Generalization: It is not surprising that the Sioux won't relinquish their claim to the Black Hills despite the compensation that has been offered. 



Probably all of you have seen the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life. There are several other Capra films equally good that students today are less likely to have seen.  One of my favorites is You Can’t Take it With You.   In this film, Edward Arnold plays Anthony P. Kirby, a profit-minded businessman for whom making money has become the sole goal in life.  Standing in his way is the Lionel Barrymore character, Grandpa Martin Vanderhof.  Kirby has been buying up all the property in a neighborhood, determined to turn it into another great factory.  But he needs every single property or his plans won’t work.  Grandpa Vanderhof just won’t sell.  This is the house he’s lived in for years.  It has memories of his deceased wife, and all the events of his family life.  And it’s a center for all sorts of Bohemian characters to hang around.  The tight-fisted Kirby offers bargain-basement prices at first, but, since he needs the property so badly, ends up offering far more than the property is worth.  Vanderhof still won’t sell, and Kirby just doesn’t understand this.

I suspect most of you do.  There are certain things in your life that maybe no amount of money would by away from you.  “Money makes right all that is wrong,” says one old saying…but it’s just not true.  Some things are more important than money.  For many Native Americans, the Black Hills in one of those things. At first, this seems strange, but when one looks more closely, it turns out to be not so surprising that the Sioux won't relinquish their claim to the Black Hills despite the compensation that has been offered.

            Now it’s not that the Black Hills are uniquely the ancestral homeland of native peoples.  The land from the Mississippi to the Rockies is ancestral homeland!  But there is something special about the Black Hills—or, as the Lakota call it, Paha Sapa—or sometimes He Sapa (Black Mountains).

            This particular area was especially sacred.  I say especially since it seems that Native Americans did, to a certain extent, view all land as sacred.  But Paha—even more so.  Long before any white settlement, NA types (not just Sioux) traveled long distances to the Black Hills.  They came to hunt, of course, and to cut tipi poles. But they came also to the warm springs, seeking cures for illness, to perform vision quests, and to perform other ceremonies.

            One might say that, in Native belief, the Black Hills are what the Holy Land is to Christians, Jews, and Moslems. 

The Black Hills are where the Sioux get their start in the first place—their Eden, more or less…

The Emergence

"Alone on the newly formed earth, some of the gods become bored, and Ite prevails upon Inktomi to find her people, the Buffalo Nation. In the form of a wolf, Inktomi travels beneath the earth and discovers a village of humans. Inktomi tells them about the wonders of the earth and convinces one man, Tokahe ("the first"), to accompany him to the surface.

Tokahe does so and upon reaching the surface through a cave (Wind Cave in the Black Hills), marvels at the green grass and blue sky. Inktomi and Ite introduce Tokahe to buffalo meat and soup and show him tipis, clothing, and hunting utensils. Tokahe returns to the subterranean village and appeals to six other men and their families to travel with him to the earth's surface.

When they arrive, they discover that Inktomi has deceived them: buffalo are scarce, the weather has turned bad, and they find themselves starving. Unable to return to their home, but armed with a new knowledge about the world, they survive to become the founders of the Seven Fireplaces."

The Black Hills are also their Mt. Ararat…

(read “How the Sioux Came to Be”).

            Other versions of the struggle with Unktehi talk about the importance of the Thunderbird in the struggle against the waters.

The Black Hills is also (in a way) the Lakota Armageddon.

        The End of the World

And then there are the stories about Devil’s Tower:

A Legend of Devil's Tower

Now it’s not just the Lakota for whom these sites are important.  Like the Holy Land (which is sacred to Chrisians, Jews, and Moslems), the Black Hills are sacred to dozens of tribes.  The Cheyenne, especially, treasure the Black Hills.

Story of Sweet Medicine

I.                    Historical reasons for tie to Black Hills

A.    Treaty of 1868 guarantees

B.     Injustice of violation of 1868 treaty (sell or starve policy—1876, unilateral treaty change in 1877)

C.    Sense that something of wrongfully taken land ought to be given back

1.      Dawes Act

2.      Homesteading

D.    Land worth a lot more even in monetary terms than it first appeared

1.      Initial white view

2.      Gold—Homestake

3.      Uranium

4.      Coal

E.     Sense that U.S. judicial and legislative systems ought to at least occasionally act justly

1.      1942 dismissal of Indian claims

2.      1946  compensation instead of land legislation

II.                 Symbolic affirmation of culture

A.    1964 attempt to terminate SD reservations

B.     AIM and take-over at Wounded Knee

III.               Justice ought to be done no matter how inconvenient

A.    1980 court decision/refusal of settlement

See also this excellent  Paha Sapa Chronology.