Lakota Freedom?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2007 — 9 Comments

There is quite a bit of buzz over a Lakota delegation publicly announcing their withdrawal from treaties, and declaring their independence from the United States.

“December 20 – Lakota Sioux Indian representatives declared sovereign nation status today in Washington D.C. following Monday’s withdrawal from all previously signed treaties with the United States Government. The withdrawal, hand delivered to Daniel Turner, Deputy Director of Public Liaison at the State Department, immediately and irrevocably ends all agreements between the Lakota Sioux Nation of Indians and the United States Government outlined in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties at Fort Laramie Wyoming.”

I was rather shocked by the news, until I did a bit of digging. It seems this might be more publicity stunt than mass-movement of indigenous Americans. Hardly a peep from leading Indian news sources, and the chairman of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe has publicly stated that they have no desire to join a breakaway movement. In fact, there seems to be almost no mainstream support from the Lakota Sioux tribes.

“…there were no tribal presidents in the group which made the announcement, no one from the top ranks of any of the Lakota Sioux tribes. The timing with the LNI was curious. Russell Means has been known to stage public events to get his message out, and there are some Lakotas who don’t feel Means speaks for them.”

In fact, there seems to be some rather harsh criticism of Lakota Freedom ringleader Russell Means from within his own community. Indian Country Today columnist Suzan Shown Harjo has “awarded” him a “Mantle of Shame” for 2007.

“Russell Means – for his mid-December announcement in D.C. that he is unilaterally withdrawing the Lakota Sioux from treaties with the United States. News flash to Means: treaties are made between nations; you are a person and not a nation; you are not empowered to speak for the Great Sioux Nation; as an individual, you can only withdraw yourself from coverage of your nation’s treaties. (Means is the same Oglala Sioux actor who tried to beat domestic violence charges by challenging the sovereign authority of the Navajo Nation to prosecute him – he took it all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.)”

So while I always encourage solidarity with indigenous groups, until this declaration of “freedom” gains more traction from activists and elected leaders within Indian Country, I would caution representing this as the majority opinion from within the Lakota Sioux territories. Their actions don’t seem to be legally binding. The Lakota haven’t withdrawn from their treaties, only a handful of activists claim it to be so. In fact the Lakota Freedom group has already moved to demonize any Indians who may not agree with their methods.

“‘I want to emphasize, we do not represent the collaborators, the Vichy Indians and those tribal governments set up by the United States of America to ensure our poverty, to ensure the theft of our land and resources,’ Means said, comparing elected tribal governments to Nazi collaborators in France during World War II.”

So no matter how attractive politically this may seem to some, a movement without the people behind it isn’t a movement. Nor do unilateral statements from controversial figures often help build them. It would be best to wait and see how Native Americans react and decide how to handle this declaration of Lakota Freedom.

Jason Pitzl-Waters