Manataka American Indian Council™
Black Hills Are Everything!
by David Swallow, Jr. and Edited by Stephanie M. Schwartz
Spiritual Leader and Head Man, David Swallow, Speaks Out on the Sacred Black
(July, 2009 Porcupine, South Dakota) The white man calls me David Swallow, Jr. but my real name is Wowitan Yuha Mani. I am a Tetoh Lakota of the Wa Naweg’a Band and I live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
This is the way my Grandpa Najutala told me, a long time ago. He was a teenager when the 1868 Treaty was signed. He’s gone now but this is how he told me about the sacred Black Hills.
The Black Hills used to be occupied by the Crow Tribe. That was way back, like in the 1700’s, even the 1600’s. Then, the Black Hills were taken by the Shahiyela (the Cheyenne). Then, the Lakota took them from the Cheyenne. Finally, the white man took them from the Lakota.
The Lakota look at the Black Hills as having spiritual power. All the Plains Tribes look at them that way. But the white man saw only the yellow rock called gold. They tried to make deals to get the land in the Treaties of 1825, 1851, 1868, and even the Bradley Bill of the 1980’s.
the only Treaty that should be recognized concerning the Black Hills is the
Treaty of 1851. At that time, all the tribes signed this Treaty and they signed
it in a holy way. The Lakota brought the Sacred White Buffalo Calf C’anunpa, the
Cheyenne brought their 7 sacred arrows, and the Crow, Arikara, and other tribes
brought their sacred bundles.
They all held ceremonies before they held the pen. They all agreed that no settlers should enter that sacred area, the Black Hills. The way that Treaty was written, this became a non-negotiable matter from that time on. No other Treaty would have the right to change that.
But the government and homesteaders, the settlers and prospectors kept invading the Black Hills.
As a result, the Federal Government renegotiated the terms and called it the Fort Laramie 1868 Treaty. This time, the original signers of the 1851 Treaty didn’t want to sign. Many were fighting. There were no sacred ceremonies done and only one sacred c’anunpa, only one sacred prayer pipe, was present.
The prospectors and
homesteaders brought in whiskey to get many of the signers drunk so they would
sign. My grandfather told me all about this. He saw it, personally. Mni wakan,
sacred water, is what the Lakota called alcohol because it affected our people
So this is how we lost
the Black Hills.
Six years later, in 1874, General George Armstrong Custer took an expedition into the Black Hills which included a geologist and numerous miners. What they found immediately caused a major gold rush and the white settlers and miners began pouring into the Black Hills. The treaties were completely ignored.
Around 1990, I rode 7 years with many young people to the Crazy Horse Monument. When we crossed our so-called homelands, we were stopped by the white landowners because we didn’t have their permission. One old homesteader showed us his deed showing where he had bought the land from the Federal Government. He told us that if we didn’t like it, we should go talk to the Federal Government who got it from the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1980, the United States Supreme Court said the Black Hills did rightfully belong to the Lakota. They wanted to buy them from us but our People have refused that money. The sacred Black Hills are not for sale.
But that’s why the Bradley Bill was introduced in 1987 in Congress, to make it look good. It supposedly would have let us live in the Black Hills while the Federal Government could still mine, trespass, and do whatever they wanted. But even that was never approved.
So, saying the Black
Hills are ours and belong to us are just hollow, empty words. If they are really
ours, why can’t we live there? It’s only occupied by white people with land
We cannot even go to
the Black Hills and exercise our spiritual ways. We are forbidden. We have to
get permission from the Government and the BLM and then we have to follow their
rules and regulations. But if we are a sovereign nation like they said, we would
have our own jurisdiction (county-state-reservation).
If we do still own the
Black Hills, we need a new treaty, to renegotiate a new treaty. All the other
treaties were violated or abandoned, often with the approval of Congress,
without us knowing about it. That’s not supposed to happen in nation to nation
We have a treaty
council, a council of elders, all kinds of councils but none of them are
effective. The government and state have kept us hungry and distracted with
their projects which accomplish very little.
Every other foreign
nation conquered by the United States has received huge efforts towards
rehabilitation and rebuilding. Yet, while the U.S. cries about 20% unemployment,
we have 80% unemployment. We remain isolated and have living conditions which
are as bad as or worse than any “third world country.” Our life expectancy is
only 48 years old for men and 52 years old for women.
We are the longest
prisoners of war in the world’s history. It must change. We need to be set free
so we can deal with our own people and our children and their children.
Unfortunately, most of
our old people are in the spirit world. Today, our young people have no
knowledge of the treaties, the massacre of Wounded Knee, the struggle of Wounded
Knee 2, or our history. These are the reasons our culture is dying. No one
remembers the language, culture, virtues, or spirituality. No one knows the real
But they need to know. If we are to survive, people need to understand. When we’re talking about the Black Hills, it’s not just the land that was lost but our way of life. It’s not just money. Money is the least important thing. We have lost our way of life.
When we talk about the Black Hills, it is about everything. That place is holy and sacred.
Ho he’cetu yelo, I have spoken these words.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota - The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Stephanie M. Schwartz SilvrDrach@aol.com
Other publications of Stephanie M. Schwartz at http://www.SilvrDrach.homestead.com
Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
President, Link Center Foundation www.LinkCenterFoundation.org