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Sicangu Community Histories Fall 2012-Pt 1

December 5, 2012

An Overview of How Treaties and Federal Policies

Affected The Si̇ċaƞġu Nation:

Regarding Land, Culture, Spirituality, and Their Language


Donna Duncan


Unlike ordinary laws written by congress, “Treaties are signed agreements between two independent or sovereign groups of people (Pommersheim, 1979:22)” This would mean that a treaty between the Federal Government and the tribes recognizes the tribes as sovereign group in its own right.

The constitution of the United States, Article VI, states that treaties are the “…supreme law of the land;… (Foundation, 2012)”. Treaties do not “expire nor do treaties end (Pommersheim, 1979:22)”. Treaties cannot be changed, and the only legal means to make any change in a treaty is through Congress, not through any state offices or by any other federal agency.  Article VI also states that “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby (Foundation, 2012)”. As stated by Pommersheim, “Federal agencies and states do not have the right to change or ignore treaties (Pommersheim, 1979: 22)”.

As a requirement for changing a treaty, the supreme court stated the change(s)  must be done “in a very clear, explicit manner (Pommersheim, 1979: 22) “  But, it appears that what certain states and federal agencies consider to be clear and explicit has not held up in the courts, most of the time, especially regarding land issues.

The changes that had incurred by each of the treaties[1] presented to and signed by the Lakota leaders, and “Acts”[2] that were passed by congress following treaties, and the losses incurred by these two had affected both Lakota society and Lakota culture.  Since language is closely connected to the cultural and philosophical beliefs of the Lakota, there was a huge residual effect on the language as well.

The Lakota people had an intrinsic connection to the land in which they lived.  It provided for the spiritual and physical needs of the people through supporting the buffalo herds that the people hunted and believed were sacred to their nation.  The land also provided various plant-life (whether for food or medicine) that was gathered for sustenance.

The relationship of the Lakota with the land they inhabited will be discussed in this paper, as well as their philosophical belief about the land.  The relationship the Lakota people had with the land in which they lived was forever altered by the treaties and acts of the United States Government and its policies that had been enacted.

An individual recognizes who they are in relationship to the culture from whence they came through the language of their people. When the original language of a nation of people is lost, certain aspects of that identity becomes lost, as well.  Then  “it is clear that language is strongly intertwined with culture and identity (Council, 2008)”. So how important is it for language studies to be integrated with the study of culture?  The answer to this question is that a “culture is embedded in language and language is the vehicle for culture itself (Chris, 2010)”.

It is my hope to demonstrate in this paper the manner in which the Treaties, Acts of Congress, Tribal Agency policies, and the resulting losses of land (including the Black Hills) had set off a chain of events and effects that has altered the Lakota way of life.  These events having affected the culture of the Lakota people and its vital link to the ancestors of the Lakota through the diminishment of the use of their mother tongue: the Lakota language; as well as their spiritual roots embedded in the land of their people.

Throughout this paper, is an intertwining of historical events that lead into signing particular treaties, or Acts by the United States Congress. Along with this, this paper addresses effects of these treaties and / or Acts on the people of the plains, the Lakota. We begin this journey with discussion of why the treaties were deemed necessary by the United States government.

[1] Treaty of 1851 and Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868

[2] Black Hills Act of 1877; Dawes Severalty Act (The General Allotment Act of 1887); Indian Reorganization Act of 1934; The Great Sioux Agreement of 1889; Public Law 280 (1953); Civil Rights Act of 1968; Native American Freedom of Religion Act of 1978.

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