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.

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Black Hills Sacred Site Sparks Strong Words, Legal Battle

The Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) Nations successfully purchased a small chunk of land in the Black Hills, land sacred to their people. But they still face battles, both over the land’s legal status and white politician’s condescending attitudes.

A quick historical recap: The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 affirmed Lakota ownership of the Black Hills and closed it to whites. Whites came illegally anyway, found gold, and provoked a war. By 1877, less than 10 years after the treaty, the U.S. government claimed the Black Hills, forcing the Lakota off their sacred lands onto much less productive land.

In 2012, a group of Native nations raised $9 million to buy 2,300 acres in the Black Hills at the sacred site known as Pe’ Sla. So far, so good.

At this point, the government can classify the land in one of two categories: trust status or fee status. Under trust status,the federal government technically owns the land and holds it in trust for the Native nation. The nation has sovereignty on the trust lands and does not pay taxes. If the land is in fee status, it means the tribe owns the land but has to pay property taxes on it (in this case, about $80,000 a year) and state laws, not tribal sovereignty, applies.

Determining the land status is a lengthy process. The Oceti Sakowin Nation has applied to put the land in trust status. The state of South Dakota is officially opposing the request, and doing so in patronizing terms. Continue reading

Minnesota Gold Rush That Never Panned Out Forced Ojibwe Off Their Lands

Gold RushThroughout U.S. history, there are examples where white settlers’ greed for gold completely trampled Native American land rights.

Yes, surprisingly, it even happened here in Minnesota in 1866.

Right in the middle of it all was none other than Henry Sibley, Minnesota’s first governor (1858-1860). Sibley was no stranger to profiting at the expense of Native Americans. Back in 1851, he used his position as a key negotiator in the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux to cheat the Dakota people out of money. In that instance, he was able to secure for himself thousands of dollars of treaty money to get out from under his fur company debts. (For the details, check out This American Life.)

This time around, Sibley’s get-rich-quick scheme was gold mining on Ojibwe lands. Continue reading

Canada’s Anglican Church Lays Out Reconciliation Action Steps; Canadian Tribe Turns Down $1 Billion in Order to Save River; Black Hills Sacred Site Gets Land Trust Protection

Here are three important stories that have come to our Inbox in the past few days.

Leader of Canada’s Anglican Church Lays Out Action Steps for Healing with First Nations

On March 19, Archbishop Fred Hiltz responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action on behalf of the Anglican Church in Canada. He made his remarks at Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, Six Nations of the Grand River. He opened with this apology:

My heart is heavy with the burden of our many sins against the Indigenous Peoples throughout Turtle Island. For every way in which we insulted their dignity and took their lands, silenced their languages and suppressed their culture, tore apart their families and assaulted their children, I must never weary of saying on behalf of our church, “I am sorry”.

In his speech titled, Let our Yes be Yes, Hiltz also presented specific action steps, including: Continue reading