The Doctrine of Discovery Discussion

Lakota Law

Lakota Law livestreams are back, y’all! Continuing in the tradition of “Cut to the Chase,” I’m organizing informative panels hosted by our Lakota leaders and featuring Indigenous guests from across Turtle Island and beyond. Co-produced by Indigenous Peoples Movement and Last Real Indians, “In Critical Times” streams will be available to view live or later on social media, and they take place every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern. This week, we had a trio of great guests join host Chase Iron Eyes for a deep dive on the Doctrine of Discovery. I encourage you to watch the whole discussion here!

A discussion on the Doctrine of Discovery

Click the pic to watch this informative discussion led by Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes.

Our guest experts for this episode — Shawnee/Lenape scholar Steven Newcomb, Indigenous Peoples Movement co-founder Jen Martel, and Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council Executive Director Phil Two Eagle — really brought some fantastic perspective on the Doctrine, which forms the horrifyingly racist underpinning for the Christian colonial world’s justification for expanding into Indigenous territory.

The Doctrine, which stems from a papal bull written in the late 1400s, argued that Christian monarchies should be able to subdue non-Christian lands, at will, under divine right. The fact that this dangerous foolishness still influences public international law and Federal Indian Law should disturb every one of us. This 84-minute conversation is well worth the watch — all the way through. I think you’ll likely learn some new things and understand even more deeply why your friendship means so much to us.

Shonabish Chi — thank you for tuning in!
Earth Hadjo
Online Events Coordinator
The Lakota People’s Law Project

National Voter Registration Act Win!

Lakota Law

As we near this year’s midterm elections in November, I’m pleased to report that good things are happening that bode well for Native participation in our democracy. If you’ve been following us for a bit, you may recall that the Lakota People’s Law Project has been participating as a plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit against the State of South Dakota for its repeated noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, also sometimes called the “motor voter” law). A while back, we let you know we were close to a settlement that would make access to voting much easier for residents — especially Native People — in South Dakota. Today, I’m happy to announce that we’ve won! The case is officially closed, and we achieved everything we set out to do. You can check out the article in Native News Online right here.

Click above to read the story in Native News Online.

As the news story above indicates, voters all across South Dakota (but especially Native People, who have been disproportionately affected by the state’s violations of federal law) will greatly benefit from the settlement. The Federal Court found that, among other violations, South Dakota failed to automatically update voter registration addresses of voters who change their driver’s license address; refused to provide voter registration services to individuals who lack an existing driver’s license number or Social Security number; failed to forward completed voter registration applications to county election officials in a timely way; didn’t properly train state employees or conduct internal oversight sufficient to ensure NVRA compliance; and failed to ensure that driver’s license “issue sites” — common in Indian Country and other rural areas in South Dakota — provide voter registration services.

The settlement ensures that, over the next three years, South Dakota will implement policies and practices to fully comply with the NVRA. Among the key elements are a provision that the state designate a statewide NVRA coordinator to oversee compliance with the law by all relevant state agencies. It also mandates that the state develop a comprehensive NVRA curriculum to provide annual training to county election officials, employees of driver’s license offices, and public assistance agency workers on their voter registration responsibilities. Importantly to South Dakota’s Native residents, the state must also amend its voter registration application form to allow voters without a postal address to provide a description of the physical location of their residence.

Thanks to this lawsuit, over the coming years, Native People in South Dakota should be given a fair shake at election time. That will be crucial in building the change we want to see. So now, it’s time to make sure my relatives exercise their right to vote. And on that note, I’m very excited to announce that Lakota Law’s 2022 Native vote campaign is just about ready to launch! Keep an eye on your email next week, because we have a big announcement coming your way. We think you’ll be as excited about it as we are. Please stay tuned!

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing up for Indigenous rights.
Wašté Win Young
Legal Analyst
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark

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)

Mary Annette Pember
ICT

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.

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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 co-founder Clyde Bellecourt, second from the right, joins in a solemn moment observed before the signing of a statement ending the bloody standoff between federal forces and the AIM members at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on April 5, 1973. From left are: Russell Means, AIM leader; Kent Frizzell, U.S. assistant attorney general; Chief Tom Bad Cobb and AIM leaders Pedro Bisonette and Carter Camp. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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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Oglala SiouxLand DisputeHistoric LandmarkCheyenne River SiouxWounded KneeAmerican Indian Movement

Mary Annette Pember

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Mary Annette Pember

Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for ICT.

Let’s Green CA! Call to Action

Lakota Law

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.

Your Voice Will Be Critical: NODAPL

Lakota Law

A couple weeks back, I was honored to join a delegation to Washington, D.C. led by Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire. We met with congressional reps and other decision makers to inspire action to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). As the pipeline’s legally mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) continues to stall despite the clear and present danger to Standing Rock and the Mni Sose — the Missouri River — this was mission critical. You can click here to watch our latest Water Wars video, produced in conjunction with Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin, and the Great Plains Water Alliance, which highlights our productive meeting with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Watch: I joined Standing Rock Chairwoman Janet Alkire (right) for her delegation to Washington, D.C. We had several excellent conversations about DAPL, including one with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (left).

You may recall that, in 2021, members of the Squad — progressive millennial women leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives including Tlaib, AOC, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, and Ilhan Omar — joined us and other Indigenous justice leaders in Minnesota to combat the Line 3 pipeline. And, of course, in 2017 AOC visited Standing Rock to take part in the #NoDAPL resistance, inspiring her run for Congress. These true leaders recognize the dangers of pipelines and care about what happens to us. Their support remains critical, but frankly it isn’t enough. We need other lawmakers and the executive branch to recognize DAPL’s danger and help us stop the oil before it spills and creates an emergency for our people.

As we pointed out during our meetings in D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers has repeatedly failed to provide Standing Rock with an adequate emergency response plan for DAPL. It has only shared a redacted version, which prevents us from planning on our own. This is particularly concerning now, because extremely low water levels in the Mni Sose have made accessing potential leak sites a logistical nightmare. We pray that something will be done before it’s too late.

In the meantime, please take a few minutes to watch our video and stay ready to take action. Eventually, the Corps will have to release its sham EIS. When it does, your voice will be critical. The public comment period will offer us an opportunity to stand strong together — again — for the water, for the people, and for our future.

Wopila tanka — thank you, as ever, for standing with Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin.
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Should Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery: Vigilance Needed

The Newsletter
  It’s been quite a week here at Pine Ridge. Last Tuesday, our Tribal Council temporarily suspended Christian missionary work within the Oglala Nation’s boundaries after the distribution of an offensive brochure which labeled Tunkasila, our Creator, as a “demon idol.” 

This hideous brochure was handed out to Oglala youth at the Pine Ridge Nation. Once our Tribal Council was alerted, it took emergency action by passing an ordinance (since rescinded) banning all missionary work on our reservation. The ordinance was rescinded a few days later, mainly because folks had events — such as weddings and funerals — scheduled. Still, previous law requiring review and registration of religious entities will now be enforced with greater vigor, and my community is once again reckoning with the living history of colonization, particularly by western faith organizations.  As you probably know, our relationship as Native People to the Catholic Church is long and, for the most part, horrific. To this day, Federal Indian Law still cites the Doctrine of Discovery — which originated in the Catholic Church in the 1490s — as a justification for our subjugation. For five centuries, European powers “discovered” and colonized Indigenous lands using the legal argument that, because Christians didn’t yet inhabit them, those lands were fair game.   Of course, we all know what happened in the wake of this colonization: forced migrations, broken treaties, the Indian boarding school era, and the continued taking of our children by state agencies. And last week, while Pine Ridge was confronting yet another manifestation of the colonial mindset, Pope Francis took a trip to Canada to apologize for the Church’s role in the boarding school era — later even acknowledging it as genocide. I, for one, am happy to see progress; but I’ll be happier when he rescinds the Doctrine of Discovery. 
Pope Francis dons a ceremonial warbonnet during his apology tour in so-called Canada. Ugh. Photo from the AP. Obviously, we still have a long way to go and many truths to tell before we, as Native peoples, can heal from the generational trauma inflicted by centuries of colonization. It’s going to have to be one step at a time. In the meantime, I’m proud of my friends — the activists who brought their concerns to the attention of our Tribal Council at Pine Ridge. I actually helped to establish the Oglala Lakota chapter of the International Indigenous Youth Council, which spearheaded that organizing.   I’m hopeful that we can move forward with better understanding. Churches will now have to register with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and existing religious establishments will have until Oct. 24 to clear their activities with the Tribal Council. It’s a start. Wopila tanka — thank you for your understanding and solidarity.
DeCora Hawk
Field OrganizerThe Lakota People’s Law Project Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

Help Protect the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

Lakota Law

Earlier this week, I wrote to you about the exciting progress we’re making with my grandmothers’ group toward creating a tribally-run Child Welfare Department here at the Cheyenne River Nation. I also mentioned that our legal team was on the verge of completing the draft of an amicus brief for the Supreme Court that will help protect the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law that keeps Native foster children in Native homes. Today, I’m happy to report that our draft brief has been completed and submitted for feedback to partner organizations who are part of the Tribal Supreme Court Project.

Protecting ICWA at the Supreme Court level goes hand-in-hand with my work to keep our children within kinship circles in my community.

Winning justice for our next generations and expanding tribal sovereignty will depend on a coordinated approach. Because ICWA’s fate will be determined by a dangerously conservative Supreme Court, our legal arguments must be well-measured and synced with our partners. Additionally, our work inside the courtroom must be paired with a continued focus on grassroots organizing in partnership with the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes to shore up tribally controlled foster care and adoption programs — especially in the event that ICWA gets struck down or modified later this year.

But the first line of defense is doing everything we can to preserve what we already have: ICWA is a good federal law that protects kids. The chair of our Advisory Board is former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, who also happens to be ICWA’s primary creator. Now, Sen. Abourezk is co-authoring our amicus brief to the Supreme Court. We’re helping to communicate his detailed knowledge to the justices, and we believe his powerful testimony can help create key swing votes in our favor.

My deep appreciation to you for standing in our corner. Together, we can meet this pivotal moment. I’ve been active on the front lines of Native justice for five decades, and Lakota Law has worked to defend ICWA for more than 20 years. There’s nothing we haven’t seen, and there’s no fight we can’t win if we stay unified, work smart, and fight hard.

Wopila tanka — thank you for being a protector!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Child Welfare Department at Cheyenne River

Lakota Law

Good news! Here at the Cheyenne River Nation, things are on track toward our goal of creating a tribally-run Child Welfare Department. Just last week, we held our second hearing in Eagle Butte, our reservation’s largest community. We recorded powerful testimony from several families, which we will ultimately present to the Cheyenne River Tribal Council. 

I encourage you to watch our new video, in which Virginia White Feather — one of my fellow grandmothers in Wasagiya Najin, our Standing Strong grandmothers’ group — and I talk about the importance of our efforts to keep Native children in Native care.

Watch: My grandmothers’ group, Wasagiya Najin, is standing strong to create a tribally-run Child Welfare Department at Cheyenne River — and we’re making good progress!

We grandmas lead this charge because we’re the best ones to do it. We have deep respect from our communities, and in a culture that greatly values and relies upon kinship connections, we’re often the ones who step in to caretake for our grandchildren. Our connections run deep. That’s extra important when trust can be hard to come by, given that our children and families have been let down time and again. 

As you likely know by now, South Dakota’s child welfare system doesn’t hold proper respect for our kinship ties, and our children are routinely taken from us. Our people, therefore, tend to be skeptical of anyone offering solutions, but they know that we grandmothers — who spend every day organizing within our communities and caring for the next generations — mean business.

We want wrap-around services for our children and caretakers. We intend to make sure they can remain together, here in a safe place, and that our families have what they need. We won’t stop organizing, and we’ll have even more to report soon. Our next target is editing video from our various hearings to present at Tribal Council and motivate them to act. It’s exciting, because we have a golden opportunity to create a far better system that recognizes the old ways in service of our next generations. 

Meanwhile, Lakota Law’s legal team just submitted our draft amicus brief for review by sister organizations in the Supreme Court case about the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Court will hear the case in October, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. We’ll have much more to report on that project soon, as well. Please stay tuned!

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing strong for our children.
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Standing Rock: Action

Lakota Law

As many of you know, the Lakota People’s Law Project is a proud ally of Standing Rock. We provide media, fundraising, organizing, and lobbying support to the tribal chairwoman’s team, especially on environmental causes like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In this capacity, we’re traveling next week to Washington D.C. to support Chairwoman Janet Alkire as she meets with key decision-makers about the ongoing injustice of DAPL.

More on that soon — but for now, we’d like to share our new video with you, made in collaboration with Chairwoman Alkire’s team, the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, and the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance. It brings tribal leaders together from all over South Dakota to speak about the necessity to protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) from Big Extraction’s misdeeds, like Dakota Access.

Watch: Janet Alkire and Oceti Ŝakowiŋ camp leaders reflect on the importance of the #NoDAPL movement to protecting Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth).

The stakes of our environmental movement remain as high as ever for all humans, plants, and animals. The year 2022 is on track to be one of the hottest on record. To make a difference we must act locally while thinking globally. Local for me means the Dakotas, where Standing Rock’s water supply (and that of 17 million others) is still in jeopardy from an illegal oil pipeline without a permit.

Why is it operating without a permit? Because the company hired by the federal government to do the environmental impact statement (EIS) was among those who joined a lawsuit against Standing Rock early in the NoDAPL movement. Of course, Standing Rock’s leaders won’t accept this, so there is a standoff at the moment with the feds. The Army Corps of Engineers has now postponed the release of their flawed EIS until next year, and that gives the tribe more time to fight back and demand that a decent company conduct a new assessment.

As you’re aware, Big Oil has a stranglehold on American politics. Wind power is the cheapest energy source available today — there’s enough wind in just the Dakotas and Texas to power the entire United States. But instead of shifting aggressively to clean technologies, this nation is allowing the fossil fuel industry to bully us into greater investments in our own destruction. Indigenous voices must remain strong to counteract forces of greed and narrow self-interest that plague our nation and world at this time. We will continue doing what we can, with your support!

Wopila tanka — thank you for your ongoing determined support
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Action: Cherokee Representative to Congress

Lakota Law header

Our partnerships make us strong, so I’m excited to announce a new collaboration between the Lakota People’s Law Project and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. We’ve been invited by Cherokee Chief Charles Hoskin to work with his tribe to push Congress to honor a promise made in treaties to the Cherokees, first in 1785 and then repeatedly afterwards. The pledge was to appoint a non-voting Cherokee Nation delegate to the House of Representatives. 

Please add your voice by sending a message to your representatives demanding a Cherokee delegate in Congress. The Cherokee representative would be identical to those for American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While the delegate would not have a right to vote on proposed legislation, s/he would have floor privileges and be able to vote in a committee of which s/he is a member and thereby introduce legislation.

Watch the video featuring Chief Hoskin Jr. on the long standing quest of the Cherokee Nation to hold Congress to its promise to seat a delegate; above is Kimberly Teehee, the Cherokee Nation’s chosen representative.

The Cherokee Nation is a federally recognized Indian tribe with more than 385,000 citizens across the country that spans almost 7,000 square miles in northeastern Oklahoma.

The Cherokee Nation’s right to a congressional delegate is affirmed by all three of the tribe’s federal treaties: the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, and the Treaty of 1866. The Treaty of New Echota states that:

“The Cherokee Nation, having already made great progress in civilization… shall be entitled to a delegate in the House of Representatives of the United States…”

The only thing needed for the delegate to be appointed is for the House Appropriations Committee to pass the measure and for the full House of Representatives to then vote yes.

In 2019, Chief Hoskin selected Kimberly Teehee as the congressional delegate for his tribe. She earned a JD from the University of Iowa College of Law, and she served as senior policy advisor for Native American affairs in the administration of President Barack Obama. In February of 2020, she was named by Time Magazine as one of sixteen leading activists fighting for a “More Equal America.” She also served as the first deputy director of Native American Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and director of Native American outreach for President Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration. 

Change comes one step at a time. We here at the Lakota People’s Law Project will always push for the sovereignty and empowerment of Native citizens. If you haven’t already, please send a letter to your federal representatives backing the inclusion of a Cherokee Nation delegate in Congress!

Wopila tanka — thank you for your friendship and active support.
Shaun Little Horn
Social Media and Marketing Specialist
The Lakota People’s Law Project