Black Elk Peak is a sacred peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo: Austin Matherne

Native Sun News Today Editorial: Tribes must unite for Black Hills

Black Hills Bradley Bill died because of a lack of unity

There is nearly 2 billion dollars in the Black Hills Settlement Fund. That’s right Two Billion Dollars. The Settlement was made in 1981 and the accrued interest has been building since... That was 38 years ago. How many of you old timers remember, “Doksa, Black Hills money.”

When Gerald Clifford and others convinced New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley to introduce a bill in Congress to reclaim a small portion of the Black Hills for the people of the Great Sioux Nation, Bradley did just that. He introduced a bill that called for the transfer of 1.3 million acres of land to the Sioux Nation. The bill was not accepted.

Bradley tried to reintroduce the legislation in 1987, however, internal political divisions amongst the representatives on the Black Hills Steering Committee diffused the momentum behind it. Black Hills Steering Committee leader Oliver Red Cloud proposed that the new legislative effort be led by Phil Stevens, a businessman from California who claimed Sioux ancestry, instead of Clifford.

A sign on Pine Ridge Reservation addresses the theft of the Black Hills by the United States. The land, in present-day South Dakota, was promised to the Sioux Nation by treat. Photo: Hamner Fotos

Stevens claimed that the Bradley Bill was not sufficient and demanded in addition to the restoration of 1.3 million acres of territory, a sum of $3.1 billion in compensation and the guarantee of future rents on an additional 7.3 million acres that were included in the original Treaty of 1868 at a value of one dollar per acre to be paid each year. Stevens’ proposal earned him widespread support among many Sioux representatives, however, others in the Clifford camp were weary and criticized him for focusing too much on money rather than the return of Sioux land.

Senator Bradley decided to hold back on the new bill until a resolution was reached for this internal dispute. Ultimately, Stevens proved unable to secure any congressional support behind his alternative proposal, and the momentum behind the initial push behind the Bradley Bill was lost.

Bradley finally conceded that when the tribes began to act in unison, or as he put it, “Got their act together,” he would continue to pursue the Black Hills Claim Settlement for them. They never did “get their act together.” Instead of sticking with Gerald Clifford the Tribes turned to a man named Stevens with a questionable background and little or no knowledge of the Sioux history or treaties. It was a bad choice.

As recently as five years ago several meetings were held by the tribal leaders of the Sioux Nation and nothing ever came of the meetings. Most Lakota will tell you that “The land is not for sale,” but without the leadership among the different tribes to come up with a unified plan it is apparent that there will be no settlement of any kind, either monetary or by the return of some Black Hills land.

Most Lakota with any common sense know that there will never be a deal struck to return all of the Black Hills to the Indian people. Bradley’s Bill had the best chance because it asked for only 1.3 million acres of land and that land would have been taken from the National Forest Service only. Not private residences or townships in the Black Hills would have been touched.

How many more generations will pass before we have the leadership to unify the tribes with one objective? Without unity nothing will be accomplished and we lost our greatest opportunity with Senator Bradley because we were so divided.

It is time for the leaders of the Great Sioux Nation to restart the efforts to come to a just conclusion for all of their people. Where is that leadership? Oliver Red Cloud has passed on as have many of the old traditional chiefs and it is time for a new leadership to step forward and grab the bull by the horns. Doing nothing is no longer acceptable. The old saying “Poop or get off of the pot” is applicable here.


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