‘We will never sell out’
It has been almost 47 years since Frank Fools Crow sat down before Congress and testified on behalf of the Oceti Sakowin on H.R. Bill 14629. This speech serves as the first clearly and keenly articulated declaration that the Black Hills are not for sale. At the time it was written, September 10, 1976, the Black Hills had not been sold, the tribes would not be awarded the $104 million dollar payment until June of 1980. At that time, the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) filed an injunction to get out of the Black Hills Claim case, asserting that their attorney Arthur Lazarus, had failed to renew his contract with the tribe. The injunction was the brainchild of Oglala attorney Mario Gonzalez, and it prevailed, and because OST could not be paid, none of the other tribes could be paid, either.
Born in the 19th Century, Fools Crow was one of the last surviving links to the historic identity of the Lakota people. He grew up around elders who had defeated Custer at the Battle of Greasy Grass. He arrived in Washington to testify before Congress in 1976 but did not have a prepared speech. Gonzalez raced across the street, to Vine Deloria’s Institute for the Development of Indian Law, borrowed a typewriter, and typed out Fools Crow’s speech in just over an hour.
“I was so familiar with all the issues,” Gonzalez told NSNT, “that I could type it out just from my head.”
The speech was rushed to Fools Crow, and he did an impressive job of personalizing it and delivering it. What follows are excerpts from his testimony:
“Kola (friends). I am Frank Fools Crow, Chief of the Lakota and I am here today with Frank Kills Enemy, one of the most respected headmen and also an expert on Indian treaty rights. Before we begin, I would like to ask you why when we speak you do not listen, and when you listen, you do not hear, and when you hear us, you do not choose to understand what we say. This is one time that I ask you to listen carefully and understand what we have to say.
“Many people refuse to understand why the Lakota people do not want to sell the Black Hills and have taken this position. I am therefore going to explain our reasons, because the discussions surrounding this claim and the acceptance of it will have very far-reaching effects. I do not want our people, many years from now, to think that we have sold out. We will never sell out. I am 87 years of age and Mr. Kills Enemy is 82. Our only concern here today is for the best interests and welfare of our people and future generations of our people.”
Fools Crow addressed the Indian Reorganization Act tribal councils, calling them “puppet governments” representing the view of the whiteman: “I am told that only 30 percent of our people vote. These councilmen do not represent the majority of the people on the reservation. Naturally, many of them are here today to urge the acceptance of this bill, as they have been brainwashed to do by the whiteman.”
“Mr. Kills Enemy has a book,” Fools Crow continued, “which tells that the United States Commissioners who signed the 1868 Treaty were in Chicago two or three days before they signed it, and they were passing resolutions which were designed to break it. After these resolutions were passed, the Commissioners signed it. The treaty was broken by the whiteman before it was even signed by him.”
“The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota people. Both the sacred pipe and the Black Hills go hand and hand in our religion. The Black Hills is our church, the place where we worship. The Black Hills is our burial grounds. The Bones of our grandfathers lie buried in those hills. How can you expect us to sell our church and our cemeteries for a few token whiteman dollars. We will never sell.
“These tribal attorneys, many of them are of the Jewish people. They should look at their own history and hold their heads in shame for what they are trying to talk us into doing here. They lost their lands for almost 2,000 years and have just got them returned. They lost many of their people throughout the years fighting for their homeland, but not as many people as we lost fighting for ours. Yet they stand here very eagerly trying to talk us into selling our land when they know the United States does not have good legal title. It is understandable that they do this because they too are whitemen. We wonder if they will be willing to sell Israel to the Arabs for $17,500,000 plus interest.”
Fools Crow lived to be almost a hundred years old, journeying to the spirit world in November of 1989. The passage of time has erased the possibility that any elder speaking for the return of the Black Hills can have a direct connection to the people who held the land sacred before the whiteman broke the 1868 treaty, before he illegally seized the Black Hills in 1877. It is no coincidence that is the same year the tribes voluntarily laid down their arms at Fort Robinson. The historic connection severed, the current generation do not understand the history, the legalities, surrounding the loss of the Black Hills as much as Fools Crow did back in 1976. The more time that passes, the wider the separation from the historic reality and the ever-worsening the distortion. Reprinting speeches like the one written by Gonzalez, and compellingly delivered by Fools Crow, reconnects the current generation to the words and actions of the men who made the actual history.
The actual history of the struggle to regain the Black Hills should be taught in high school, certainly in college, but you can get a degree in Indian Studies from Black Hills State and still be ignorant of that history. The reasons for this dark history of deceit and theft, and the subsequent efforts by misguided tribal members to distort it, have never been openly acknowledged, let alone scrutinized.
(Contact James Giago Davies at email@example.com)
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