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


  • Arminius

    You say here that “I always encourage solidarity with indigenous groups.” I think this particular situation shows a weakness in that sort of idea. Indigenous peoples are no more monolithic in their ideas than anyone else. When there are differences of opinion within an indigenous group, how do we decide which side to support in order to be in solidarity with the indigenous group as a whole?

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “I always encourage solidarity with indigenous groups.”To paraphrase a certain movie featuring pirates, its more a guideline than a law. Adding your support to any cause should start with some research and critical thinking. A good rule of thumb is to listen to what tribal leaders, indigenous-run press sources, and the “indigenous street” are saying, since activists can often make sweeping claims that are over-exaggerated at times. Waiting for what the cooler heads have to say is often good advice.But having said that, I stand by my oft-repeated insistence that modern Pagans should practice solidarity with indigenous groups. But solidarity doesn’t mean abandoning our own judgment or wisdom.

  • Johnny Lemuria

    As a secessionist Pagan, I am all about some solidarity with pagan secessionists and secessionists of indigenous groups. It would be nice if there is some sort of grassroots support for this among the Lakota, of course.

  • TainoWoman

    I find it quite interesting that the tribal paper claims only the higher ups can make a desicion.When lands were appropriated from the natives in the early history of the US, they took signatures from anyone who could make a mark- including children. They were counted as part of the tribe with a voice and a vote according to those who drew out the paperwork… Pretty low, huh? And although tribes were independent from each other, and the US knew this, because they were of the same “kind” any agreement made with one tribe of “X” was binding to all “X” people. All in all, the US is sadly misled by their history books and horn tooting. If people really educated themselves they would be ashamed of the things this country has done and continues to do to the original people of this land. History has recently been revisited and today you can find volumes that have stated, with documentation, how the US has treated the Natives of this land. History is not quite as pretty as the public school system would have you believe. There is more than enough documentation out there for those interested to see what the US has done, and not done. With the Freedom of Information Act, all you have to do is ask. You can start with the Native’s claims and corroborate with the treaties, minutes, transcripts and other legal documentation that is available from your very own US government offices. You will see how time and again the US has broken the very laws it claims to fight for.Those who don’t know any better don’t want to know any better.

  • Scottraven

    Being that I live in what is so-called native american territory, Russell Means has it about 15 percent off wack, for what he wants to do. First of all, by declaring he’s severing ties with the US Government, is all fine and dandy, but he’d have a problem trying to evict about 200,000 whites living in and around the Black Hills, not to mention, the Lakota, didn’t take control of the Black Hills first…the Cheyenne controlled it before them, and the Kiowas before them. So, if the Lakota try to claim it, the Hills could be locked up for years in debate.But, again, that all relies on Means not getting himself killed making grandiose statements, claiming to represent the Lakota, when he’s not even a president, chief or other position of power, within a recognized tribe.Also should be known, he failed to be elected to run for president against Ron Paul, in 1987, and also was famous for trying to claim foul in a recent election on the Pine Ridge Reservation.Will be interesting to watch, will sell papers…but if he’s serious….Means might be watching it unfold, from prison somewhere for Treason.

  • Anonymous

    It is important not to focus on Russel Means as the messenger, and to focus on the message and what is being proposed.and what they are proposing, is simply awesome….The Lakota are fully within their right to reclaim their land. They were here first, and every treaty they have signed has been violated as they were shuffled from less and less desirable plots of land so that the State could claim their resources, and weaken and dilute their culture so as to make them less of a threat.If you think anything else, you need to read your history.An excellent, light introduction to the plight of indigenous natives to the western hemisphere is shown in ‘500 Nations’ and 8 part dvd. Narrated by Kevin Costner, for all those of you who need some ‘trustworthy branding’.America is an incredibly ironic culture in that we send billions of dollars annually to the middle east to purchase arms to establish ‘homelands’ and encourage ‘freedom’ and yet we systematically decimate the local actual homelands of the natives who were here long before the first Spanish gold lusting war party arrived.So what will happen to non-natives who live on the Lakota land? Well, gosh, you might have to move! Imagine that, being forced to move from the place you called home…….hmmmmm sound familiar? Or maybe they would be nice and let you stay. Your income taxes could go to your lease on your land and the new infrastructure. You’d probably actually come out with more money as you wouldn’t be supporting a huge federal war.

  • Anonymous

    Has every one forgot Leonard Peltier?Mitakuye Oyasin

  • Scottraven

    Actually, Anon, you might find the White Settlers a little less accepting of liberal thinking, considering that the last two guys who floated this idea, don’t even live in the midwest.One, was from California, and another, Means, doesn’t even live up here full time, just when he needs to beat a drum, so to speak.As for the belief, that the lakota would survive on their own, I don’t see that happening either. What happens if you have a larger land mass, with open area? A bigger mess to clean up, when they destroy it.I’m just curious, to see if this Means even has a plan, or if this is a lot of hyperbole…the local politicial powers are making the same grandiose speeches.

  • Anonymous

    Problem I have had thus far is if he has declared sovereign nation status then why is he not living on Lakotah land fulltime? He lives in NM with his wife. I suppose actions speak louder than words in my world. Ideals are right on and I totally like the dream, but my heart aches because I am afraid it is only that… a dream… mother earth will take back when she has had enough, she is the one with the voice…. I am just waiting for her to put a good rumble under the faces of the Black Hills.. seeing that’s all she probably needs to get a good fresh start…