July 5, 2009 Porcupine, South Dakota
The white man calls me David Swallow, Jr. but my real name is
Wowitan Yuha Mani. I am a Tetoh Lakota of the
Wa Naweg’a Band and I live on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation in South Dakota.
This is the way my Grandpa Najutala told me, a long
time ago. He was a teenager when the 1868 Treaty was signed.
He’s gone now but this is how he told me about the sacred Black
The Black Hills used to be occupied by the Crow Tribe. That
was way back, like in the 1700’s, even the 1600’s. Then, the
Black Hills were taken by the Shahiyela (the Cheyenne).
Then, the Lakota took them from the Cheyenne. Finally, the
white man took them from the Lakota.
The Lakota look at the Black Hills as having spiritual
power. All the Plains Tribes look at them that way. But the
white man saw only the yellow rock called gold. They tried to
make deals to get the land in the Treaties of 1825, 1851, 1868,
and even the Bradley Bill of the 1980’s.
However, the only Treaty that should be recognized concerning
the Black Hills is the Treaty of 1851. At that time, all the
tribes signed this Treaty and they signed it in a holy way. The
Lakota brought the Sacred White Buffalo Calf C’anunpa,
the Cheyenne brought their 7 sacred arrows, and the Crow,
Arikara, and other tribes brought their sacred bundles.
They all held ceremonies before they held the pen. They all
agreed that no settlers should enter that sacred area, the Black
Hills. The way that Treaty was written, this became a
non-negotiable matter from that time on. No other Treaty would
have the right to change that.
the government and homesteaders, the settlers and prospectors
kept invading the Black Hills.
As a result, the Federal Government renegotiated the terms
and called it the Fort Laramie 1868 Treaty. This time, the
original signers of the 1851 Treaty didn’t want to sign. Many
were fighting. There were no sacred ceremonies done and only
one sacred c’anunpa, only one sacred prayer pipe, was
The prospectors and homesteaders brought in whiskey to get
many of the signers drunk so they would sign. My grandfather
told me all about this. He saw it, personally. Mni wakan,
sacred water, is what the Lakota called alcohol because it
affected our people so strongly.
So this is how we lost the Black Hills.
Six years later, in 1874, General George Armstrong Custer
took an expedition into the Black Hills which included a
geologist and numerous miners. What they found immediately
caused a major gold rush and the white settlers and miners began
pouring into the Black Hills. The treaties were completely
In 1876, the Indian Appropriations Act demanded the Sioux
give back the Black Hills or starve under siege. Then they
ordered the destruction of all the buffalo herds. By 1889, the
Federal Government had forced the Lakota into prisoner of war
camps which they now call Reservations. According to government
documents, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is prisoner of war camp
Around 1990, I rode 7 years with many young people to the
Crazy Horse Monument. When we crossed our so-called homelands,
we were stopped by the white landowners because we didn’t have
their permission. One old homesteader showed us his deed
showing where he had bought the land from the Federal
Government. He told us that if we didn’t like it, we should go
talk to the Federal Government who got it from the Louisiana
So, we lost our Black Hills. Some said we sold them. If so,
I believe somebody took the money without any of us Lakota,
Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne or Arikara knowing it. There is no
In 1980, the United States Supreme Court said the Black Hills
did rightfully belong to the Lakota. They wanted to buy them
from us but our People have refused that money. The sacred
Black Hills are not for sale.
But that’s why the Bradley Bill was introduced in 1987 in
Congress, to make it look good. It supposedly would have let us
live in the Black Hills while the Federal Government could still
mine, trespass, and do whatever they wanted. But even that was
So, saying the Black Hills are ours and belong to us are just
hollow, empty words. If they are really ours, why can’t we live
there? It’s only occupied by white people with land deeds.
We cannot even go to the Black Hills and exercise our
spiritual ways. We are forbidden. We have to get permission
from the Government and the BLM and then we have to follow their
rules and regulations. But if we are a sovereign nation like
they said, we would have our own jurisdiction
If we do still own the Black Hills, we need a new treaty, to
renegotiate a new treaty. All the other treaties were violated
or abandoned, often with the approval of Congress, without us
knowing about it. That’s not supposed to happen in nation to
We have a treaty council, a council of elders, all kinds of
councils but none of them are effective. The government and
state have kept us hungry and distracted with their projects
which accomplish very little.
Every other foreign nation conquered by the United States has
received huge efforts towards rehabilitation and rebuilding.
Yet, while the U.S. cries about 20% unemployment, we have 80%
unemployment. We remain isolated and have living conditions
which are as bad as or worse than any “third world country.”
Our life expectancy is only 48 years old for men and 52 years
old for women.
We are the longest prisoners of war in the world’s history.
It must change. We need to be set free so we can deal with our
own people and our children and their children.
Unfortunately, most of our old people are in the spirit
world. Today, our young people have no knowledge of the
treaties, the massacre of Wounded Knee, the struggle of Wounded
Knee 2, or our history. These are the reasons our culture is
dying. No one remembers the language, culture, virtues, or
spirituality. No one knows the real history.
But they need to know. If we are to survive, people need to
understand. When we’re talking about the Black Hills, it’s not
just the land that was lost but our way of life. It’s not just
money. Money is the least important thing. We have lost our
way of life.
When we talk about the Black Hills, it is about everything.
That place is holy and sacred.
Ho he’cetu yelo, I have spoken these words.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota - The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
This article may be reprinted, reproduced, and/or
re-distributed unedited with proper attribution and sourcing for
non-profit, educational, news, or archival purposes.
Stephanie M. Schwartz walked on to the Spirit World in 2009.
View other publications of Stephanie M. Schwartz at <www.SilvrDrach.homestead.com>