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Sicangu Community Histories Fall 2012-Pt 7

December 15, 2012

In 1953, Public Law 280 was enacted in what was the “…height of the post-World War II assimilationist period which included:

  • the adoption in 1953 of House Concurrent Resolution 108 which established tribal termination as the official federal policy and singled out specific Indian Nations for termination,
  • and the implementation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs “relocation” program to encourage Indians to leave the reservations and seek employment in various metropolitan centers.(4)
    (Gardner, 2004)

State governments objected to this law on the basis that the federal government did not fund the law.  It was amended in 1968 which had “… added a tribal consent requirement and authorized states to give back (or retrocede) jurisdiction to the federal government (Gardner, 2004)”.

The impact of PL 280 was to make “a substantial transfer of jurisdiction from the federal government to the states in Indian country (Gardner, 2004)”.  It made the requirement for states mentioned in the Act, and allowed other states not mentioned able to acquire jurisdiction.  South Dakota was not one of the states specifically mentioned.

So it appears that “Before Public Law 280 was enacted, the federal government and Indian tribal courts shared jurisdiction over almost all civil and criminal matters (3) involving Indians in Indian country. The states had no jurisdiction (Gardner, 2004)”. The predominant role this act played was in the criminal courts.

The struggle between factions within the tribe altered little from the 30s to the present. What Biolsi had described as a ‘false economy’ that kept the Lakota dependent  on programs or government aid, is now the very real economics of the reservation, in that the people rely on these sources for their subsistance.

Jobs being scarce on the reservation, it was not a matter of how much education, nor even experience that seem to matter…but who you knew or were related to that allowed a person employment!  Those families that were considered ‘traditional’ were often blocked from employment, and sometimes from educational advancement, i.e. graduation.

In August of 1978, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed that stated:
“the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites (n.a., 1996).”

Prior to this act, all ceremonies had gone ‘underground’.  The Sun Dance and Ghost dance, were not allowed on the reservation, and not allowed prior to the reservations being formed, by the government agencies.  Other ceremonies such as the Lowaƞp̄i and Yuwip̄i ceremonies were subject to scrutiny by not only the IRA council (due to the fees exacted against Medicine Men) but also by local churches (sanctioned by the United States government). Lakota would report against Lakota.

Yet, the Indian Civil Rights Act should have covered this issue.  It states: “No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall – make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances;… (Institute, n.d.)”.

With the day school system and boarding schools still in place into the mid 70s,  those raised in the boarding school system were taught to be ashamed of their own culture.  Separated from their families, children were also victims of the policy of assimilation where “the elimination of native languages – considered an obstacle to the ‘acculturation’ process – was a top priority. Teachers devised an extensive repertoire of punishments for uncooperative children… (Coppola, 2012)”.

The effect was to cause adult Lakota to feel shame over what they experienced, and this overlay their willingness to speak in their native tongue.  Within the boundaries of the reservation there were pockets within the reservation where the Lakota children used the language as their primary tongue, but only in the home.

This situation has been changed by way of the boarding school system being dissolved, and a tribal school system taking its place today.  But, in the interim between the late 70s and now, there has been an ongoing debate on how to teach language in the schools.

The tribal council itself is not even conducted in the Lakota language as a rule.  It is conducted in English, with some members and/or guest speakers speaking in Lakota, then translated into English.  As far as I know or can find out, Lakota has never been declared a ‘first language’ (as was done when Ireland freed itself from the British!).

This is could be one of the reasons that the Lakota language is not spoken as a first language by many members of the tribe.  That many primary and secondary schools are teaching the Lakota language as a second language is unfathomable, but a fact of life. As I heard in one conversation, “it is unheard of to have what is considered ‘a primary language’ taught as a ‘second language’ in public schools (Anonomous, 2012)”.

The unfortunate aspect of assimilation policies is that dilution has occurred of the Native culture, along with spiritual practices.  The IRA model “Americanized” Tribal governments, was designed to fit the ideal of the Federal Policy makers rather than the culture of the Lakota people. An education system designed to also “Americanize” native children, along with the government approved interference of the church in the cultural fabric of native life, Federal work removal policies, systemic undermining of spiritual and cultural practices of the Lakota people has eroded and in some aspects has diluted the cultural ̇ spiritual core of the Lakota people today.  We add to these factors modern-day influences of gangs, high alcoholism and unemployment along with the atmosphere of a ‘false economy’ based on Federal dependency imbedded into the core of reservation life today.





Anonomous. (2012, October). Interview.

Biolsi, T. (1998). Organizing the Lakota (2nd ed.). Tucson: Universtiy of Arizona Press.

Charles J. Kappler. Washington : Government Printing Office, 1. (Ed.). (1904). Chapter 405. (O. S. Library, Producer) Retrieved November 9th, 2012, from Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties:

Chris. (2010, June 18). How connected are language and culture? Retrieved from Woudaoku:

Coppola, J. (2012, October 08). Lakota: The Revitalization of Language and the Persistence of Spirit . Retrieved from Truthout:

Council, i. C. (2008). Language, Culture, & Identity. Retrieved from Artic Indigenous Languages:

Douville, V. (1976, Rev. 2012). History of SFM and SFIS. Mission.

Douville, V. (2012). Cokatowela and Makatojanjan. Mission: self.

Echo-Hawk, W. R. (2012). In the Courts of the Conqueror. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.

Foundation, T. H. (2012). Retrieved from Heritage Guide to the Constitution, The:

Gardner, A. P. (2004). Public Law 280: Issues and Concerns for Victims of Crime in Indian Country. Retrieved from American Indian Development Association:

Goodman, R. (1985, Sprng-Summer). Lakota Star Knowledge and the Black Hills. Sinte Gleska College News, p. 26.

Goodman, R. (1992). Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Knowledge (2nd ed.). Rosebud: Sinte Gleska University.

Hyde, G. E. (1987). Spotted Tail’s Folk. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

n.a. (1996). American Indian Freedom of Religion Act, Portion Amended. Retrieved from American Indian Freedom of Religion Act:

Ostler, J. (2010). The Lakotas of the Black Hills. London: Viking Penguin.

Pommersheim, F. (1979). Broken Ground and Flowing Waters: An Introductory Text… Rosebud: Sinte Gleska College Press.


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