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Opinion

Native American treaties violated by United States

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October 9, 2008

Today, life on American Indian reservations is a sad and horrid affair.

Poverty runs rampant on reservations; in Wisconsin alone, 96 percent of natives living on reservations and working are living below the poverty line – a number so astounding it is hard to believe, though the numbers are there on the Bureau of Indian Affairs Web site and I encourage anyone to look for themselves.

Across the nation, native people have disproportionately larger incarceration rates; American Indians have the second highest rate next to African Americans, and the incarceration rate for children is 40 percent higher than the national average. On top of it all, the average life expectancy for a native living on a reservation is 46 years – while the average American ranges from 77 to 80.

As everyone knows, this country was not devoid of people when it was discovered – there were millions of indigenous people who had settled here an estimated 12,000 years ago.

As far as the timeline of history goes, the majority of these native peoples had their lives and culture snuffed out in what seems like the blink of an eye. Quickly war and disease tore these people apart, and the newly freed U.S. sought to use these people as a working force and integrate natives into the American way of life. Treaties between the native people and the U.S. were made in hopes of creating peace and maintaining order.

The native people repeatedly had their rights taken away by broken treaties and were moved to “sovereign” lands also known as reservations, which are a miniscule amount compared to what was once possessed by native people.

So the question today is this: what is being done by the government to remedy these situations? The answer is simple and like the rest of the situation, it is not a pretty one.

The truth is that very little is being done to solve these problems and it is a common belief that native people are responsible for their own problems, even in light of the fact that their problems are a direct result of western expansion.

However, one group of Lakotah (a division of the Sioux Nation), led by longtime American Indian Political Activist Russell Means, took charge of their peoples future and decided to do something about their problem.

On Dec. 17, 2007, four delegates from the Lakotah Freedom Delegation delivered a statement to the U.S. Department of State outlining their withdrawal from all treaties made between the Lakotah people and the U.S. government on the grounds of broken treaties such as the 1851 and 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which recognizes the “Sioux or Dahcotahs, Cheyennes, Arrapahoes, Crows, Assinaboines, Gros-Ventre Mandans, and Arrickaras” as sovereign, independent nations, and guarantees sovereignty to the lands claimed for “as long as the river flows and the eagle flies.”

Though the Treaties of Fort Laramie were not the only treaties to be violated by the U.S., the list goes on: the Ex Parte Crow Dog court case which extended federal jurisdiction into Lakotah territory; the Homestead Acts which allowed U.S. citizens to claim any undeveloped land outside of the thirteen colonies; Lone Wolf vs. Hitchcock, which gave Congress the power to legislate native affairs without consent from Native people.

The Republic of Lakotah has also claimed Article Six of the Constitution which establishes the Constitution and treaties made by the U.S. Government as the “supreme law of the land.” The Republic of Lakotah maintains that the U.S. repeatedly broke its own treaties with Sovereign Nations, an act which today would be viewed by international communities with disdain, and it is most likely that in response an international organization such as the U.N. would respond with both economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Due to the limitations on the size of my column next week I will continue this article featuring the present situation in the Republic of Lakotah and a Q&A from American Indian Movement Political Activist Russell Means.

<b>Zach Hauser</b> is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.