Greetings, and I hope your year is off to a great start! We’ve got a good video for you to watch today. It’s the twelfth chapter of our Dakota Water Wars video series, produced, as always, by us in partnership with the Standing Rock Nation and Great Plains Water Alliance. In this episode, we detail some new threats to the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — and highlight the importance of respecting both our water and treaty rights.
Watch: Lakota Law Standing Rock Organizer Phyllis Young shares her studied perspective on treaty law and passion to protect our water rights and environment.
Here’s the bottom line: the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie granted the Lakota people stewardship of the Mni Sose. When the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) appeared in our homelands, it threatened both our sole source of fresh water and our way of life. Now, to make things worse, other entities have made plans to take water from the Missouri and pipe it to places far away, like Colorado, and nearby, like Rapid City and the Black Hills.
That last part is particularly troublesome. Mining interests in the Black Hills will use even more water than a municipality, and those mines threaten to despoil an area filled with many of our most sacred sites. Plus, sending our water away for use by extractive industries is the exact opposite of what we should be doing in the midst of a climate emergency. Right now, we have to mitigate carbon emissions, halt the warming of our planet, and responsibly allocate our water.
As you know, Indigenous cultures traditionally live in harmony with our surroundings, with care for all our relatives (not just the human ones). As we said during the heyday of our NoDAPL stand, and as we continue to say today: mni wiconi — water is life! When the 1868 treaty granted us the ability to protect the Mni Sose, the state of South Dakota didn’t even exist yet. So we won’t back down on this. We’re not going to let the state, or any other man-made entity, threaten or take our water without a fight.
Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with us! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
Greetings from Lakota Country, where two blizzards just dumped several feet of snow and knocked out power for many of our people. Here’s hoping you’re staying warm wherever you are! Of course, no matter the weather, we keep doing all we can to look out for our relatives — including our ongoing fight to end the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
Winning this battle is critical. Just last week, we received news of yet another pipeline disaster. One month after the Keystone pipeline increased the amount of oil it’s carrying, it ruptured and dumped 14,000 barrels — or nearly 600,000 gallons — of toxic tar sands crude in Kansas. So today, we bring you the eleventh chapter of our Dakota Water Wars video series, co-produced by the Lakota People’s Law Project, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the Great Plains Water Alliance. Give it a watch, and you’ll see how hard we fought to keep the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) from doubling its flow rate, and just how far the oil company went to downplay the potential consequences.
Watch: Standing Rock member Winona Gayton addresses the North Dakota Public Service Commission during a hearing on DAPL nearly doubling its capacity.
This latest Keystone spill — its third major leak in the past five years — is the second largest domestic pipeline incident ever recorded. It’s going to be nearly impossible to properly clean up, And, because Keystone is now carrying more oil, the problem is exacerbated. In our video (at the top of the blog, which also contains all the other Dakota Water Wars chapters), you’ll hear a lot about “worst case discharge.” That sounds bad because it is. The math says that when a pipeline inevitably leaks, it’s going to be worse the more oil it’s carrying.
If DAPL spills where it crosses the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — just upstream from the Standing Rock Nation, it will threaten everything we hold dear: our drinking water, our pristine landscape, plants and animals, our way of life. That’s why we gathered by the thousands in 2016 and 2017 to prevent DAPL. And given the danger from increasing the oil flow, it should be easy to understand why we rallied again in 2019 to stop the doubling of its capacity to more than 1 million barrels per day.
We cannot accept this illegal and dangerous pipeline (the Army Corps of Engineers still has yet to produce a valid Environmental Impact Statement for DAPL, as mandated by the courts). We won’t stop raising awareness about how it imperils both people and planet, and we’ll continue — with your help — to fight using every available method until the Black Snake is defeated once and for all.
Wopila tanka — my deep appreciation for your solidarity! Chase Iron Eyes Co-Director and Lead Counsel The Lakota People’s Law Project
I had arrived in Bismarck, North Dakota. Scroll back to the beginning of this blog and you can read about the history of events at Standing Rock. Some things have changed, many things have stayed the same. The things I witnessed there made me profoundly angry and sad. I saw militarized police practicing with their new gear how to do crowd control. I experienced racism and hatred from the local population in town. I witnessed how some people infiltrated the camp and tried to cause destruction from within the movement. They were largely unsuccessful because of the people´s spirit. This was a sacred space. I talked to the spirits one freezing night. It was those spirits that I called on for help last year while I was being held against my will in the COVID-19 ward in the hospital. Yes, after traveling to such a sacred place you experience the power of the spirits.
In 2017, I left the U.S. and moved to Costa Rica. The history is very different here. They do not have an army. I wish everyone a holiday season when they remember the spirits and their ancestors and fight to maintain their freedoms and way of life. A way of life that is non-destructive of the environment and other people. These are dangerous times.
Han, Mitakuyepi. I’ll start by thanking every one of you who supported our Oceti Vote event this past weekend. Your friendship helped to create something very special — a successful Native voter outreach campaign and also a true celebration of our Lakota culture. Today we’re submitting the many voter registrations we gathered, and we’ll have a lot more to share with you once we’ve all had a chance to look back at everything.
In the meantime, I’d like to draw your attention to something important from our sister org, Let’s Green CA! They’ve created a solidarity action to protect the Juristac — the ancestral lands of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Indigenous People in what is now called Northern California. As Santa Clara County evaluates an environmental impact report on a proposed sand and gravel mining project, your input could help protect the sacred! So, because you live in California, today I ask you to stand with my relatives on the west coast of Turtle Island and tell the County: no mining at Juristac!
The Lakota People’s Law Project and Let’s Green CA! (which also just got a climate equity bill signed into law in California) take both environmental and Indigenous justice extremely seriously. The two are inextricably intertwined, because far too often, Indigenous communities wind up on the frontlines battling extractive industry which demonstrates no regard for Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, nor for us as this land’s first inhabitants and stewards.
The Amah Mutsun Band’s fight to protect the Juristac from being torn asunder by miners sounds a lot like our fight to stop gold, uranium, and lithium mining in our sacred He Sapa — the Black Hills. Our relatives in so-called Nevada have a similar fight on their hands with the lithium mining at Thacker Pass. And then there are all the oil pipelines — Dakota Access, Keystone XL, Line 3 — you have helped us resist.
It’s critical that we continue to stand in solidarity with one another every step of the way, each time any project imperils Unci Maka and the future we wish to create for the next seven generations. By widening our circle, we increase our power. So, please do keep tabs on the good work of Let’s Green CA! and show your support by submitting a comment to protect the sacred at Juristac. Rest assured that together, we can and will continue to win justice — for Indigenous People and for our Grandmother Earth.
Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship and solidarity! DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
On the Wednesday edition of the ICT Newscast, an Osage elder discusses sovereignty and changing tribal constitutions. There’s a new Choctaw anthology sharing stories, essays and poems. Holly Cook Macarro breaks down Indigenous Peoples Day
Jim Gray was the youngest chief to be elected to lead the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. During that time, he worked through many issues that helped strengthen his government — and ultimately the Osage people. Today he’s a consultant with Gray Consulting.
The perspective of Choctaw matriarchs is being presented in a new anthology called, “Stories by Choctaw Women.” Ten women contributed stories that range from fiction and nonfiction, some essays, family letters and even poetry. The book is edited by Leslie Stall Widener and her sister, Celia Stall Meadows.
Many states have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a movement that is decades in the making. ICT regular contributor Holly Cook Macarro weighs in on the politics of this name. She is a partner with Spirit Rock Consulting and she’s from the Red Lake Ojibwe nation.
A slice of our Indigenous world
The Interior Department has released a progress report sharing how it is tackling climate change. Last week, the agency’s 10-page report said it has made several investments. That includes committing $46 million in appropriations to tribal communities who are already feeling the impacts.
A powwow, parade and memorial walk were just a few of the events for Native American Day in Rapid City, South Dakota over the weekend. The arena for the Black Hills Powwow was full with over 15,000 dancers. This year’s parade grand marshal was Jackie Giago, the widow of the late Tim Giago. In 1989, Tim worked with Gov. George Mickelson to create Native American Day. The annual Remembering the Children memorial walk honored 50 children who died while attending the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.
In Canada, a Métis mother says a worker at her child’s daycare cut her son’s hair without permission. As a result, Jana Nyland pulled her son out of the daycare center. Here’s APTN’s national news team with the latest.
Several tribal nations in the U.S. are getting funding for internet access. The grants are coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and will provide thousands of people with high-speed broadband. In Alaska, the Kuskokwim region is one of the most underserved groups when it comes to internet connectivity. The Winnebago tribe in Nebraska is also benefiting from the funding.
Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner, shown here in a 2009 photo in traditional regalia, welcomes the return of Australian Indigenous peoples remains from London. Sumner was recognized for lifetime achievement and inducted into the South Australian Environment Hall of Fame in October 2022 for his work. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Around the world: Canada returns land to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, a Ngarrindjeri elder is honored for protecting the environment, Maasai herders lose an eviction claim, Māori women boxers rank at the top of the world, Western Australia government reviews youth offender laws.
CANADA: Minister signs deal to return Mohawk land
The Canadian government has agreed to return nearly 300 acres of disputed lands with $31 million in compensation to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, CBC News reported on Oct. 3.
The deal to return the lands to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory – marked in a ceremonial signing by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller – settles part of a bitter dispute over about 900 acres of land now largely held by private owners about 125 miles east of Toronto.
MBQ Chief Don Maracle told CBC News that the band has offered a financial settlement package to the adjacent town of Deseronto, but he couldn’t offer a timeline about resolving the rest of the claim.
“It’s willing seller, willing buyer,” he said, according to CBC News. “If somebody wants to sell their land, they’ll let us know.”
The disputed land, known as the Culbertson Tract, includes 448 separate parcels of land that cover most of Deseronto.
The deal will now move into the government’s complicated “additions-to-reserve” program that Miller called “morbid” and “broken.”
“The whole process itself is one that is vested in the Indian Act,” he said, according to CBC News.
The land dispute began in 1837 when the government illegally granted about 900 acres of unsurrendered Mohawk territory to John Culbertson, grandson of community founder John Deserontyon, CBC News reported.
AUSTRALIA: Elder honored for environmental work
Elder Major “Moogy” Sumner has been honored with a lifetime achievement award and induction into the South Australian Environment Hall of Fame, National Indigenous Times reported on Oct. 5.
Sumner, a cultural ambassador of traditional culture who has long fought for protection of the environment, was honored at the South Australian Environment Awards.
He has also championed the Ngarrindjeri people and other First Nations people, and campaigned against systems that allowed rivers to be drained and oil and gas drilling in the Great Australian Bight, a bay off the southern coast of Australia, NIT reported.
“Aboriginal people are very patient people, but when we see that things are being done wrong, like they are for the river, we’ve got to come together and say it’s wrong, and do something about it,” Sumner said in a statement on the Hall of Fame website.
Sumner has helped the First Nations people in South Australia, reigniting ceremonial fires along traditional Aboriginal trade routes and reconnecting the area with traditional Ngarrindjeri canoe building.
He is also an artist, with his works covering traditional dance and song, arts and crafts such as wood carving, and martial arts techniques using traditional shields, clubs, boomerangs and spears, NIT reported.
“Caring for country is a profound connection of listening and looking after our environment and people – it is healing for our spirit,” he said, according to CBC News. “We truly are a force of nature – we come from nature. To look after country is to look after community.”
Sumner was one of ten SA Environment Award recipients, five of whom received lifetime achievement awards.
TANZANIA: ‘Shocking blow’ to Indigenous land rights
A Tanzanian court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maasai herders who are fighting government efforts to forcibly remove them from their lands to make way for a luxury game reserve, The Guardian reported on Oct. 5.
The herders are appealing the ruling by the East African court of justice, which activists said was a “a shocking blow” to Indigenous land rights, The Guardian reported.
The Maasai say the Tanzanian government is trying to evict them to make way for a United Arab Emirates company to open a game reserve, according to The Guardian.
Donald Deya, lead attorney for the herders and chief executive of the Pan-African Lawyers Union, said the ruling “disregarded the compelling multitude” of evidence presented in court.
The legal fight started in 2017, when residents of four Maasai villages in northern Tanzania went to court to stop the authorities evicting them from about 580 square miles of land in Loliondo, bordering the Serengeti national park. The lands are home to more than 70,000 Maasai.
Hello again, and I wish you well on the eve of Indigenous Peoples’ Day! Now seems an appropriate time to examine some history. Until now, our “Water Wars” video series has largely explored the present-day conflict around the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Today, I invite you to watch our tenth chapter — co-produced again by Lakota Law, Standing Rock, and the Great Plains Water Alliance — in which we explore more of what led to this moment in time. This edition highlights the decades of sacrifice forced upon tribal nations as the U.S. government repeatedly flooded our homelands and uprooted us by building dams to block our great relative, the Mni Sose (Missouri River).
Watch me and the great Phyllis Young, Chase Iron Eyes, and others to talk about the long history of sacrifice demanded of Native nations to make way for dams along the Missouri River.
It all started with the passage of the Flood Control Act of 1944, which gave rise to the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program. Pick-Sloan would go on to wreak havoc on tribal nations over the next several decades. The Oahe Dam at Standing Rock was one of seven installed to block the river. Its construction resulted in Lake Oahe, which now sits on the northern border of the Standing Rock reservation. Today, DAPL crosses directly beneath it, posing a direct threat to the water that sustains our people.
Damming the Mni Sose changed our way of life. Before then, my mom, Lakota Law Standing Rock organizer Phyllis Young, vividly recalls living in a paradise in the bottomlands near the river’s edge. But when the verdant area where my family had lived — filled with timberlands, plants, medicines, and wildlife, all gone now — disappeared under water, my mom and many others were forced to move into starker territory with none of the natural bounty they’d always known.
All this loss is real and remembered. But, in the end, it has galvanized our spirit. When, in 2016, DAPL came to our doorstep, we created a movement — which I’m grateful you share. So now, we must stick together for justice and honor the fighting spirit of those who preceded us. In this moment, we can and we will overcome, just as we have so many times before.
Wopila tanka — my gratitude for your solidarity! Wašté Win Young Legal Analyst The Lakota People’s Law Project
The Wounded Knee Memorial and cemetery, shown here in a 2018 file photo, marks the site where more than 250 Lakota men, women and children were massacred by U.S. soldiers in 1890 in South Dakota. The memorial land was already owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but the tribal council voted Sept. 7, 2022, to join with the Cheyenne River Sioux to buy the remaining 40-acre parcel of the historic landmark from a non-Native owner. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)
It was the last resolution of the day but it was a stunner.
The Oglala Sioux tribal council voted in an historic decision Sept. 7 to purchase 40 acres of Wounded Knee land from Jeanette Czywczynski for $500,000 – a move that now puts the entire Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark site under ownership of the Oglala Sioux.
Sold for far less than the $3.9 million price demanded by her now-deceased husband, James Czywczynski, the land now includes a covenant to preserve it as a sacred site and memorial without commercial development.
The vote passed with 15 members voting yes, three voting no and one member not voting. Those opposing the resolution expressed concern over allowing the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe 49 percent ownership of the land.
“Our tribes have come together through war and times of need. It’s not just our relatives buried there (on Wounded Knee land),” said council member Julian Spotted Bear, who supported the purchase.
According to the resolution, the Oglala Sioux tribe will pay $255,000 and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe will pay $245,000 for the site, and agree to petition the U.S. Department of the Interior to take the land into trust on behalf of both tribes. The title to the land will be held in the name of the Oglala Sioux tribe.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe made the decision to participate in the purchase about a week ago, according to Chairman Harold Frazier.
“Many of those massacred at Wounded Knee were from the Minneconjou band on Cheyenne River,” Frazier said.
“When I heard about it, I said, ‘We have to buy it; let’s buy it. That’s our ancestors’ resting place. We need to respect them,'” he said.
The agreement ends a decades-long dispute over land that is the site of the historic Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 in which hundreds of Lakota men, women and children were killed by U.S. soldiers of the 7th cavalry using machine guns in an attempt to suppress the Ghost Dance, a Lakota religious movement. Victims were buried in a mass grave in a nearby Catholic cemetery.
American Indian Movement leaders join in a solemn moment in 1973 just before the signing of a statement ending the bloody standoff between federal forces and the AIM members at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. (AP File Photo/Jim Mone)
The property, which includes a portion of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark, has become a potent, painful reminder of brutal federal violence used to suppress Indigenous peoples.
Jeanette Czywczynski became sole owner of the property after her husband, James, died in 2019. James Czywczynski purchased the property in 1968.
The Czywczynski family operated a trading post and museum there until 1973, when American Indian Movement protesters occupied the site, destroying both the post and Czywczynski’s home.
The family moved away from the area and put the land up for sale, asking $3.9 million for the 40-acre parcel nearest the massacre site. The land, including an additional adjacent 40-acre plot, had been assessed at $14,000.
The issue of Wounded Knee ownership became a national symbol of a century of unscrupulous treatment of Native people by the U.S. government and non-Natives.
For a time, Czywczynski toyed with the idea of partnering with developers to build a motel and gas station near the site. He later offered the land to the Oglala Sioux tribe for sale but grew bitter and frustrated over negotiations.
Some tribal members wanted to develop the site for commercial purposes and some opposed such a plan, maintaining that it should be shielded from development and maintained as a sacred site.
In 2013, film star Johnny Depp announced a plan to buy the property and donate it to the Oglala Sioux tribe. Depp, who played the role of Tonto in a remake of the film, “The Lone Ranger,” was criticized for trying to capitalize on the film and for his misappropriation of Native culture. He was also criticized for making unsubstantiated claims of having Native ancestry. Depp did not follow through on the purchase.
In 2016, Lakota journalist Tim Giago, founder of Indian Country Today, announced plans to purchase the Wounded Knee land for $3.9 million and went to work fundraising the purchase price.
Giago, who grew up in the town of Wounded Knee, said he wanted to put the land into trust for the entire Sioux Nation. Giago’s plans, however, fell through. He died in July 2022 at age 88.
The Oglala Sioux tribe already owned the land containing the Wounded Knee cemetery and mass grave of the 1890 massacre victims. Red Cloud Indian School recently returned about one acre of land to the tribe where Sacred Heart Church once stood.
Leaders from the Oglala Sioux tribe did not respond to ICT’s request for comment. ICT was unable to reach Jeannette Czywczynski.
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One in six children in California’s Central Valley have asthma. It’s a clear environmental injustice, one that our sister program, Let’s Green CA!, is working hard to correct. Now, they’re on the doorstep of a big win.
Earlier this year, Let’s Green CA! partnered with legendary activist Dolores Huerta and her foundation to reduce toxic air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions by increasing access to clean cars. And the great news is that their clean car equity bill, SB 1230, just passed the California State Assembly; it will soon head to Governor Newsom’s desk for his signature. Today, I invite you to take a look at Let’s Green CA’s new video, which examines the human impact of toxic air pollution in California’s Central Valley, then send a message to Gov. Newsom in support of SB 1230. Newsom’s signature is the last step on SB 1230’s journey to becoming law, so it’s time to rally together and get this done!
Click the image to watch LGCA’s new video (featuring the one and only Dolores Huerta) and take action for clean air.
Toxic air pollution is making children and families sick, and the climate crisis only exacerbates this injustice. The Let’s Green CA! team understands that climate action is one of the best ways we can protect frontline communities — and all communities. So I encourage you to send your message to the governor and stand in solidarity in this fight for environmental justice today.
Wopila — my thanks for your awareness and action. DeCora Hawk Field Organizer The Lakota People’s Law Project
P.S. I’m proud of my colleagues at Let’s Green CA! Help push their bill across the finish line by urging Governor Newsom to sign SB 1230 into law today.