For thousands of years, the Lakota People existed in harmony with the land and roamed a massive expanse of the Great Plains in North America encompassing the general area that includes modern day Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and parts of Colorado.
Occasionally, Europeans, Spanish and eventually citizens from the newly formed United States of America would travel through the lands of the Lakota. Although there was some conflict, the relationships between the Lakota and the newcomers were more often than not based on trade and respect.
But, as more new Americans began to settle in the area, they did not understand the Native American relationship with the land and how they lived. Many efforts were made to co-exist and treaties were signed to address the influx of White settlers into the area including the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which set aside the Black Hills (He Sápa) and surrounding area for the Lakota people in perpetuity.
However, as soon as gold was discovered in the Black Hills, six years later, this treaty was no longer honored, and the US Government began sending large numbers of soldiers and settlers to the region who began building many fortifications, clearing the land, building homes and farms, fencing wide spread areas and bringing non-native animals to the land that introduced new and deadly diseases to food sources of the Lakota. This made it difficult for the Lakota People to continue to hunt, fish, and travel as they had done for thousands of years.
Soon soldiers began forcing the Lakota, and all native tribes, on to Indian reservations, and many of the great leaders of the Lakota – Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud – saw their People's Way of Life being destroyed and led efforts of great resistance and fighting. This included the Battle of the Greasy Grass (widely known as the Battle of the Little Big Horn) in 1876 in which General Custer and the 7th Cavalry was defeated.
Following this defeat, the United States military, redoubled its effort to confine all Native Americans to the reservation system ultimately quelling any armed resistance with the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. Today, memorial markers are at the site of the "Wounded Knee Massacre" on the Pine Ridge reservation and descendants of the survivors still live in nearby towns.
When the United States Government ordered the Lakota onto the reservations in South Dakota, they set into motion a chain of events that government officials at the time probably did not fully understand. It is clear that there were many in the US (public and private citizens) that wished for the extermination of indigenous people – a policy of genocide. However, it is also clear that the "Indian problem" was complex, emotionally charged, fraught with fear and lacking a clear humane historical precedence as well as enlightened leadership in the most significant levels of government at the time.
The result was the forcible extraction of a People from their homes, their historical lands, way of life, livelihood and indeed the assassination of those People's greatest leaders (Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Big Foot, et. al.) as well as a series of promises and commitments that were ill advised, doomed to failure from the beginning and ultimately betrayed. As Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in 1980: "A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history". Those betrayals, missteps and acts of vengeance and violence are directly responsible for creating a culture and People struggling to find a way to live in the Modern World while reteaching itself their way of life that led them to such heights for so long.
The Lakota people remain committed to the return of their Sacred Black Hills as well as a return to the wisdom and traditions that nurtured their societies' survival for thousands of years.
The Tipi Raisers is a registered nonprofit in Colorado and South Dakota and recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (C)(3).
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