A Lakota Freedom Delegation withdraws from all treaties with the US government in an effort to regain what has been lost after so many years of abuse. Is this small movement that has little support, even among many in the Indian community, just engaging in wishful thinking, or is it a seed that will grow to force the US government to right its wrongs?
When a small group of Lakota Sioux declared independence from the United States in December 2007, creating the sovereign "Republic of Lakotah," the response was mixed. It has been difficult to grasp a firm perspective of this initiative and what it means for the Indian Nation.
The Republic of Lakotah covers thousands of square miles of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana, and remains a self-proclaimed, unrecognized country.
The Lakotah Freedom Delegation, which submitted a declaration of unilateral withdrawal from the US in December, does not recognize tribal governments that are recognized by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which it views as merely an instrument for the continued subjugation of Native Americans.
In its declaration, the delegation states that "Lakotah, formally and unilaterally withdraws from all agreements and treaties imposed by the United States Government on the Lakotah People. Lakotah, and the population therein, have waited for at least 155 years for the United States of America to adhere to the provisions of the above referenced treaties [The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868]. The continuing violations of these treaties' terms have resulted in the near annihilation of our people physically, spiritually, and culturally."
Furthermore, the declaration warns that should the US government "choose not to act in good faith concerning the rebirth of our nation, we hereby advise the United States Government that Lakotah will begin to administer liens against real estate transactions within the five state area of Lakotah."
The Lakota have a history of trying to set the record straight, and the US government has a history of making sure they do not.
The 1973 Wounded Knee incident is a case in point. The American Indian Movement (AIM), seized the town of Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, occupying it for 71 days, facing a siege by US Marshals. The Oglala Sioux town, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is also the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. AIM occupied the town in opposition to the reservation's president, accused of corruption and abuse of power. The US military force that sought to put down the occupation included federal marshals, FBI agents and even armored vehicles. AIM's Wounded Knee occupation was led by Russell Means, veteran Indian activist and the leader of today's Lakota declaration of independence.
Treaties and trespasses
A look at the treaties signed with the US government clearly back up the Lakotah Freedom Delegation's claims. These treaties have not been honored, and the Freedom Delegation can also fall back on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which entered into force in 1980, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 and Article 6 of the US Constitution to support its argument.
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, for instance, establishes the boundaries of the Lakotah as reaching from the Yellowstone River to the north, the North Platte River to the south, the Missouri River to the east and a more ambiguous border to the west. In this treaty, the US government promised the Indian Nation (Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Shoshone, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) control of the Great Plains area for "as long as the river flows and the eagle flies," which presumably should still be in effect. While the treaty did result in a period of peace, it was not honor