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Sioux tribe to discuss Black Hills compensation negotiations

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council next week plans to discuss whether to reopen negotiations with the federal government over compensation for the taking of the Black Hills in the 1800s.

Tribal President Bryan Brewer and Mario Gonzalez, an attorney representing the tribe, say any negotiations or acceptance of any offer would have to involve all nine tribes involved in the decades-long dispute.

An 1868 treaty set aside the Black Hills of western South Dakota and other land for the Sioux, but Congress passed a law in 1877 seizing the land after gold was discovered. The federal government in 1980 reached a $102 million settlement with nine tribes, who refused to accept the money — now believed to be valued at about $1.4 billion after accumulating interest for 33 years — without the return of unoccupied federally owned land in the region.

When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration offered to restart negotiations. The tribes ignored the invitation, but some members of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council say it's time to consider it seriously.

The discussion item was placed on next week's council agenda after Councilman Paul Little introduced it earlier this month at a meeting of the tribe's economic and business development committee. The item was passed and forwarded to the full council. Little declined to comment about the resolution.

Gonzalez said he doesn't want to legitimize the taking of the Black Hills by accepting money, but said Obama's offer could open the door to the recuperation of unoccupied federally owned land. He pointed to a deal President Richard Nixon reached in 1970 when he returned 48,000 acres of national forest in New Mexico to the Pueblo.

“Now why can't the same thing happen today?” he said.

Brewer said he will not support any resolution that promotes the Oglala Sioux receiving money without input from the other eight tribes.

“Our tribal members have passionately said over and over again, ‘the Black Hills are not for sale.’ I fully support our tribal members,” he said.

The other Sioux tribes are the Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Rosebud, and Flandreau in South Dakota; the Standing Rock Sioux in South Dakota and North Dakota; the Santee in Nebraska; and the Fort Peck tribe in Montana.

Oglala Councilman James Cross said he is skeptical that the council, much less all nine tribes, would vote to begin discussions.

“I don't think this resolution is going to move forward, the way the word on the street is,” he said.