We once forced the American Indians to adapt to our way of life — often claiming it was for their survival. The day may come when some Americans find themselves adapting to the American-Indian way of life for, what they’ll perceive as, their “survival.”
On Dec. 17, 2007, a delegation of Lakota Indians went to Washington D.C. to declare their independence. The “Freedom Delegation” delivered a letter to U.S. State Department, withdrawing from all treaties with the United States government. The Lakota are looking to reclaim their original land guaranteed to them by U.S. Treaty.
Russell Means, one of the delegates, said, “We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us. This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically Article 6 of the Constitution.”
Events leading up to the Lakota’s 2007 declaration were set in motion in 1974, when the International Indian Treaty Council brought together more than 5,000 delegates representing 98 Indian tribes and nations from North and South America. At the council, the tribes/nations signed The Declaration of Continuing Independence — a “Manifesto representing the wisdom of thousands of people, their Ancestors, and the Great Mystery supports the rights of Indigenous Nations to live free and to take whatever actions necessary for sovereignty.”
And in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an award of $105 million to eight tribes of Sioux Indians as compensation for taken land in United States v. Sioux Nation. The Court’s decision was in response to the United States Court of Claims ruling which concluded land was unlawfully taken from the Sioux and that the tribe was entitled to just compensation under the 5th Amendment. The Supreme Court however, refused to award land. To date, the Lakota people have refused the money, instead reasserting their indigenous rights to the land. Accruing compound interest on the settlement has brought the value of the claim to over $400 million as of 2008.
The Lakota say their claim to sovereignty is lawful under U.S. law. Because the United States illegally seized land and continually broke U.S. treaties, the Lakota claim the land is still legally their’s. Some of the Lakota have gone so far as to reject their status as American citizens.
Russell Means, the controversial “figured head” of the Lakota, was among the delegates in Washington D.C. in 2007. He envisions the “Republic of Lakotah” as a sovereign nation with laws radically different from current United State’s laws. The new Lakota government, according to him, will be one solely based on consent. There will be no income tax or property taxes. He says everyone one is welcome in the Republic of Lakotah; including Americans who reject their citizen-status. It’s likely a small percentage of the American population would find the Republic’s invitation appealing.
However, the movement is not immune to inward conflict. In 2008, the Lakota Oyate Lakota branched off from the original “Freedom Delegation” — claming the movement had been high-jacked by one of the delegation members.
So far, the U.S. government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have ignored the Lakota. According to the Lakota Oyate and Lakota Republic, Gary Garrison of the BIA stated the group’s withdrawal “doesn’t mean anything” and said “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.”
While the return of sovereign Indian nations may be unlikely, it’s none-the-less, something to work toward. The struggles of the Lakota and other indigenous people for their freedom are encouraging to behold.