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2018-02-08 / Voices

Memory Sticks and Art Squares


The Enduring and Future Impact of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty

Last week the South Dakota Senate passed its first resolution of the Ninety-Third session, “A resolution, confirming the legitimacy of, and South Dakota’s support for, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.” The resolution presents the oft-mentioned stipulations of the treaty.

These include that the consent of three-fourths of all adult males is required for any changes to the treaty, that the treaty established a Sioux reservation that encompasses all of what is now western South Dakota, that the federal government seized over ninety-percent of this land between 1877 and 1889, and that U.S. courts have confirmed that Sioux tribes have legal rights to this land.

The resolution states “that the Legislature recognizes and honors the importance and validity of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.” It also states that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe “supports the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie by educating native and nonnative people about the treaty.”

The first signatories to the treaty signed it on April 29, 1868. But it wasn’t until November 6, 1868, that the final six signers, including Red Cloud and five other Lakotas, affixed their signatures to the treaty. The United States Senate ratified the treaty on February 16, 1869, and President Ulysses Grant proclaimed it eight days later on February 24.

Article 7 of the treaty recognizes “the necessity of education” and stipulates that all Lakota children between the ages of 6 and 16 are to attend school. It also obligates the United States to provide teachers and a school house where the students would receive “the elementary branches of an English education.”

In 2007, the South Dakota legislature passed the “Indian Education Act,” in part to “support initiatives in order that South Dakota’s students and public school instructional staff become aware of and gain an appreciation of South Dakota’s unique American Indian culture.” The Act also mandated development of “course content for curriculum and coursework in South Dakota American Indian history and culture.” In response, the South Dakota Office of Indian Education published Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards in 2012. Three of the seven Essential Understandings deal directly or indirectly with the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Two current initiatives in our state, one on the east side and the other on the west side, deal with lands that were stipulated as belonging to Lakotas in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. In western South Dakota, the Bennett County Commissioners, having never consulted tribal nations, are embroiled in a decades-long demand that the federal government make an annual “payment in lieu of taxes” for the “Indian trust lands” within the county’s borders, even though the county provides no services on these lands and has no jurisdiction on these lands.

On the other side of the state, South Dakota State University recently launched its Wokini Initiative to “offer programming and support to those citizens of the nine tribal nations in South Dakota.” The funding for this initiative is provided in part by rent generated off of land given to the university after statehood in 1889. Much of this land was originally part of the Sioux reservation established in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

The Wokini Initiative illustrates a positive relationship between a state entity and tribal nations. Last week’s Senate resolution likewise strikes a conciliatory note. It concludes by quoting the Rosebud Sioux Tribe as “seeking forward-looking, positive relationships with full respect for the sovereign status of Native American nations.”

These efforts that recognize the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie illustrate collaborative and respectful models for, as Senator Heinert states, “building mutual respect and common ground between tribal and nontribal members in the state.”

*The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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