The American people are about to elect another President to do their bidding. Whomever is chosen will be faced with decisions to be made about an overwhelming number of military, corporate, societal problems and issues that will determine the fate of not only the American people but, indeed, all the peoples of the world; Climate change, economic growth, jobs, protection of the natural world, basic social welfare of the citizenry, the endless world war and terror that continues to displace millions of human beings and creates ever more unthinkable violence and chaos, are all at the top of the list of the challenges to be faced. How each will be met, head-on, will depend upon the character and veracity of whoever is chosen.
But if one had a crystal ball and could gaze deep into the hearts and minds of the American voter to know who and what they are at their core, and predict who the new political leader will be that they will elect to represent those core values, they could do no better than to gaze into the many treaties and agreements that other previously-elected presidents – from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln down to the present day – have made with Native Nations. The first visions to jump out of the crystal ball would show a long, heart-wrenching tale of lies, deception, betrayal and hypocrisy they have to tell about America’s political and corporate history. To gaze ever deeper into what these treaties and agreements originally promised, and then how each was summarily broken by the U.S. Government, is to see revealed, like the peeled layers of an odiferous onion, the ugly reality of core American values that, once peeled, will bring tears to the eyes of those with even the strongest of constitutions. One could argue that these eye-weeping treaties belie the very duplicitous nature of the American character.
Furthermore, these violated treaties could be said to represent the Achilles Heel of the American Dream that ever since first contact has become a virtual nightmare for Native peoples and those others marginalized and oppressed. So whatever the issue at-hand may be, that pits America’s political and corporate interests against the interests of Native Nations – whether it be over the acquisition and transportation of ‘black gold’ or some other precious mineral or natural resource via a Dakota Access, Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan, Enbridge pipeline, rail or ship – a long-standing relationship of deceit and mistrust lies at its heart.
The conflict between the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Great Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nation is one case in point. One can trace the origins of this conflict all the way back to the time of first contact between the Great Sioux Nation and America’s military and corporate interests. Ever since American and European interlopers invaded the sacred territories of the Sioux it has been one long account of havoc; the constant drive for expansion by these invaders continues to this day to violently clash with the Sioux people’s unshakeable resolve to preserve their lands, sovereignty and ways of life. Since the 1860’s, this relationship between them, based upon the warring principles of “Might Makes Right” vs. “Right Makes Might”, has been filled with one war or skirmish after another; from the Dakota War of 1862, the Battle of the Rosebud, Battle of Slim Buttes & Battle of the Little Big Horn in the 1870’s, to the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee and 1973 Siege at Wounded Knee.
The earlier 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux is a typical example of the kind of trickery that historically has been used to divest native nations from their homelands. The U.S. Government and corporate fur traders, desiring full control of the Dakota people’s bountiful lands, tricked them into ceding all their lands not only in southern and western Minnesota Territory but those in Iowa and Dakota Territory, as well. As one Dakota chief remarked at the time, “I am not a White Man. I do not know how to read or write. They pulled me by the blanket and made me put a mark on their leaf of paper. It was not explained to me at all. The money they promised never touched Dakota hands. It all went to the traders.”
For years afterwards, the Dakota still believed the promises of the White Man while they watched their starving children continue to suffer. Tellingly, the Dakota name for white people is Wasicun which means “takes the fat” or “putting one’s belly in front of the peoples”. No more biting expression than that old Dakota word succinctly sum up any better the relationship that has existed ever since the White Man came in contact with Indian people and dealt with them as the White Man has dealt with so many other oppressed, marginalized peoples.
Finally, enough was enough, and a point was reached where the Dakota no longer could take the ensuing crush of European settlers pouring into their lands and the dramatic impact this was having upon their traditional ways of life; the ensuing economic suffering, social tensions and resentments with the newcomers ultimately led to what became known, depending upon one’s world view, as either the Dakota War or Sioux Uprising of 1862.
The Sioux Uprising culminated with 38 innocent Dakota warriors hanged in what still remains the largest mass execution on record in American history, while thousands more were transported to ‘open-air’ prisons along the Missouri River at Crow Creek and Niobrara, Nebraska. Chief Little Crow’s skull and scalp ended up displayed in a museum in Pierre South Dakota, while the bodies of Chief’s Little Six and Medicine Bottle were used for medical study and experimentation and Chief Stand-on-Clouds body was dissected in the presence of medical colleagues, his skeleton cleaned and varnished and eventually given to the Mayo Clinic.
Every year, the descendants of those unfortunate innocent Dakota people who became caught up in the Uprising of 1862 make a little known or reported pilgrimage to Minnesota from all over North America to march along the same 150 mile route where 1,700 of their ancestral women, children and elders were once force-marched before being transported to hostile, drought-ridden places in the West. They marched all alone without their husbands and fathers there to protect them because the men already had been transported to still other open-air prisons scattered throughout the Western territories and wouldn’t again see their families for another three years or more. One of their descendants, Hehaka Cawi Maza, once so simply put the harsh reality of those infamous 150 miles, when he said, “It’s hard to be an Indian!” Similar stories and sentiments can be heard recounted all over Indian Country to this day.
This stain on the American character will forever remain a besmirch against the honor of not only the U.S. Government and the American and European settlers who ran the Dakota out of their homelands for their own gain, but a perpetual besmirch upon their descendants who ever since have been the lucky recipients of all the benefits they’ve since accrued from occupying stolen lands not rightfully their own. At some point in time, many wrongs must be righted; otherwise when do stolen lands ever become un–stolen lands? Otherwise, America will forever remain a place full of haunted and haunting spirits!
Later in the 19th century, when an Indian Peace Commission sought to try to end all the warfare, a series of treaties were entered into that essentially forced the Sioux off most of their extensive Dakota Territories onto the more restricted lands of their sacred Paha Sapa (Black Hills). This first treaty, known as the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, was yet another so-called compromise between the vanquished Sioux and their captors. The Sioux agreed to curtail their nomadic ways in return for their agreement to settle within the protective confines of the Black Hills. The Black Hills, according to the treaty, were meant to be part of the ‘Great Sioux Reservation’ that was set aside in perpetuity for the exclusive use of the Sioux with no trespass allowed by any non-Indian.
But, with the eventual discovery of gold in the Black Hills, non-Indians were immediately allowed by the U.S. Government to trespass and violate the terms of the treaty that led to the subsequent Indian Wars between the United States and Sioux Nation; proving once again to other sovereign-minded native peoples that this treaty, and others like it, entered into with ‘The Great White Father in Washington’ or ‘Great White Mother in Ottawa’, weren’t worth the paper upon which they were written. Ever since, over the intervening 150 years, the multitude of broken treaties that have followed, and the genocide they represent, has turned the former traditional sovereign lands of native peoples into virtual open-air prisons that are otherwise now more politely referred to as reservations and reserves. Like native peoples everywhere in the world, the Sioux have long memories of many other similar historical events that their oral traditions never allow them to forget. The grievous losses they’ve suffered fuel’s a resistance that remains forever unyielding.
At their core, these battles are between two diametrically-opposed world views: one that believes in the sacredness of a simple hand-shake, spoken promise, or hand and ink touched to paper that is inviolate, and the other that only sees such things as expedient means to an end, words on a page that hold little real significance and so can be violated or broken at will or whim. It’s an all but unbridgeable divide between those who deem the land and all of life to be sacred and those who only hold sacred those things that constantly feed their greed, power and control; both sides of the divide equally aghast and perplexed by the other’s motivations. Reduced down to its essence, it’s a clash between those who are moral and those who are immoral; a perpetual apples and oranges argument over core issues of: human dishonesty or truthfulness, disrespect or respect, dishonor or honor, justice or injustice.
The question in the forthcoming U.S. Presidential Election is whether or not the American voter is capable or prepared to make such a reasoned choice between the world views of a: Republican Donald Trump; Democratic Hillary Clinton; Libertarian Gay Johnson; Green Party Jill Stein, or; Peace & Freedom Party Gloria La Riva.
An earlier version of this story appeared on Truthdig.