by the Lakota people as a whole or any official representative body of Lakota people, but stepping back from this recent development, if the Lakota were to withdraw from their treaties — and now would be a great time, since the US Administration’s stance is pretty clear that treaties are more a matter of convenience than they are legally binding instruments — it seems their wardship status would evaporate. This move might well put them back into a state of war against the US, which I doubt any Lakota wants, but that’s beside the point. If the treaties are all that constitutes their relationship with the US — and what else is there? — and treaties are not binding in any meaningful way — and under this Administration, they’re not — then the question of their status *under those treaties* is not relevant.

    THe ohter issue, dealing with other government entities, seems well within the range of tactics adopted worll-wide by “Fourth World” and other indigenous movements. Since US Indians have been involved in delegations to the UN, as representatives of themselves and not of the US, I don’t see anything to stop them from sending delegations to other nations.

  10. Calvin:

    It is my understanding(however imperfect this may be) that the Lakota tribes were themselves displaced from their original homeland(which I believe was western Minnesota, where they were originally “horticulturalists”), by some other Native American group, which had itself been displaced by European westward morivement. And quite frankly, I don’t know why you spend so much time blasting “liberalism” and “liberal myths”. This has very little to do with either.
    Anne G

  11. Has anyone uncovered any substantial information regarding this story. There is a lot of misinformation on the inter-web, but very little hard information from any good sources. As a student of First Nations sovereignty, I am searching for some valid info; there are even reports, from questionable sources mind you, that this is a media hoax; thanks- Joshua

  12. I am skeptical that the webpage is an official webpage of the Lakota Nation. It is registered under Russel Means only and was created earlier this month and created through godaddy. I highly doubt that it represents in any way the Nation as a whole or even a substantial port of it.

  13. Joshua,

    I spent some time researching this again just now (as I did before posting), and I can’t find any dissenting Lakota voices. But you are correct in that it seems unlikely Means is speaking in any kind of official capacity. Perhaps the Lakota themselves are happy to have the attention to their problems while maintaining the ability to deny any responsibility for what Means says on their behalf. Otherwise I can’t understand why an official statement has not yet been issued denying the claims made in this article.

  14. Thanks Kerim!

    James Crippen’s post and outline of the legal context is wieghing in my mind; I dont doubt you are absolutely correct James; however, I wonder if you might comment on what you think about the Lakota’s (and other First Nations ‘) declaration as being outside the law in that, they no longer recognize US law or the historical jurisprudence that further binds them to federal laws. A major problem of colonialism (past, present and future) for First Nations in asserting independence or sovereignty is they have been forced to be subjects of foreign imperial laws and their treaties negotiated enforced/dealt with through the occupiers law.

    If the Lakota are declaring indepenence, and it seems to me thus far that this declaration is real and serious, then are they not saying they are no longer bound to US law, custom or government.

    I understand, that from the perspective of ‘the law’ of the colonizer that the declaration may be interpreted in the historical sense that you have outlined with the full application of contemporary jurisprudence, but at the same time, the Lakota, if I am hearing them correctly, are essentially saying they are no longer a part of the American Nation. What comes next; particularly in consideration of their right to do so according to the United Nations?

  15. Lots of legal talk here on a couple of different sides, and I can maybe pretend to understand some of it, but thought I’d weigh in from a purely moral/political perspective. It is EXTREMELY GOOD to finally see a bunch of people (officially sanctioned by the appointed authorities or not) standing up publicly and indicating that they won’t take it anymore. Somebody named Ernest Callenbach wrote a book called “Ecotopia”, in which the northwest seceded from the Union. Well, that didn’t happen and it’s not going to; despite our radical reputation, we’re one of the tamest and whitest comunities I know. I always thought secession would begin in Vermont. But no: once again, it takes people who have been rendered absolutely powerless by the state to stand up and do anything, and it’s really hard not to respect them for it.

  16. Russel Means and his supporters have taken issue with the medias reporting their actions as secession. They cannot secede because they are not a state; they are a nation bound to the US government through treaties which the delegation led by Means have rejected in their movement to declare independence. What I am trying to figure out is to what extent this delegation represents the entire Lakota Nation. There are elected representatives (which Means is apparently not) that would rather endeavour to force the US government to make good on their treaty obligations, rather than rejecting them outright in this manner.

  17. Russell Means and his colleagues do not represent the Lakota Nation, they are only a few people shy of many thousand.. and I would really like to see the elected officials have thought about this since the first initial posting. Pretty much every tribe, nation and so on has elected officials and they are to represent the “Nations” “tribes” and before they make a shift such as this, it would have been years to make an agreement to do this particular move. This kind of political move would have taken many meetings, council board sessions as well as providing a feesible alternative to the government system that the Lakota has….. A ward government that is set up by independent rules and regulations, but also follows under the United States Government.. It is pretty much a seesaw affect when it comes to Native American politics –the give and take situation. Mr. Means is a man with independent views and his stance is too much in left field comparing it to other Native American activists. He does make a good point from time to time but this particular man does not represent the whole Lakota Nation…..

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