Withdrawal from US treaties enjoys little support from tribal leaders

Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today

Legitimacy of ;Republic of Lakotah’ questioned

ROSEBUD, S.D. – Tribal leaders in the northern Great Plains said that actor and activist Russell Means has accurately portrayed the federal government’s broken promises to America’s indigenous peoples. But when Means and a group of fellow activists recently announced a Lakota withdrawal from all treaties with the U.S. government, they were not representing the Lakota and other Sioux tribes of the area, the leaders said.

Means and a delegation calling themselves the Lakota Freedom Delegation convened a press conference Dec. 19 at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, D.C., where the withdrawal was declared. A seven-page document titled ”Lakotah Unilateral Withdrawal from All Agreements and Treaties with the United States of America” was presented to the U.S. State Department, according to the group’s Web site at www.republicoflakotah.com.

Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said Russell’s group was not authorized to speak on the tribe’s behalf: ”They’re individuals acting on their own. They did not come to the Rosebud Sioux tribal council or our government in any way to get our support and we do not support what they’ve done.”

The Rosebud Sioux have around 25,000 enrolled members with between 15,000 and 20,000 people living on or near its 900,000 acres of trust land, Bordeaux said. The tribe’s reservation once comprised of 3.2 million acres, but the land was expropriated through the Homestead Act, the Allotment Act and other ”legal” mechanisms that successfully robbed indigenous peoples of their lands. The Sioux tribes are spread over South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and parts of Nebraska and Wyoming.

”That’s all our treaty lands,” Bordeaux said. ”Russell made some good points. All of the treaties have not been lived up to by the federal government, but the treaties are the basis for our relationship with the federal government and also the basis for the trust relationship to our lands. We’re trying to recover the lands that were wrongfully taken from us, so we are going by the treaties. We need to uphold them.

”We do not support what Means and his group are doing and they don’t have any support from any tribal government I know of. They don’t speak for us.”

In a phone interview with Indian Country Today, Means made clear his thoughts on the tribal leaders of the Sioux nations.

”I maintained from the get-go I do not represent, nor do the free-thinking, free-seeking Lakota want to have anything to do with, the ‘hang around the fort’ Indians, those collaborators with the government who perpetuate our poverty, misery and our sickness – in other words, our genocide. They are part and parcel of that genocide. I couldn’t care less what the bought-and-paid-for, ‘hang around the fort’ Indians represent or what they say. End of conversation,” Means said.

He further noted that his group has liberated the land and established the ”Republic of Lakotah,” which he said has been done legally according to Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The republic is currently governed by a ”provisional government.”

The provisional government plan is negotiating with ”foreign investors” to develop the energy resources on the land.

”There’s enough wind coming from North and South Dakota to power electricity in every city in the U.S. forever; so, consequently, we are now in negotiations with investors who are going to want to immediately put up windmills and solar because the sun shines on the Lakota in the northern Plains over 300 days of the year,” Means said.

He declined to name the potential investors until the deal is completed, but said the group has land that it will utilize.

He said the Republic of Lakotah would have a gold-based economy, that it had already established a bank and would use the ”economic weapon or tool” of property liens to force the federal government to come to the negotiating table.

But what does the republic want to negotiate?

”We want them to have hands off, to realize that our relationship is diplomatic,” Means said.

Means said the republic tried to files liens against property the South Dakota state government had seized for nonpayment of taxes, but the county in which the attempt was made refused to accept them because it didn’t know what a sovereign nation was.

Asked how the republic’s government had formed, Means said, ”Actually, that’s none of your business. I went around and we, the people who are leading this, we got critical mass – enough freedom-seeking Lakotas – to make it worthwhile for us to seek our freedom.”

The group’s attempt to withdraw from the treaties on behalf of the Lakota people ”doesn’t mean anything,” said BIA spokesman Gary Garrison.

”These are not legitimate tribal governments elected by the people. These are just groups who don’t have a government-to-government relationship with the federal government,” he said, adding that ”the group’s claim to be acting according to the law is their interpretation.”

”It’s not like we haven’t had individual groups that have declared independence from the federal government all the way from Montana to Texas; and as long as they want to go out and sit on a hill and play paramilitary and be independent, that’s fine. That’s every American’s right.

”But the bottom line is when they begin the process of violating other people’s rights, breaking the law, they’re going to end up like all the other groups that have declared themselves independent – usually getting arrested and being put in jail,” Garrison said.

Means and his group are not saying anything new, said Joseph Brings Plenty, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

”What has been said by these individuals has been talked about from dinner table to dinner table since I was a young kid; but the thing is, these individuals are not representative of the nation I represent. I may agree, I may disagree, but they have not gone out and received the blessing of the people they say they are speaking for,” Brings Plenty said.

But, he added, the ”facts are the facts. Unless a person lived here, you couldn’t see the day-to-day, the way we live and how our lifestyle has been lowered. … The document they took [to Washington] referred to what the U.S. government has failed to do in the treaties. Our funds have been cut and it’s been crisis management from year to year. There’s always a justification as to why the funds and obligations of the treaties aren’t being met. There’s no justification from our tribes’ point of view. Maybe not enough people understand what happened to our relatives,” referring to David Stannard’s 1992 book, ”American Holocaust.”

Perhaps the group’s actions have value in raising awareness of the real history?

”That’s what it is. I think raising awareness is a big part of what’s happened with the tribes: past, present and what sort of future we’re looking at,” Brings Plenty said.

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