American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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American Indian Movement: Three-Point Program (1973)

On February 28, 1973, several hundred Oglala Lakota Sioux, supported by organizers from the American Indian Movement (AIM), stormed the Wounded Knee hamlet on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and took hostages to call attention to the U.S. government's poor treatment of Native Americans. The reservation had been the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, during which U.S. Army troops had killed at least 150 Sioux. The Wounded Knee siege in 1973 lasted for more than two months. After it ended in a tentative truce, AIM released a three-point program, an excerpt of which follows, outlining the group's goals.

Point 1. A Senate Treaty Commission should examine the 371 treaties the U.S. has made (and broken) with Indians. All treaty rights should be enforced.

The land rights involved here for reservations are very large. The 1972 "Trail" [of Broken Treaties] proposal called, at a minimum, for restoration to Indian control of at least 110 million acres of land. Presently, the federal government holds "in trust" about 40 million tribal acres (much of it used for mineral, park, and other interests), with an additional 10 million acres held "in trust" for individual tribal members. Much of this land is leased out, advantageously to white interests. On Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota), Indian range land is leased for 80 cents an acre; this land is exactly like land owned by whites, which brings $15 an acre.

One response to the efforts to enforce the rights of this treaty (re. the 1868 Sioux/U.S. treaty) has been a government "offer" to settle a 50-year-old claim based on it. The U.S. National Indian Claims Commission finds about $102 million (or $2000 per person for about 60,000 Sioux) a fair settlement for 7.5 million acres of land, including the Homestake Mine, largest gold producing mine in the Western Hemisphere, and the sacred Paha Sapa, the beautiful Black Hills. However, old habits of cheating Indians die hard. By the time the U.S. government finished taking deductions for "money spent on the Sioux," only about $4 million is left. We don't want little bits of cash; we want a land base which is ours by right and could support meaningful lives.

.  .  .

We need a Treaty Commission, and it should get to work quickly. The sort of litigation which goes on forever is all too familiar. . . . From Washington to New York, there have been many such incidents and cases; it should not be necessary for Indians to go to court to win rights they (supposedly) already have by treaty.

Point 2. Repeal the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (Wheeler-Howard Act); it has been a major weapon used in robbing Indians of their land, settling white-controlled governments on many reservations, and establishing tribal constitutions which offer no real protection against sale and wholesale lease-out of tribal lands.

Point 3. Remove the Bureau of Indian Affairs from the Department of the Interior, restructure it as an independent agency, controlled by and accountable to, Indian people; audit the BIA records and make reparations for the many crooked land deals; cancel BIA-sanctioned non-Indian leasing of Indian land.

The BIA should never have been located in the Department of the Interior. (Maybe that's better than its original location, the Department of War, but not much.) The Department of the Interior serves oil, mineral, lands trusts, transportation, shipping, wood forestry, and energy interests; these usually conflict with Indian rights.

The BIA has a long history of corruption and mismanagement of our affairs. A tough, independent audit of BIA books and land rent records should be supported by all. Forced land sales and lease rentals arranged by the BIA should be examined, with returns and reparations made.

Pine Ridge data show part of the reason why this needs to be done. As of 1969, the federal government was spending, through BIA, about $8040 a year per family, to "help the Oglala Sioux out of poverty." But median family income from all sources (employment, land rental, and federal) was only $1910 per family, supporting many children and old people. Where did the rest of it go? The fact that there was about one well-paid bureaucrat per family gives part of the answer; kickbacks and corruption give the other part. All Indians would benefit if this inept and corrupt agency were accountable to us. . . .

This Three Point Program provides a strategy for a nationally coordinated attack on powerful financial and political interests, which have used the U.S. government to take advantage of Native Americans for more than a century. It will require strong commitment and wide support to win against these interests. Indian rights of sovereignty, self-government, and a decent means of living in accordance with traditions and beliefs will not come easily. Without massive public pressure, the government will simply continue its present treatment of Indians, a continuing shame to all, and a continuing profit source to a few.

 

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