White Community Silence in the Theft of Land, Oil from Native Peoples

People in power have a history of taking advantage of Native Americans to profit from their land and natural resources, including oil. It is not just the rich and powerful, however. In order for these things to happen, the majority community has to give its approval, even if it is just through its silence.

Today, large energy companies are pushing for crude oil pipeline projects that affect Native peoples, and do so without their consent. The pipelines cross sacred lands, sacred waters, and/or areas where Native peoples have reserved hunting and fishing rights. Two current examples are the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota and Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands oil pipeline through northern Minnesota.

Native American peoples are small in number and do not have a strong political voice. Standing up to large companies, powerful interests, and unsympathetic communities is an uphill battle, with an ugly history.

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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

A Tragic Anniversary, Rays of Hope, and Opportunities for Repair

Call this tragic anniversary “Doctrine of Discovery Day.”

On this day in history, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued one of the important bulls (edicts) in what has come to be known as the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. In the bull Inter caetera, the Church granted Spain the right to conquer and claim newly found lands to the west. The Pope issued this edict just one year after Columbus sailed; it triggered the start of Catholic missions in what is now North America. According to an English translation of Inter caetera published on the website nativeweb.org, the papal bull states in part:

“Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

It puts Christianity into a category of domination and forced conversation rather than a religion of love.

Later, the “Discovery Doctrine” became part of U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions, notably Johnson v. M’Intosh.

Many Native American leaders and organizations have been working to educate people about the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and to get the Catholic Church to officially rescind it. Locally, Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Community has produced a documentary on the Doctrine of Discovery. (Follow this blog for information on upcoming showings.)

Inter Caetera is not the only Papal bull considered to be part of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, but since it is so close in time to the Columbus voyage, it seems like a good anniversary to highlight, and to reflect on repairing the massive harm it did.

There are rays of hope in the work being done locally by Native-led organizations. And there are ways that we as individuals and institutions can, in small ways, support them in repairing the loss of Native lands, languages, and cultures that are synonymous with the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.

Here are just a few of the organizations that could use your support. Continue reading

This Day in History: How Minnesota Politicians Helped Cheat White Earth Out Timber

The Steenerson Act of 1904 was a Trojan Horse for Minnesota’s Anishinaabe people. It looked like a gift and it ended up being a trap to get access to the tribe’s valuable timber. The act was named for its author, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Halvor Steenerson of Crookston. It was passed on this day in history, April 28, 1904.

Here’s how Minnesota’s leading politicians connived to help their buddies in the timber industry. Continue reading