Last Real Indians

What if Tomorrow the Treaties Were Honored?

By:  Wizipan Garriot

Since I was a young boy, I’ve heard countless self-proclaimed activists, traditionalists, traditional chiefs, treaty council delegates, elected tribal leaders, and intellectuals spout about honoring the treaties.  It’s a subject to which I’ve devoted many hours (both productive and unproductive) of contemplation, wondering about the spiritual consequences (remember this agreement was sealed with the Canunpa), legal and philosophical esoteric theories, and the practical implications of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties.  Almost every discussion is about why the treaties need to be honored, but I’ve only heard one other person ever ask, “What if tomorrow the treaties were honored?”

In all honesty, as things stand today, we would most likely descend into chaos, and the United States and United Nations would have to be called back in to provide food, and safety.  We’d be back to relying upon the Government for everything.  Here’s how, and why.

Imagine one Monday morning the leadership of the U.S. Government making a series of courtesy phone calls to the elected leadership (remember this is the only official leadership the government honors) of the tribes comprising the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation).  The officials, not quite sure of who to contact, call everyone as there is no phone number, fax number, mailing address, or website for them to find contact information for the Great Sioux Nation.  The Secretary of State of is hung up on by one tribal receptionist.  Letters are then faxed saying “the full terms of the 1868 treaty will be honored, and that in the spirit of true nation-to-nation relations the U.S. Government would like to commence meetings with the following leaders to discuss logistics: the President of the Great Sioux Nation;  the person in charge of immigration, so we can negotiate the rights of U.S. citizens living within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Nation;  the person in charge of mail delivery and service;  the person in charge of education;  the chief official responsible for law enforcement;  the lead trade representative to discuss trade negotiations… ”  The letter goes on in a similar fashion requesting meetings to make various domestic and international agreements.  Word spreads quickly and tribal leaders’ phones are inundated.  Everyone is talking and some begin proclaiming themselves the rightful leaders by birth, because someone gave them a bonnet, because they were elected by the people, or simply because.  It is decided a meeting needs to be held, but with so many interests at stake it is difficult deciding who should be invited, run the meeting, be allowed to speak, etc.  Finally, it is decided that everyone should be allowed to have a voice and fully express themselves.  At the same time, corporate leaders and trade representatives from other countries are clamoring for meetings to ensure continuation of business or to be the first to strike new business deals.  The meeting goes on for two weeks straight, and tempers ebb and flow as those who do not embody the 7 virtues of the Canunpa demand to be heard, creating strife.

Meanwhile, resources and services begin to be stretched thin.  Without agreements for delivery of goods to stores and supermarkets, and even fuel, alarm starts to set in.  In panic, store owners raise prices, and some lawyers even begin to question whether the U.S. dollar is valid within the Great Sioux Nation.  Because there is yet to be official leaders to negotiate continuation of treaty rights to health education and welfare, basic services such as law enforcement, health care, and education begin to suffer as police officers, doctors, and teachers have no mechanism to be paid and must volunteer their services.  Interstate 90 is lawless as there are not enough tribal police officers to patrol the entire boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation.

Still the meetings go on past two weeks…  Things really start to deteriorate.  It is then agreed that to ensure continuation of delivery of health, education, and welfare services things should remain the same for the time being until the Great Sioux Nation can work out a governing structure.  We’d be back to relying upon the federal government for everything.

This is, of course, all fictional, condensed, and fanciful;  but not totally out of the realm of reality.  We’ve had over a century to get ourselves organized as the Great Sioux Nation, yet have not done so.  Given recent performances, the above narration becomes an even more accurate prediction.

When then candidate Obama issued a statement in May of 2008 saying he would be willing to discuss with the Great Sioux Nation possible options to address the Black Hills issue, no one responded.  It was not until March of 2009, almost a year later, that a meeting was called to discuss developing a proposal to take the Administration.  The meeting was basically a disaster as people started arguing about who should be selected to meet with the President; not one substantive decision was made and there was no agreement about the provisions of the contemplated proposal.  Several other meetings have been held, but here we are almost four years later with no meaningful proposal or mechanism for coming to agreement.

During the early reservation days agency superintendents ruled as internment camp tyrants and did all they could to suppress and undermine traditional leadership, even resorting to murder as in the case of Sitting Bull and others.  With passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, traditional governing structures and customary law were further eroded as tribes adopted boilerplate constitutions, Roberts Rules of Order, and elected leaders based on popularity instead of selecting leaders based on merit and accomplishment.  Simultaneously, the U.S. broke its treaties with the Great Sioux Nation through a series of illegal, unethical, and immoral congressional acts beginning in 1877, which further divided the Great Sioux Nation.  A chasm emerged between traditional leadership and elected leadership that continues today, with spiritual leadership often ignored.  We are divided among a number of reservations spanning five states and Canada.  We come together intermittently as individual tribes to discuss general policy matters, but nothing is done collectively.

If we cannot band together as the Oceti Sakowin to form a leadership structure that will allow us to develop a simple proposal, how in the world could we come together to govern a newly formed nation state?

People often say that respect is something that has to be earned.  When teaching a teenager about responsibility parents often say, “You will be treated like an adult when you act like an adult.”  On the other hand, respect is something to be given and people often say, “If you want someone to act like an adult than treat them like an adult.”  I believe the same holds with sovereignty.  If we want to be a sovereign tribal nation than we must act like a sovereign (even when respect is not afforded), AND we must demand to be treated as a sovereign.

Here’s a simple game plan on how to start working toward these goals for the Oceti Sakowin:

    1. Convene a meeting of spiritual leaders, elders, youth, treaty councils, and elected leaders with the goal of reaching a consensus that it is in the best interest of our people to formally establish a leadership and governing structure recognizable to the internationally community.  It must be agreed that all actions will be guided by the direction of our spiritual leaders.


    1. Agree to the principle that all who participate in such meetings must be guided by the 7 virtues of the Canunpa, and that traditional Woope (law) will govern.


    1. Agree that in order to gain sovereignty as the Oceti Sakowin, individual tribes will have to grant some privileges for the greater good, such as the establishment of an Oceti Sakowin Supreme Court.


    1. Reach consensus on areas of governance regarding the Oceti Sakowin, including land and resources outside of the current individual reservation boundaries.  Areas of coverage might include comprehensive plan to spur economic  and energy development, standards for education such as ensuring Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota language being taught in schools, and a comprehensive plan to improve healthcare.


    1. Prioritize this work and agree to aggressive follow up.  All participating will have to agree to a schedule for regular follow up meetings and commit to time, funding, resources, and energy to achieving these goals on behalf of the Oceti Sakowin.

Obviously, this is not comprehensive.  But, it is a good starting place for people to begin thinking seriously about these critical and important issues.  I remain hopeful that we will see a movement soon begin and create a legacy worthy of our ancestors that will ensure life for our children and grandchildren.