Negotiations for the Treaty of Fort Laramie at Fort Laramie in Wyoming Territory in 1868. Photo: Department of Defense / National Archives and Records Administration

Ivan Star Comes Out: Forced assimilation has successfully weakened Lakota people

Native Sun News Today Columnist

Ten years attending an on-reservation parochial residential school shaped the rest of my life. I was not taught anything that had to do with being native. I was taught American history, Christianity, and academics. In other words, it was a boarding school with a biased and very narrow curriculum. Anyway, I became a dropout statistic during my sophomore year in 1965.

My main reason for getting out of that environment was the wretched existence I endured. These students were non-native and they made my school experience miserable. My Lakota language and my last name (Star Comes Out) were the subjects of their vicious jests. For example, a group of them would corner me, make snorting noises and ask me what they said. They were laughing the whole time.

Anyway, I was expected to live up to America’s erroneous perceptions of “Indians” everywhere I went. Truthfully, that school succeeded in removing my cultural identity. I did not know who I really was when I quit school. So re-establishing my identity as a Hunkpapa-Oglala Lakota person consumed all of my adult life.

Nearly all of my cultural identity had been erased from my memory. I can say that as blood-degree certificate or card carrying “Indian,” my cultural knowledge is nowhere near that of our ancestors. Also, the cultural understanding of a pre-reservation 10-year old child easily surpassed the cultural knowledge of today’s highly educated, college-degreed Lakota person.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Those government-funded boarding schools with their forced assimilation policy have shattered the people. Actually, our Lakota language, culture, spirituality, land, and history are continually being eroded. I have witnessed the Christian world view or thought and philosophy in Lakota people who continue to practice Lakota ceremonies. It is soul-wrenching to see.

My journalist training resulted in what I call “radar” ears. As such, I’ve overheard the conversations of our Lakota youth and I will state that their lack of knowledge regarding treaties is unsettling. This particular educational deficit stayed with them as they became young adults. An alarming thing about this lack of history of the Black Hills is that they could sell the Black Hills in the near future.

Many of us grew up with the “knowledge” that U. S. Congress granted the land on which all west-river reservations are located to the Lakota people. Too many Lakota people do not know that the land is theirs. These reservations do not belong to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Department of Interior, or Congress. Our reservation lands are the last pieces of treaty-established sovereign lands. I am not sure as to what we, as a culturally distinct group of Lakota people, can do to correct this situation. Our federal government funded elementary and high schools are not efficiently educating our youth in this particular area. It could very easily be a Social Studies and History subject. The only thing I can do, as an individual, is to share some key points regarding treaties.

Essentially, a treaty is described as a binding and legal agreement or contract between two or more sovereign nations. By signing those 300 or more “Indian” treaties, the United States acknowledged tribal sovereign status. However, the U.S. government never intended to keep their end on any of them since their primary interest was land and wealth (gold).

From 1774 to 1832, treaties between sovereign “Indian” nations and the U. S. were negotiated to establish borders and prescribe conditions of behavior between both parties. Non-tribal citizens were required to have a passport to cross sovereign territory. The form of these agreements was nearly the identical to the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War between the U. S. and Great Britain. From 1832 to 1871, “Indian” nations were considered to be domestic, dependent tribes. Negotiated treaties between the tribes and the U. S. had to be approved by the U. S. Congress. In 1871, the House of Representatives ceased recognition of tribes as independent nations with whom the United States could contract by treaty, ending a nearly 100-year old practice of treaty-making with “Indians.”


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Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

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