We are quickly heading into July. And it was on July 2nd, 1974 that General George Armstrong Custer (yep, that Custer) went set out from current-day Bismarck, North Dakota to, among other things, scout for gold on Sioux lands.
The Black Hills are sacred to the Sioux. I’m not Sioux. And Native people, these days, tend to keep their spiritual beliefs to themselves. So I don’t know the entire significance of the Black Hills, although I do know it’s one place where tribal citizens would go to seek out vision quests. I don’t particularly need to know the ins and outs of different Native religions. In short, if Native people tell me a site is sacred, I believe them. The Sioux have always, always held the Black Hills as sacred.
It’s not just that the Black Hills are scared. They were intentionally included in Sioux country in their treaty agreements. The Sioux set aside the Black Hills for themselves.
When Custer went out to Sioux country to seek gold, he was trespassing on Sioux lands. But beyond that, when they allegedly found gold in the Black Hills, it sparked a gold rush by white folks.
I have always claimed that it’s not merely that the United States government is unjust–it is the citizens and their wishes who have often guided U.S. policy. This gold rush by white folks meant the U.S. would claim the Black Hills for itself–despite explicit treaty agreements to the contrary.
I’m making a lot of broad generalizations here, of course. But, in short, in the United States confiscated the Black Hills from the Sioux. This is fact.
And this is not a mere historic claim, either. The United States has admitted what it did was illegal. It thus, in more recent years, has offered a particularly large sum of money to the Sioux for the Black Hills.
The Sioux refuse this money, saying the Black Hills are not for sale.
This is an ongoing case. I, of course, hope the Sioux get the Black Hills back. Not only is it a sacred place, it’s theirs by treaty.
I also hope we non-Natives can learn from this case and not do things that will encourage our government to infringe on tribal rights.