Another Sioux Uprising in the Black Hills
Analysis by David Seals
Trillions are at stake.
Americans glance at "The Indian Problem" and see only a
quaint reminder of a minor 19th century irritant, which is marked by high melodrama like
Custer's Last Stand, and vestigial relics called Treaties which are about as relevant to
them as the butter urns of Pioneers.
If they also occasionally hear a word or two about the descendents of
Sitting Bull and Pocahontas protesting for Casinos or against Chief Wahoo, in the name of
those same arcane treaties, then it is a little saddening to them to see the final
deterioration of the memory of the once glorious and romantic and tragic Old Chiefs, who
were the last real Indians.
But a few policymakers in the U.S. Government know better. They know
that millions of square miles of the United States are legally in jeopardy. Like the
American people they represent they don't care that the opinion of much of the rest of the
world is sympathetic to the "plight" of the "American Indians", who
are suffering with 85% unemployment, rampant alcoholic sickness and fetal syndromes and
abysmal health care, a huge percentage of the prison population compared to their per
capita, a median death age for Native men of 46 compared to 76 for the general population
- the statistics of systematic racial repression go on and on and have been documented
many times in books and newspapers.
No, the Americans don't care what the rest of the world thinks about their internal
problems and policies. But they do care very much that trillions of dollars are at stake
in the massive Land Claims the Indians are always making in court, according to those 373
Treaties that the young ambitious US signed and ratified in the years between when George
Washington and Ulysses S. Grant were winning the West.
The Black Hills bio-region of the High Plains has often been a central
crucible for this conflict that is both symbolic and very very real. The battle of the
Little Bighorn River and the massacres of Wounded Knee are here, as well as Mount
Rushmore, with its idealists of commerce presiding regally over the vast gold and uranium
fields, Nuclear Bomber Bases, Deadwood Casinos, and a Real Estate Empire of corn and coal
and water greater than western Europe.
No, the American People don't give a damn what anybody thinks about the
absurd Cheyenne and Sioux claims for all this Land - the Trans-Missouri Basin of the 1851
Fort Laramie Treaty alone extends all the way south to the Arkansas River to include
Denver, and on north to Canada to encompass most of Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana, and
well into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Liberals or conservatives, Sierra Club or Peabody
Coal, alike, ignore Indian treaties when they are crafting Wilderness Bills or
strip-mines. Shoshones in Wyoming and Assiniboines in Montana are irrelevant to Yuppies
from Carmel or cowboys from Aspen when it comes to preserving the ecosystems of wolves and
buffaloes in Yellowstone National Park.
But still the Indians keep alive the memory and the history, and
periodically conflicts flare up that the Americans have to notice a little bit, like the
1973 American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation of Wounded Knee. They they have to turn a
blind eye and a deaf ear to the illegalities of their Government, and say, "Do
what you have to do, quietly, tacitly, but take care of it."
And the FBI and the Army have always done their dirty work. In Pine
Ridge today, where Wounded Knee lies buried under neglect and poverty, where the
descendents of Crazy Horse and Red Cloud are still being pitted against each other by the
forces of one of America's most effective tools of genocide - Democracy - the Grassroots
Oyate (the People) are fighting madly amongst each other for the few bare bones America is
throwing from the richest table on earth.
They have a democratic form of government called a Tribal Council,
which was forced on them by the good Roosevelt liberals in 1934, replacing their
hopelessly simplistic elder's councils which had functioned in a primitive kind of
efficiency for aeons. No, democracy was better. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 saw
to it that elections would be held, so that a fair majority could rule instead of the old
unanimity of the traditional system of government.
Before 1934, despite the hideous annihilation of their Buffalo Economy
in the 19th century, beget by deliberate National Policy again by the same generals who
had learned to annihilate the southern economy as the best way to win the Civil War of
1861-1865, the Indians were still able to govern themselves at a subsistence level with
gardening and hunting, and a modicum of law and order from the elders and clan mothers of
the Tiyospayes and Oyates of the Ta Ominicye councils.
After 1934 welfare set in. Today, about 15% of the people elect Tribal
Councilmen and a Chairman every 2 years or 4 years. It doesn't matter. The American people
generously provide the benevolent Bureau of Indian Affairs with about $3 billion a year to
administer and feed all the Indians on all the reservations from Alaska and Hawaii to
Florida. The American people are happy to know the Indians are being taken care of.
If they can't get out of their welfare mindset of dependency, and hideous inexplicable
alcoholic addiction, and get a job and make something of themselves in the richest country
in the world, then that's not the fault of the American people.
The Grassroots Oyate in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in South Dakota,
have occupied their own Tribal Council headquarters building, named after Chief Red Cloud
who proudly went to Washington D.C. and met the Great White Father General-President
Grant. They are claiming massive misappropriation of tribal funds and want the entire
Council to be impeached. It's an ugly fight, between people so desperate for the few
scraps they are fed (Shannon County, South Dakota is the poorest county in the entire
country) and brother fighting against brother and sister for a few miserable shacks and
trailer houses built haphazardly by Washington's Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
It's cold and bleak in South Dakota this winter. A number of grisly
murders have sprung up in a number of places, Indians found floating in the creek in
nearly Rapid City, and on the White Clay liquor-town, in trash cans in Mobridge, run over
by pickups in Sisseton, ugly murders of Indians killing Indians in drunken brawls, beating
their wives and children to death with ax handles.
The Governor of South Dakota, William Janklow, has bred an atmosphere
of racial hate and smug patriotic piety with the instigation of Boot Camps for teenage
offenders and minor criminals; and one overweight girl died of heat exhaustion this summer
in one of the Nazi Camps. The governor is under investigation for his leadership in this
and many other examples of torture in the Boot Camps, even as he builds more and more
prisons. Indians make up 7% of the State's decreasing population but 40% of the inmates in
The Army corps of engineers is flooding a graveyard on the Missouri
river, and stealing thousands of acres of Treaty land farther north, with the complicity
of powerful Senator Daschle, a liberal friend of President
Clinton came to Pine Ridge last summer and made a few speeches about
the terrible poverty, and promised to provide some entrepreneur-zones to develop jobs and
businesses. But so far nothing has happened. The Civil Rights Commission came here in
December and heard hearings about all the murders of Indians, and the failure of the
courts and cops to do much investigation, but no one expects anything constructive to
result from this paper Commission.
And the grassroots people are still inside Red Cloud Administration
building, driven to the ironic desperation of appealing to the same FBI and BIA to expose
the corruption of the "elected" Chairman and Treasurer and Council, and already
everyone is hurling blame on everyone else. The American media has lost interest in
the story, and the people of South Dakota continue happily buying and selling the rich
farmland for rich retirees and tourists and yuppies from California and New York who want
to come out West to play cowboy and Indian, like Kevin Costner and Ted Turner.
For all their faults, and they are legion, the Sioux and Cheyenne are
still speaking more truth than anyone else. Despite the corruption of the old AIM
leadership, and involvement in their own grisly internal murders of Anna Mae Aquash in
1975, and the continued sickening incarceration of Leonard Peltier after 24 years, accused
of killing 2 FBI Agents when everybody knows another AIM leader named Dennis Banks did it,
the New AIM is working with the grassroots Oyate against all reason and hope to bring the
Treaty and the Truth to the forefront.
Despite the corruption of the Tribal Council, where can be found only the few jobs
available at all, a semblance of democracy in action is still showing in lively debates
and open discussions among many peoples. But it's fatally flawed by the insidious
incessant underhanded intervention and provocative counter-surveillance of the Justice
Department and the Interior Department (FBI and BIA), doing the dirty work of the
merchants and bankers and realtors of America.
But there is hope in the good prayers of many of the women working to
solve this crisis constructively, and those of us who have learned a lot from the mistakes
of the 1970s, and the 1870s. We don't trust America at all, anymore. That's a first step,
and a major breakthrough, for many people now agree with the principles advocated by
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. There are still those who are angrily speaking for law and
order and respect for elected leaders, and courtesy dealing with the media, and free
enterprise as a foundation of survival. But they aren't many.