On July 23, 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the Black Hills was fraudulently and violently taken from the Lakota people and awarded them $105 million in compensation. The majority opinion stated, "A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history."
However, the Lakota people were never after compensation. They wanted their land back.
A recent PBS Newshour story covers the progress the Lakota people are making toward that end. South Dakota newspapers also report that progress on occasion.
In 1868, they negotiated a treaty at Fort Laramie which gave them full possession of what is now West River South Dakota. They also reserved the right to hunt to feed their people on the surrounding lands in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The treaty gave them full possession and use of the Black Hills.
|THE FORT LARAMIE TREATY OF 1868 CEDED ALL OF WHAT IS NOW WEST RIVER SOUTH DAKOTA TO THE LAKOTA PEOPLE AS THE GREAT SIOUX RESERVATION|
|BLACK HILLS AGREEMENT 1876: IN AN AGREEMENT IN WHICH LESS THAN 10 PERCENT OF THE LAKOTA MEN VOTED TO ACCEPT, THE BLACK HILLS AND 50-MILE STRIP WERE REMOVED FROM THE GREAT SIOUX RESERVATION.|
|1889 WITH STATEHOOD THE INDIAN RESERVATIONS WERE DIVIDED INTO SEPARATE RESERVATIONS WITH "SURPLUS" LANDS OPENED TO HOMESTEAD SETTLEMENT|
The government decided it could control the Indians by herding them onto small reservations, which were conceived as concentration camps, on the poorest land in South Dakota where they could be kept in submission by holding them in a state of dependency. Ostensibly, the government encouraged them to try agriculture. Some, like Sitting Bull, made an earnest effort to farm the land, but he and the white farmers who tried farming the land on Standing Rock experienced a series of crop failures and concluded that the land was unsuitable for that kind of agriculture.
The land which was expropriated from from the Lakota was put up for sale and settlement by the government. The courts have established the face that the land was illegally taken. The Lakota people have spurned the offer of money in compensation and have insisted on the return of the land to them, at least in part. What the white people cannot grasp is that the spiritual precepts of the Lakota and other Indian people is written in the Black Hills. Taking the Black Hills from them is tantamount to what confiscating and burning all the Bibles would be to white Americans.
As the Sioux tribes struggle to negotiate an agreement among them for returning the federally-held lands in the Black Hills to them, they have some encouragement in that for the first time since the taking of the Hills, they have a government administration that has vowed to consider their request.
The hardest part for whites to accept is that their taking of the Lakota lands was an act of fraud, of genocidal violence, of soul-corrupting dishonesty. The Lakota have endured the wrongful taking and possession of their land and have lived with it. The question now at issue is whether the white population can live with any sense of integrity on land that is not theirs, or if the return of part of the Black Hills to the Lakota can provide them with some expiation for participating in a crime against the Lakota.