A 21st Century Rush for Gold Threatens the Black Hills and Native Sacred Sites (Again)

Scenic photo of the Black Hills (Wikimedia Commons)

The 19th century gold rushes from California to the Black Hills had devastating effects on Native peoples, and history could be repeating itself.

According to a story in the Lakota Country Times: “Mineral Mountain Resources, of Vancouver, Canada, is seeking approval to conduct exploratory gold mining throughout the central Black Hills.” Investors are hoping to find “Homestake 2,” a reference to South Dakota’s famous Homestake Mine, “the largest and deepest goldmine in North America,” according to Wikipedia.

According to the Lakota Country Times:

That the especially sacred Lakota site of Pe` Sla – within the already sacred Black Hills – is also marked for gold exploration should come as no surprise. Native American land is always treated as disposable, whether for the federal government’s needs or for the monied interests that control it.

Pe` Sla is deeply tied to the Lakota creation story and is the site of annual ceremonies. Native nations have worked together to try to save this site, considered the center of the universe by the Lakota. According to a 2012 story in Indian Country Today: “In a historic banding together, the Great Sioux Nation, or Oceti Sakowin was able raise the $9 million needed to purchase” Pe` Sla.

It took another five years to get the land protected under federal land trust status, according to a March 24, 2017 story by KOTA TV. It reported: “now that the fight to keep the tract permanently in the hands of Native Americans for cultural and religious use is won, the tribes can focus on restoring the property.”

Still, the proposed mining could threaten Pe` Sla. The site getting scrutiny for gold mining is near the former gold mining town of Rochford, which also is near Pe` Sla. The sacred site could be affected by downstream pollution.

‘Ripe and Rank Case of Dishonest Dealings’

The history of the Black Hills is the history of dispossession of the Great Sioux Nation (Dakota, Lakota and Nakota), who continue to fight for the return of their lands.

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie “recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people,” according to government documents. That treaty fell apart in less than a decade. The Black Hills Gold Rush started in 1874, following Gen. George Custer’s exploratory trip and the discovery of gold. With the lure of quick riches, white minors flooded the area — and the U.S. government quietly decided not to enforce treaty protections. The Great Sioux Nation lost its lands.

It would take more than a century, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with the Great Sioux Nation in their legal claim against the U.S. government. In 1980, the Court voted 8-1 in United States vs. Sioux Nation of Indians that the Sioux were due compensation for the loss of the Black Hills and other treaty violations, such as the gold theft.

According to a recent story in the Native Sun News Today, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote at the time: “A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealing may never be found in our history.”

The Supreme Court set compensation $105 million at the time, the story said. The Sioux Nation has not accepted the money. With interest, it now has accumulated to $1.4 billion. Instead, the Sioux Nation wants the Black Hills back.

That doesn’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon. Given the history of exploitation, tensions are high over this latest attempt by corporate interests at Black Hills gold mining. According to the story:

“You will have war if this happens,” Oglala Sioux Tribal Chair Scott Weston told administrators of the Black Hills National Forest. “There will be bloodshed, because we have to stand up for our children and our grandchildren.”

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