The Unfulfilled promises of the Fort Laramie Treaty: A deep dive into a century-old conflict between the US and Native Nations

Uncovering historical injustices—the ongoing struggle of the Sioux Nation against treaty violations.

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The Standing Rock and Oglala Sioux tribes, in a landmark collaboration, have called for a thorough reassessment of the Fort Laramie Treaty, a pivotal 19th-century agreement consistently undermined by the U.S. government. This move represents not just a quest for historical clarity, but a fight for justice and recognition of centuries of Indigenous resilience.

A history of broken promises

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, signed with the Arapaho and the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Sioux, was a cornerstone agreement intended to establish the Great Sioux Reservation and protect the Black Hills as a sanctuary for Indigenous peoples. However, the U.S. government’s discovery of gold in the Black Hills sparked a blatant disregard for the treaty, leading to the forceful annexation of these lands and a series of aggressive actions against the Native tribes.

Janet Alkire, Standing Rock Chair, emphasized the historical pattern of treaty violations by the U.S. government. “For centuries, every promise made to Native tribes has been broken,” she stated, highlighting the need for the Biden-Harris administration to actively rectify these injustices.

The Black Hills: A symbol of unyielding struggle

The Black Hills have always held significant cultural and spiritual value for the Sioux Nation. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 ruling, which acknowledged the illegal seizure of the Black Hills, led to an offer of financial compensation. However, the Sioux Nation’s refusal to accept the payment, now valued at over $1 billion, underlines their unwavering stance: “The Black Hills are not for sale,” asserts Alkire.

The legal and moral dimensions

The Oglala Sioux Tribe President, Frank Star Comes Out, points out the deceitful addition of language to the treaty, particularly in Article II, which was amended post-signature to coerce the Sioux into relinquishing claims to lands beyond the reservation. This act of subterfuge by U.S. treaty negotiators set a precedent of mistrust and betrayal.

Revisiting the treaty: A call for justice

The Sioux Nation’s current demand for nation-to-nation consultations with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Indian Affairs Secretary Bryan Newland, both of Native American heritage, marks a significant step in addressing these historical grievances. It’s a call for the U.S. government to confront and amend a legacy of treaty violations.

From the Powder River War to the present: A timeline of resilience

This struggle is not new; it is rooted in the Indigenous resistance to Euro-American encroachment during the 1860s. The Powder River War and subsequent conflicts, such as the defeat of U.S. forces under Capt. William Fetterman, highlight the fierce resistance of Native Nations against external domination and their fight for sovereignty.

The road ahead

While the Fort Laramie Treaty remains a case study in the complexities of treaty negotiations and violations, the joint efforts of the Standing Rock and Oglala Sioux represent a beacon of hope and resilience. Their call for a reassessment of the treaty is not just about revisiting history, but about setting a precedent for honoring Indigenous rights and sovereignty in contemporary America.

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