The State of Lakota

by Virgil Soule. 0 Comments


When Europeans beginning with Christopher Columbus came to North America at the end of the fifteenth century, the American Indians were still literally in the Stone Age. They used stone and bone for tools and weapons. They never developed any useful metals technology. The Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages never occurred in the Americas. They never invented the wheel. The horse didn't exist anywhere in the Americas and they had no domesticated animals beyond perhaps dogs. Pigs and deer abounded but they were viewed as game animals and never domesticated. The plains people hunted the American Bison (or buffalo) on foot but never tamed them. They were tied to the land and, if the land failed them (as it did in the thirteenth century), they were in deep trouble.

Europeans coming to America saw vast open territories there for the taking. The lure was irresistible and Europeans came in droves. Inevitably this led to conflict with American Natives who claimed the land as their own through generations of tradition. The Indian Wars persisted until the end of the nineteenth century with the Sioux as the last hold-outs. The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie ended open warfare between the Federal Government and the Sioux tribes. The treaty set aside as Indian territory the lands west of the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota. The Government reneged on large tracts of Indian Territory when gold was discovered in the Black Hills and to satisfy demands for land by large numbers of European immigrants.

Today, the Sioux still retain large amounts of tribal territory in four major reservations (e.g.,Standing Rock) mostly in South Dakota. The Sioux do not actually hold title to their lands. It is still considered to be Federal land held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Nevertheless, they maintain their own tribal governments and manage their own affairs.

The Indians tried invading the offices of the BIA, which didn’t work. Why not instead try invading the halls of Congress, not with spears and war-clubs, but with two new senators and a representative in the House?

The Sioux lack political clout of any kind but are wholly dependent on the BIA for anything they get from the Federal Government. They could change that dynamic by forming a political union among themselves and applying for statehood under the Constitution.

The Sioux right now could meet the Constitution’s requirements for statehood. The reservations are recognized as political entities in their own right. The Sioux have enough population in their reservations and are capable of governing themselves. The Constitution doesn’t prescribe the form of a state’s government, so the Sioux could continue to govern themselves through tribal councils as they now do. The Constitution doesn’t care who owns the land in a state or if the state’s territories are contiguous. They wouldn’t even need a state constitution, although it might be wise to write one just to clarify the rights of the people and those of the state government. Statehood is a purely political arrangement.

With statehood, the whole relationship with the Federal Government would change. Now, the Federal Government through the BIA considers itself the final arbiter in relations with the Sioux. With statehood, the Sioux would become the final arbiters. The Federal Government would be forced to treat them as equals with all the rights that statehood conveys.

On the down side, with representation in the Congress would come taxation. But since many, if not most, Sioux fall below the poverty line that might not change much. The casinos now operating on Indian lands might be inclined to close down rather than pay new Federal or State taxes. The Sioux, however, have literally millions of prime grazing land in their reservations. They could raise beef cattle or, for that matter, buffalo for sale on the commodities markets. Statehood would attract outside investment in Sioux enterprises.

The Sioux consider the Fort Laramie Treaty to be null and void. They are simply not going to get any new treaty agreements with the Federal Government, however. Nor are any of their original land claims likely to be restored to them. The current treaty arrangements are simply not working. The Sioux need to change course.

What are people to do when they still think like stone-age hunter-gatherers? Many Sioux still harbor deep resentments over their ancestors’ treatment at the hands of Federal troops. If they are smart, however, the Sioux will organize politically and ask to be admitted to the Union as a state. It is unlikely that will happen, however, because they think tribally and things like state constitutions and state laws are outside their range of thought.

Leave a Reply