Struggles, Hopes and the Fight for Standing Rock
By Robin A. Ladue
The economics of Indian Country have for centuries rested in the natural resources of the land. However, from the beginning of the implementation of the treaty system, there have been conflicts and broken treaties that have left many tribes destitute and struggling. There have also been boundary disputes that still have not been resolved. >
An example of these conflicts arose when Energy Transfer Partners rerouted a crude oil pipeline from near Bismarck to under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River.
The Standing Rock tribe says the route crosses unceded territory promised to them in the 1851. To understand the tribe’s stance, it is important to understand the treaties that have led to the present struggle.
Fort Laramie, Wyoming, 1851
From the earliest days of the United States, the federal government had not known what to do about Indian tribes.
Finally, in 1831, in a case titled Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, the Supreme Court decided that Indian tribes were not foreign nations, but “domestic dependent nations.” As nations, Indian tribes were not originally confined to reservations. The original intention of the treaty was to start the process of outlining territories, in which the people of the Great Sioux nations could hunt and live. It was also intended to:
• Reduce warfare among the tribes of the Northern Great Plains
• Allow free and safe travel for settlers, railroad surveyors, and construction workers on traditional Native lands
• Allow the U.S. government to establish posts, such as Fort Laramie, and roads
• Pay for any “wrongdoing” by tribal people
In return for the significant concessions made by the tribal peoples, the U.S. government agreed to:
• Protect Native people from U.S. citizens
• Deliver annuities if the terms of the treaty were upheld
The original boundaries of the lands allotted to the tribes in 1851 Fort Laramie treaty ran from the Big Horn river and south of Fort Laramie north along the Powder River to Crow Country in southern Montana.
They also ran east southeast along the North Platte River to Pawnee Country and then up along the Missouri River into North Dakota along the Cannonball River. One hundred sixty years later, these original boundaries would be cited in the water warriors protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The 1851 treaty was not successful. Soon it was broken by both sides. The ramifications of the failures to adhere to this treaty, along with changes in boundaries, are still being felt.
To better understand the climate and time that the original 1851, and the subsequent 1868 Fort Laramie treaties were established, it is useful to understand this period in United States history that led to these treaties.
The push westward from the East Coast and the Midwest was in full swing. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny had taken hold as had the phrase attributed to Horace Greeley, “Go West, young man.”
Manifest Destiny was the notion that American settlers had the basic right to take the land from indigenous people. It was the political and philosophical foundation that encouraged the westward expansion and was a primary source of conflict between Native and non-Native people, a conflict that continues today, even as the water warriors of Standing Rock are forced from the NoDAPL camp.
While not all government officials were in favor of the Manifest Destiny doctrine, removal of tribes from west of the Mississippi came closely on the heels of the Trail of Tears. The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830, was at the instigation and insistence of Andrew Jackson. Between 1830 and 1850, the Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Cherokee people were forcibly removed from the Southeast and moved to Oklahoma Territory. Thousands of the Native people were marched from their homelands under the eye of state and local militias.
The pattern of forced removal carried across the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, as more settlers sought land. It was because of the pressure from European immigrants that the Fort Laramie Treaty was originally drawn up in 1851. The signers of the 1851 treaty were to include the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.
While the stated intent was that the treaty would make peace among the tribes by formalizing what land each tribe would have access to, that did not occur. In fact, the treaty did not cover all of the Sioux tribes, with the Yankton Sioux’s land claims addressed in a 1925 treaty. In fact, many of the tribal people were unaware of the treaty and its requirements, and so continued their conflicts with other tribes and hunting and fishing outside their appointed lands.
Europeans coming west continually violated the treaty, traversing tribal lands. Many factors contributed to the need to further amend the 1851 treaty. This pattern of broken treaties led to writing the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
Before then, the Santee Sioux were pushed out of their traditional lands in Minnesota onto smaller and smaller reservations, with the Indian agents refusing to give food to the Santee, leading to starvation. War broke out between the Cavalry and the Santee Sioux.
Three hundred Santee men were found guilty of raping and killing Anglo settlers who had invaded the traditional lands of the Santee Sioux. On Nov. 5, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln, granted pardons to all but 38 of the Santee men.
In 1863, a similar situation arose with the Yankton Sioux. Although the tribe had not been involved in the conflicts between the Santee Sioux and the U.S. Calvary, the U.S. Calvary, consisting of 650 troops, invaded the camps of the Yankton Sioux and massacred 300 people. In the battle, 20 U.S. Calvary were also killed. However, not content with the slaughter of 300 unarmed men, women, and children, the Cavalry destroyed and burned the Yankton Sioux’s belongings and dried buffalo. The soldiers who had participated in the slaughter were awarded medals.
General Alfred Sully, who led the slaughter of the Yankton people, and his troops spent the winter at Fort Rice, a newly built outpost. Plans were drawn up, and later implemented, to force the Sioux people into even smaller territories, in violation of the 1858 Fort Laramie Treaty.
As part of this plan, Sully and his troops invaded the Killdeer Mountains, in July 1864, where he killed at least 100 Native people. As he had done with the Yankton Sioux, he destroyed all food and property of the remaining Yankton, Sihaspa, Hunkpapa, and other Dakota people. In August 1864, Sully’s soldiers rounded up the survivors of the so-called Battle of the Killdeer Mountains.
The outcome of these massacres led the commander at Fort Sully to declare: “Their severe punishment in life and property for the last two years is an excellent groundwork for a peace I believe would be lasting.”
The invasions of tribal lands from Minnesota to Montana and through North and South Dakota (much which had been left to the eight tribes who were part of the 1858 treaty), were intended to open up lands for the Europeans, but led to the mass executions and destruction of the tribes. In 1861, when gold was discovered in Montana, it led to thousands of settlers coming through Indian territory, in violation of the 1851 treaty.
The Union, which was now involved in the Civil War with the Confederacy, needed the gold and silver from Montana. The tribal people, with whom the 1851 treaty had been made, were seen as impediments to ownership of the lands and minerals. It was not long until conflict arose between the tribes of the area and the gold-seeking settlers. The constant violation of treaties, the influx of settlers, the brutality of the soldiers and forcement of tribes into smaller areas led to the Plains Indian Wars.
After the Civil War ended, the press for land by European settlers grew more and more intense. While the U.S. government was mandated in the treaty of 1851 to protect the lands set aside for the tribes, and to address any harm caused by white men to the Native people, this did not happen. Rather than address the rightful grievances of the tribes named in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, the U.S. government chose to amend the treaties, rather than honor what had been agreed to in writing, in 1851.
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 was preceded by a talk held by envoys of the United States government with various Sioux bands. What was not stated in the 1866 meeting with the tribe was the government’s actual plans to build more forts along the Bozeman Trail, in clear violation of the 1851 treaty. Red Cloud, a venerated leader of the Oglala branch of the Teton Sioux, protested the breaking of the treaty and led a band of the Sioux delegation from the proposed treaty talks north.
Red Cloud vowed to fight any invaders into the territory that had been promised to the tribes in the 1851 treaty. Under Red Cloud’s leadership, the Sioux blocked the path of the immigrants. They had also managed to block the supply trains and had kept the soldiers in the forts, which had been built in violation of the 1851 treaty.
The U.S. government attempted to negotiate with the tribes in preparation for another treaty that would greatly diminish the ancestral lands held by the tribes. The policy of the U.S. government moved from negotiations with the tribes to the ultimate plan of forcing the tribes onto small reservations. The situation with the Santee Sioux earlier had made the other tribes leery of any promises made by the U.S. government.
There were also corrupt Indian agents who withheld rations and starved the people, and used smallpox laden blankets that led to thousands of deaths and brutal retribution to the people for any real or imagined efforts of the tribes to fight against the appalling conditions.
In order to accomplish the task of confining Native people to reservations, the second treaty of Fort Laramie was drawn up in 1868. This treaty proposed:
• Set aside 25-million acres for the Lakota and Dakota that would encompass all lands west of the Missouri
• Permited the Dakota and Lakota tribes to hunt in the original lands of the 1851 treaty until the buffalo were gone. These lands included areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.
As a part of “pacifying hostile tribal bands,” the Anglo settlers systematically slaughtered the buffalo until very few remained. Without this food source, many tribal people died.
The treaty was also intended to ensure that the tribes covered by the 1868 treaty would have an agency, as was the case with the Santee Sioux, a grist mill, and schools—schools which would later morph into the terrible Native residential schools.
The treaty also began a move from the collective lands of the tribes into the private ownership of land to individual Natives. This, eventually, along with the Dawes Act of 1887, led to millions of acres of Native lands being sold off onto Anglo hands.
The treaty also guaranteed that clothing, blankets, and rations of food would be provided to all the Lakota and Dakota.
The promised payoff to tribal people for agreeing to the terms of the 1868 was that all forts would be removed from the Powder River in Wyoming and would prevent any non-Native settlements in Indian Country held by the tribes.
The tenets of the 1868 were no more adhered to by the U.S. government than those of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. It is crucial to understand that the problems facing Indian Country today, particularly as it pertains to the NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock, began long before 1851 and continue to this day.
The heart of the fight against DAPL rests in the lands guaranteed in the 1851 treaty, and in the protection of the water of the Missouri River and other waterways. The battle for the tribes to have their rights as negotiated and agreed to by treaty by the United States Government is far from over. ♦