The Black Hills are Still Sacred
by Charmaine White Face

As long as I can remember, my grandmother would say, "The Black Hills are sacred. You never sell the Earth."

Yet, when I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s, I would hear other Lakota people say, "Doksa, Black Hills," and then laugh. I would laugh too. Later, I learned that it meant, "When they give us the money for the Black Hills, I will pay you," or "Things will be good when they pay us for the Black Hills." Then the term "Doksa, Black Hills" bothered me.

Lakota people would say this because they understood that when white people (wasicus) want something, they try to buy it. The Black Hills were part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which was violated by the United States when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.

Lakota people, today, go to the United Nations looking for a way to get the US government to uphold the 1868 treaty. We know that there are white Americans with integrity who would want the treaty upheld, if only they knew more about it.

In 1980, in reference to the illegal confiscation of the Black Hills from the Lakota people, the US Supreme Court said, "A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings shall not be found." They then turned around and tried to do something ripe and rank. They tried to give us $105 million for the sacred Black Hills!

At that time, I was working as a television reporter for a small station in Rapid City, South Dakota. When I was asked to cover the story, I wondered what would happen. The Oglalas, my band of the greater Tetuwin, or Lakota people, were the first to respond. Elijah Whirlwind Horse, the tribal president, said, "The sacred Black Hills are not for sale." I was so proud. The Oglalas were the poorest of the poor in the United States and still are. Yet, at that time, we were still the ones with the holy people, the language, the ceremonies, the ones living closest to the Black Hills. After generations of brainwashing, assimilation by the churches and the federal government, we Lakota people still understand the sacredness of the Black Hills. We are still Lakota. "Doksa, Black Hills" is a joke.

This was a turn of events the Supreme Court had not expected. It put the money in a bank where it continues to draw interest. The last I heard, it was more than $500 million, and the Oglalas are still the poorest of the poor. But the brainwashing efforts continue in a new vein. Tribes are encouraged to get in debt. Many of us wonder if the federal government's lack of prosecution of tribal swindlers has taken away our own ability to deal with wrongdoers... We wonder if that isn't part of an effort to force the Black Hills money on us. Every so often, one of the Indian newspapers will take an informal poll to see if the people will accept the money. The surveys always show an overwhelming "No!"

It's very hard for me to go into the Black Hills these days. There are fancy houses everywhere, billboards, fences, roads, towns expanding with art galleries and coffee shops that sell cappuccino. Signs advertise gambling casinos in Deadwood, the town where the gold diggers lived, the town where Wild Bill Hickock was killed. There's even a town named "Custer." Our prophesies said we should not let blood be spilled in the Black Hills because they are too sacred. Our ancestors would not even kill buffalo there because the Black Hills were sacred.

There once were many different kinds of medicines in the Black Hills--plant, fungi, lichen. Seven out of eight medicines used by American doctors in the mid-20th century came from Indian medicines. My ancestors would go to the Black Hills in the proper seasons to gather them. If someone was ill, a person with a gift for healing would be consulted. They would know which medicines were needed. Prayers would be said, and gifts would be given to the Earth and the plant before a person would decide what they would do. Would only the leaves be needed? Or would they need the stem? If they had to have the root, there would have to be enough plants to continue the species. There was a way of looking at things from a perspective that looks at the whole world for seven human generations into the future.

How many species are no longer in the Black Hills? How many alien species have been brought in? Two summers ago, the Jasper fire ran through a portion of the Black Hills. Instead of using wildland fire suppression techniques, the South Dakota governor ordered bulldozers to blade through the areas. In each of those areas, noxious weeds have taken over, most of them alien to the Black Hills.

Also, in the Jasper fire area, about 60 new cultural sites were uncovered, where my ancestors prayed or had ceremonies. There are thousands of such places in the Black Hills, but many of us will not go there for fear of site exploitation by the tourist industry and because they have been so desecrated we don't want to be contaminated. There are ramifications even when you don't know what you're doing. The circle comes back. We keep saying, "The Black Hills are sacred," so it's not like the wasicus haven't been warned.

The recent prophesies say all the Black Hills must burn down, must be purified. If the thunders start a fire, it should be left to burn. But this is Lakota understanding. We have known the Black Hills for more than 11,000 years. The wasicus have only been there for a little more than 100. It's too bad; they have no ears.

Charmaine White Face, a member of the Oglala Lakota Band of the Oceti Sakowin on the Great Sioux reservation. She is a mother, grandmother and freelance writer.

Editors' Note: Due to space limitations in the Journal, only a portion of this article was printed. It is provided here in its entirety.

© Earth First! Journal September-October 2002