Johnny Depp Not the Only Hope for Reclaiming Wounded Knee
The sale of Wounded Knee to actor Johnny Depp or any other individual is not the only option for that sacred land.
Scott Barta, a Lakota activist, has called for a Treaty Meeting at the Wounded Knee Massacre site for Saturday, July 13, to discuss strategies for getting the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie honored and respected.
The 1851 Treaty between the United States and representatives of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations affirmed the nations’ traditional territories and gave the U.S. the right to establish roads and military posts in the respective territories. The treaty also asserted that, by signing it, the nations did not “abandon or prejudice any rights or claims they may have to other lands; and further, that they do not surrender the privilege of hunting, fishing, or passing over any of the tracts of country heretofore described.”
Saturday’s meeting, which will begin at 4:45 p.m., is a “special meeting,” Barta said. “There are other Treaty Councils around that have treaty meetings periodically in the area but this one is going to be particularly about the Wounded Knee sale or putting it into trust or making it a national park the way certain people are thinking about doing with that land that’s in the middle of a treaty territory in the middle of the Pine Ridge Reservation.”
Wounded Knee is the site where the U.S. government’s 7th Cavalry slaughtered hundreds of unarmed men, women and children in 1890. It has become the iconic site representing the U.S. government’s genocide against all the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. (Related story: “A Tour of Wounded Knee: Why It Matters, Why It Hurts”)
A lot of non-Indian people ask how non-Indians came to own the Wounded Knee site and other land on the Pine Ridge Reservation and in Indian country in general, Barta said. “They don’t understand how under duress the checker boarding and Homestead Act and other ‘legal’ details caused that illegal action to happen to begin with. The meeting will be trying to educate on that and trying to get treaty people to see a direction on how to go about addressing that issue—what they can do, what their legal rights are with regard to how to reclaim it or whatever they decide they want to do. It’s kind of a strategy meeting to know more about how to address this issue, to talk about ideas and actions.”
One of the options is to reclaim the land by setting up a camp on it. “That happened in 1981 in the Black Hills when the people went to Yellow Camp and said, ‘This is our treaty land,’ and used it as such and just actually utilized their territory. So [it could be] similar to that. Even in the white man’s law they say possession is 90 percent of the law,” Barta said, laughing. “And Yellow Camp wasn’t even on the reservation, but Wounded Knee is.”
In April 1981, a group of Indians set up tents in the Yellow Camp area of the Black Hills, saying it was the first step toward returning the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation. A year earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that the Black Hills are part of the Lakota (Sioux) Treaty lands and ruled that the Sioux Nation was entitled to $105 million for the loss of Black Hills land to white settlers a century earlier. The Lakota have never accepted the money, saying they want their land back.
But the Lakota tribes find themselves in the questionable position of having to buy back their own land. Last summer, the non-Indian “owner” of Pe’ Sla, the most sacred site in the Lakota cosmology, put that land up for auction, asking for $9 million. The Lakota tribes scrambled and successfully raised the funds to purchase Pe’ Sla themselves. (Related story: “Pe’ Sla Owners Accept $9M Offer from Tribes”)
Barta announced Saturday’s meeting on his Facebook page. The story about actor Johnny Depp’s desire to purchase the Wounded Knee site wasn’t the only impetus for the meeting. (Related story: “Owner of Wounded Knee Eager to Sell to Johnny Depp”)
“I think it was an accumulation of all the different possibilities—at first [the owner] was trying to sell it for $3-point-something million and the tribe couldn’t afford it and now with the passing of one of the treaty elders—Oliver Red Cloud—he was a big treaty spokesman and he also spoke out for the 1851 Treaty,” Barta said. (Related story: “Sioux Nation Chief Oliver Red Cloud Walks On”)
Treaties, Barta noted, are protected by Article VI of the United States’ Constitution: “Treaties made with Indian Nations shall be the supreme law of the land, with the judges in every state bound thereby.”
“There are no ‘broken’ treaties, only those VIOLATED each day by the U.S. government and American people,” Barta wrote in the meeting announcement. “The ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’ so it is now time to make treaty voices heard as treaty Peoples reclaim Treaty ‘supreme law’ Homelands.”