Mitakuye OyasinAll My Relatives Statue
6th and Omaha; Rapid City, South Dakota
I have lingered far too long in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the storm clouds and rain have lingered too.
Yesterdays late afternoon downpour pushed Rapid Creek out of its banks, and made me realize how easy it would be for this city at the base of the Black Hills to flood again, as it did, disastrously, in June of 1972, when 238 people drowned when the Creek flooded after heavy rain. But now the rain is dissipating and I am going to head on down the road to Wounded Knee.
Before I go, I wanted to add one thing to the remarks I posted yesterday about the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. Not only did the federal government use this Act as a means of declaring un-allocated Native land as surplus, open to white homesteaders. But also the land allotted to individual Native Americans was then subject to taxation, and also subject to predatory lending by financiers, who took advantage of the Native’s lack of cash to establish farmsteads or ranches of their own by lending them money at usurious rates, then claiming the land when the loans were not repayed on time. Individual allotments could also be bought by white ranchers and settlers, which communal Native land held in trust by the federal government could not be. By these methods, Native "reservations" were divided up into small parcels, bought up, and more than half of the lands remaining in Native hands in 1887 transferred to white ownership by the time Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, canceling out the disastrous Dawes Act policy of allotting Native communally held lands ( but giving rise to a host of other problems still plaguing Native Nations today in terms of majority rule IRA governments and traditional Native ways).
With the Black Hills in view, it seems appropriate to quote once more (while I still have access to a library computer I can use both hands and all ten digits on) from Vine DeLoria Jr. (whose book Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties – 1974 – I have been reading between thunderstorms this entire trip – almost finished now). I had the good fortune to meet his grandson, Manape LaMere, at Green Grass recently. Manape is more than conversant with the legal themes his grandfather articulated; he has been issuing passports for the sovereign Great Sioux Nation, and can quote Supreme Court decisions chapter and verse from memory.
Here is his grandfather again:
"The story of Indian claims against the United States goes back almost to the beginning of the republic. The ink was hardly dry on the treaties before white settlers began their trek overland into Indian country, breaching the solemn promises of the United States. When the executive branch of government refused to use the army to enforce the provisions of the Indian treaties, the tribes had but two recourses: war or relief through the United States court system. When they were pushed to the limit of their patience by the advancing tide of settlement, many tribes fought for their lands. But several times before a crisis occurred, tribes had attempted to use the federal courts for redress. The sad story of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia indicates the dead end which the tribes found in the legal processes of the United States. A year following the Cherokee Nation case Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokees, appealed what was basically the same case as Cherokee Nation to the Supreme Court in Worcester v. Georgia. The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Cherokee treaties and held against enforcing the laws of the State of Georgia which had been passed to harass the Cherokees. When President Andrew Jackson learned of the Supreme Court decision he is said to have remarked, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."
Following the two Cherokee cases, the tribes knew better than ask a federal court to enforce their treaty rights through injunctions. The executive branch was determined to disqualify Indian treaties as the law of the land, and the refusal of respective Presidents to give credence to the treaty provisions was something over which the Indians had no control. While a President might promise the tribes that no whites would be allowed in their land, as was done by President Grant in the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, whenever the settlers illegally moved into Indian country, the first response of the executive branch was to make another treaty with the tribe concerned in order to somehow give legality to acts that were already illegal."
At the base of the sculpture on 6th and Omaha, the plaque reads:
"This sculpture represents hope for reconciliation, dignity, and respect for all the human race. The earth itself is in the shape of a hoop or circle of life. The crossed pipes represent world peace. The eagle represents all flying creatures, and communication with Tunka Sila. Wisdom and the healing arts are represented by the grizzly bear, and long and productive life is symbolized by the turtle. The bison reminds us of our ancestors’ healthy lifestyles, free from famine, and also of the White Buffalo Calf Woman who brought us the pipe."