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United States v. Sioux Nation


UNITED STATES V. SIOUX NATION, 448 U.S. 371 (1980). The Lakota, or Sioux, controlled the northern Plains throughout most of the nineteenth century. Allied Lakota bands negotiated a series of treaties with the U.S. government at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in 1851 and 1868 and were granted the Great Sioux Reservation by the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Encompassing all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River and additional territory in adjoining states, the Great Sioux Reservation, including the sacred Black Hills, was to be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Lakota. Following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in the early 1870s, white prospectors and U.S. Army troops invaded the reservation, and the Lakota responded militarily, defeating the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at the Little Big Horn in 1876. Outraged, Congress passed legislation that opened the Black Hills to white occupation and abrogated the articles of the Fort Laramie Treaty.

Throughout the twentieth century, Lakota leaders demanded redress for the illegal seizure of Lakota treaty lands. Filing a series of cases against the U.S. government, including a failed Court of Claims attempt in 1942, Lakota leaders finally received a full hearing through the Indian Claims Commission, created in 1946 by Congress to adjudicate outstanding Indian land disputes. In 1975 the ICC ruled that Congress's 1877 law was unconstitutional and amounted to an illegal seizure, or "taking," of Lakota lands. The Lakota, the commission ruled, were entitled to the 1877 estimated value of the seized lands, roughly 17.1 million dollars, plus interest. The U.S. government appealed, and in United States v. Sioux Nation, the Supreme Court upheld the ICC ruling. This landmark ruling established the legal basis for the compensation for illegally seized Indian lands. Maintaining that the Black Hills are sacred sites and that no monetary amount could compensate their communities, Lakota leaders refused the settlement and demanded return of the Black Hills, most of which remained under the control of the federal government in 2002.


Lazarus, Edward. Black Hills, White Justice: The Sioux Nation Versus the United States: 1775 to the Present. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.


See alsoBlack Hills ; Black Hills War ; Indian Claims Commission ; Laramie, Fort, Treaty of (1851) ; Laramie, Fort, Treaty of (1868) ; Sioux ; Sioux Wars .

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