Empty Words And Colonialism, Or Treaty Rights And Self Determination?

Above photo: Paha Sapa (Black Hills).

“Is President Biden’s Proclamation only Empty Words?”

On Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, United States President Joe Biden issued a first-ever Proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The first two sentences state:

 “Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures – safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”

Right off the bat, that second sentence is an insult to our Nations. We never did call ourselves “tribes”. That is a moniker put on us by the United States in the first place. It was an easy way to NOT recognize us as the NATIONS we are.

It was also easier to force us to live under THEIR form of government, a Tribal Council form of government. By saying “Tribal Nations” then President Biden leaves himself and his administration wide open to only dealing with the Tribal Council governments which were established without the people’s consent by the United States through the Wheeler – Howard Act of 1934, also called the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).

In spite of their efforts to totally eradicate us, we are still here. After reading some of the reports of the Dakota Territory Commission, they planned on our being totally gone in twenty (20) years after the 1868 Treaty was signed.

No wonder Dakota Territory became two states in 1889, just 21 years after the Treaty was signed. The United States chose NOT to enforce Article II which stated the geographic Treaty territory which was supposed to be for our “undisturbed and absolute use and occupation”.

Article II means that the entirety of western South Dakota is still the Great Sioux Reservation and anyone who we do not permit to be here is illegally trespassing. Rapid City, anyone? All the counties in western South Dakota from the East bank of the Missouri River to the summit of the Big Horn Mountains? There are areas in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and even Nebraska that are still 1868 Treaty Territory.

Will the United States truly enforce their Treaty obligations and find ways to move their citizens who are illegally trespassing in our Treaty Territory? Will the United States truly honor the Treaty by enforcing it?

This is where words and actions are two different things. President Biden can say he will honor the Treaties all he wants, but without enforcement of the Treaties, then the word ‘honor’ is empty. There is a way already established which President Biden could use to enforce the Treaties and that is through the United Nations Decolonization Committee.

Yes, it will take time, years even, but the UN Decolonization process has worked with many other Indigenous nations throughout the world. That was because other colonizing nations saw what their colonizing had done to Indigenous Nations and wanted to correct their errors. What the United States has done to us, Indigenous nations, with their residential schools, killing or imprisoning our grandparents for speaking of the Treaty or teaching the culture, and forbidding our spiritual practices are deliberate attempts at genocide.

The UN is entering their Fourth Decade of Decolonization. A Resolution was recently passed at the UN Human Rights Council which states in part:

“…1. Stresses the utmost importance to eradicate colonialism in any form or manifestation and address the negative impact of legacies of colonialism on the enjoyment of human rights:…” 

That is us. Our human rights have been negatively impacted by the United States since 150 years ago when they conspired to go against their own words in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. (Read the Dakota Territory Commission reports before 1868.) Our human and treaty rights are impacted today when we are not allowed to live freely in our own Treaty Territory. The path is wide open for President Biden to do the right thing: to petition the United Nations to list the Great Sioux Nation and all other Indigenous Nations in the United States to the List for the UN Decolonization Committee. Without such action, then his Proclamation is empty and the word and honor of the United States are still soiled.

We can all help President Biden have the courage to do the right thing. Send him a letter saying thank you for doing this Proclamation but his word to “honor” the Treaty needs to include “enforcement”. Then ask him to urge the United Nations General Assembly to include the Great Sioux Nation and all other Indigenous nations in the Northern Hemisphere on the Decolonization List in support of the 4th Decade of Decolonization. Finally, pray for him and his family as this is a strong step that many businesses who only want our land and resources will oppose.

Charmaine White Face whose Tituwan name is Zumila Wobaga, age 74, is a great-grandmother, scientist, writer and Spokesperson for the 1894 Sioux Nation Treaty Council.