Saying No to $1 Billion
the impoverished Sioux Nation won’t
take federal money
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Condensed by Native Village
South Dakota: Mario Gonzalez is Oglala Sioux and Mexican. As a tribal lawyer for the Sioux, he's devoted much of his career in the 100-year-long fight for the Black Hills of South Dakota.
More than 30 years ago, the U.S. awarded the Sioux $102,000,000 for taking the Black Hills from them. But the Sioux didn’t want the money -- they wanted their land back.
So the money was held in trust
accounts and earned interest. Today,
it has grown to
but remains untouched by
some of the poorest people in the
country. The still want their land
These days, Gonzalez is hopeful. Barack Obama has indicated that he's open to innovative solutions. Gonzalez and a group ofSioux are working on a proposal to put in front of the president.
The issue is agonizing; the statistics are abysmal:
The Sioux have
reservations in Montana,
the Dakotas, and
Tribe members insist that an 1877 act of Congress is invalid. In the first place, the land was never for sale, so why would the Sioux accept money for it?
In the second place, the Congressional act that moved the Sioux from their sacred Black Hills wasn’t agreed to by enough tribal members.
But in 1980, the Supreme Court affirmed the original award of $102 000,000.
was some jubilation among some of
the tribal members," Gonzales said.
"But there were a lot of younger
people, including me, who felt that
the Indian Claims Commission
process, as it applied to the Sioux
land claims, was a sham, and we
should not participate.”
Yet the federal courts consider the ownership matter settled.
“The courthouse doors have been
slammed in our face,” Gonzalez says.
“Congress and the president are the
only viable branches of government
that can really resolve these
For the Sioux who want the money, Gonzales and other tell them: "Our grandfathers and great-grandparents spilled a lot of blood so future generations could have a homeland that included the Black Hills. [When our] money is all gone three years from now, that’s when the Sioux will become a defeated people. That’s when you will see them walking around in shame with their heads hanging.”
Some Sioux suggest letting Congress keep the principal, but accept the interest for much needed services or to purchase other lands in the Black Hills.
Others lack confidence in the
Sioux's ability to put these ideas
into practice. They believe the
Sioux need new leaders who can get
past territory histories and
jealousies to effectively manage the
money. Otherwise, the money could
actually tear the Sioux apart—a
greater risk than the poverty they
Gonzalez sees only one way forward: the Reparations Alliance. He Sapa, (which means “Black Hills” in Lakota,) was established by the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association in 2009. He Sapa would educate the Sioux about their land claim.
He Sapa would also write a proposal
suggesting the Sioux and U.S. share
ownership and management of
acres of federal lands
within the Black Hills. This would
not include entities like post
offices, Mount Rushmore, or other
The Sioux see Obama as the first president in a long time to understand their problems. The President has kept his promises to hire Indians throughout the federal government. He also signed an Indian-affairs bills that settled long-standing issues like law enforcement, water rights, and Indian trust accounting.
Gonzalez is pressing for a solution to the Black Hills issue during the next two years.
“You have to be persistent,” he
said. “You get that energy from
patriotism. We feel that this is our
country, too; we have a duty to try
to resolve this issue in an