Legislators reject tribes' resolution seeking return of some treaty lands

PIERRE--State lawmakers from both major political parties united Wednesday and rejected a resolution urging return of some lands in the Black Hills to Indian tribes who were forced onto reservations in the late 1800s.

PIERRE-State lawmakers from both major political parties united Wednesday and rejected a resolution urging return of some lands in the Black Hills to Indian tribes who were forced onto reservations in the late 1800s.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 13-0 against the request from Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, who said he serves on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's treaty council.

As he began to testify, Bordeaux said he didn't have a copy of his resolution.

But, he continued, he had a copy of the 1868 treaty that gave the tribes the vast lands west of the Missouri River to the Big Horn mountain range, covering big parts of South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.

He quoted the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision that called the loss of the lands by tribes an "illegal taking."


The resolution called for "fair and full compensation," the return of "select lands" in the Black Hills National Forest and creation of a national commission.

The resolution specifically excluded private lands and homes and said "essential federal lands," such as Mount Rushmore, national park properties, U.S. postal lands, Ellsworth Air Force Base and other lands "essential for the national interest," shall be undisturbed.

Bordeaux said the tribes aren't ready to manage it and would need a partner, such as state government.

"I'm not sure if you all know what's at stake here," he said, noting the tribal territory began "a few blocks away from here" on the west bank of the Missouri River.

No one else testified for the resolution and no one testified against it.

Bordeaux said there are 11 acres of tribal trust land just across the river at the Wakpa Sica site that was to be a home for a proposed tribal Supreme Court.

"I don't know why there isn't a casino there, already. I'm just kidding," he said.

Bordeaux said tribes in South Dakota would like "to tell the story from our view" if they could get "a few acres here and there."


He said land could be used for religious observances and to make presentations to tourists about tribal culture, struggles, opportunities and religion, such as the origin story that Indian people emerged from Wind Cave.

"Just as much as the snake talks to Eve, we have our own belief system," he said.

"The Black Hills, if we could get one acre back, would be a big thing for our tribe and for the generations to come," he said.

Bordeaux referred to the 1990 year of reconciliation proclaimed by the late Gov. George S. Mickelson. He subsequently called for a century of reconciliation.

One of the House committee members was Rep. G. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, a son of the governor. Mickelson told Bordeaux said the theme of the resolution "is something you would find broad support for" but the phrase "select federal lands" brings unease.

"The Black Hills are important to a lot of people," Mickelson said. "What are you looking for in terms of select federal lands?"

Bordeaux said "all" but added that's not likely to happen.

"Somewhere in the middle, the great negotiation is waiting to happen," Bordeaux said. "I see this as a win-win for South Dakota."


Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, called for the resolution to be killed.

Stevens said "some pretty significant things would need to occur" such as overcoming public challenges and making changes in state and federal laws.

"I think it's premature at this point for it to be a meaningful resolution," Stevens said.

House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley, of Brookings, spoke against it, too.

"We really have a bad history, obviously," Hawley said. "The problem with the resolution is the open-endedness of it."

Hawley continued, "How much can you go back today and repair history that was done, is the question."

The resolution, HCR 1010, had only Bordeaux and Sen. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, as its sponsors.

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