Sitting Bull's tribe to regain control of southern Badlands

Nearly 120 years after the last massacre of Native Americans by the United States cavalry at Wounded Knee, some of the lands confiscated from their descendants are to be returned to the Oglala Sioux.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota, which encompasses Wounded Knee, is one of the poorest parts of the US. It has few paved roads. Unemployment is shockingly high among the Sioux. Alcoholism is rampant and there are high rates of suicide and imprisonment of American Indians.

After decades of protests, the park service is now planning to return the southern part of the park to Indian control. It will take an act of Congress to approve, but is expected to occur next year. Though broadly welcomed by the Sioux residents, there are those who say the land should be returned to the original owners for private use rather than to the tribal council as a park.

The shadow of Wounded Knee hangs over much of the discussion. The Sioux were among the last to fight against American expansion into the West. In the dying days of 1890, their leader, Sitting Bull, was assassinated. About 120 of his followers along with 230 women and children took refuge at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where they were surrounded by the US cavalry.

About 300 men, women and children were killed, along with 25 soldiers, mostly by their own shrapnel or bullets.

In the 1970s, the militant American Indian Movement reoccupied the site, leading to still more bloodshed, this time at the hands of the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But what rankles for Anita Ecoffey, an elder of the Oglala Sioux, who lives in Wounded Knee, was her family's eviction from ancestral lands in the 1940s by the military. Ms Ecoffey, 65, recalled her grandmother describing the flight, taking only what they could carry, and leaving the land where their ancestors were buried.

Some 800 members of the tribe were given a week to leave by the military, which wanted the land for a firing range. "To me this is as bad as what happened at Wounded Knee," she said. "When my grandmother was evicted they took only what they could carry. A lot of them had no place to go, which is why I say they died of a broken heart."

Ms Ecoffey described how much of the reservation is still littered with unexploded shells the military never cleaned up. Poachers have also ravaged the stark landscape, with its spires of rock and tallgrass plains. Over decades, they have illegally removed thousands of fossils from the poorly policed national park.

Under the new plan, the northern half of Badlands, which is paved and has a visitor centre, will remain under the control of the park service. The Sioux hope to restore the ecologically fragile southern portion, starting by removing the unexploded shells.

Most of the national parks – Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier – were created when the Roosevelt administration forced tribes from the land in the 1930s. Karl Jacoby, a professor of history at Brown University, said: "There weren't empty wilderness areas in the United States. They had to be created by the removal of Indians."

But there is dissent about what should happen. One of the Sioux activists who occupied Pine Ridge in 2000 says the land should be returned to its original Indians rather than remain a park. "That's not respecting the rights of the people who have nothing," said Keith Janis. "The whole national park system is environmental racism against the Indian people of this country."

Ms Ecoffey, however, hopes that Barack Obama will be elected president and fulfil the promises he made while campaigning in South Dakota last week to lift Native Americans out of their poverty.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz