Pictured: Tribal leaders and US officials, including General William Tecumseh Sherman, gather at Fort Laramie, Wyoming in 1868 for treaty negotiations. Image credits to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
On April 29th, 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty was signed. We acknowledge that this treaty (which recognized the Black Hills as part of the "Great Sioux Reservation" and intended for the exclusive use of the Lakota People) was later broken by the US Government.
Forged in the wake of massacres conducted by the US Army against Indigenous peoples, increased movement of settlers along the Bozeman Trail, and successful Native resistance during Red Cloud's War, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 defined land boundaries for the Oceti Sakowin (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota) as well as the Crow, Northern Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne, protecting the tribes' sovereignty over much of their traditional lands. However, the treaty also instituted several assimilationist policies on behalf of the US government - policies which contributed to a loss of cultural lifeways that continues to impact Native communities up to the present day. Several Lakota leaders of the time, including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, opposed the treaty for its establishment of these policies and for its restriction of hunting lands.
Pictured: Page 1 of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Image credits to the National Archives collection.
Turmoil drawing forth from this forced assimilation brewed on the Plains, and the arrival of prospectors and US Army officials in search of gold brought these tensions to a head in the mid-1870s. Lakota and Cheyenne warriors launched attacks on settlers flooding into treaty lands to seek their fortune, leading to an 1875 federal decree which forced the tribes onto small reservations.
The following year, General Custer and the US Seventh Cavalry were routed by Lakota, Dakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn - known as Peji Sla/the Battle of the Greasy Grass in Lakota. In 1877, an act of Congress redrew the lines of tribal territories, permanently confined tribes to reservations, seized the Black Hills for the United States, and allowed the federal government to build roads through treaty lands. In less than ten years, the United States had reneged in multiple ways on the Fort Laramie Treaty - a document which, by the US constitution’s own definition, was intended to be respected as the supreme law of the land.
In response to this violation of treaty terms, the tribes of the Oceti Sakowin entered into legal proceedings against the federal government in the early 20th century. The case culminated in a 1980 decision by the Supreme Court declaring the US seizure of the Black Hills illegal and offering tribes $100 million for the land. The tribes of the Oceti Sakowin have continually rejected this offer and have asserted that the sacred lands were never for sale.
Despite federal abrogation of the agreement, the articles of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 have been cited throughout the 20th and 21st centuries: activists laid claim to Alcatraz Island in 1969, citing a treaty stipulation which promised unused federal land to tribes, called the Treaty to mind during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and most recently presented an eviction notice to the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, SD which cited tribal rights to prevent settler encroachment on treaty lands. Organizers continue to push the federal government to honor the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and all treaties between tribal nations and the United States.
Additional resources on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 listed below.
On the Treaty and its surrounding history:
Full text of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie from the National Museum of the American Indian:
“In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice” from Smithsonian Magazine:
“Fort Laramie Treaty: Case Study” an interactive online exhibit from the National Museum of the American Indian: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/plains-treaties-fort-laramie/
“The Fort Laramie National Historic Site and 150th Anniversary of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie,” a documentary special from Wyoming PBS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Bf83JLfmZU
On the legal battle to honor the Treaty:
A Summary of the 1980 Supreme Court decision in the case ‘ United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians’:
“Sioux Win $105 Million” from The Washington Post:
“Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion” from PBS NewsHour:
On the document’s continued significance from the 1960s to the present-day:
“The Native Occupation of Alcatraz—Looking Back 50 Years Later” from the Pima County Public Library:
“Broken Promises: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Cites History of Government Betrayal in Pipeline Fight” from ABC News https://abcnews.go.com/US/broken-promises-standing-rock-sioux-tribe-cites-history/story?id=43698346
“Tribal Leaders of the Oceti Sakowin Deliver Notice of Trespass and Eviction Notice to Grand Gateway Hotel” from NDN Collective: https://ndncollective.org/tribal-leaders-of-the-oceti-sakowin-deliver-notice-of-trespass-and-eviction-notice-to-grand-gateway-hotel/?fbclid=IwAR29n6ZUfO3jOFW1fFECSfoe_6ogImtyfKMbn2E0IsHRlilXv-wiIg9YDhE
This blog post is a part of our Reconciliation through Education series. To learn more about this and other issues related to the Tipi Raisers mission, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for our newsletter.
Sources include: Resources from the National Museum of the American Indian, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine, & Wyoming PBS
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