The New Black Hills Gold Rush

The New Black Hills Gold Rush

 

Words by Ruth H. Robertson

PHOTOGRAPHS BY EVAN BENALLY ATWOOD

There is no doubt that gold mining is seeing a resurgence in the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota. Not once, however, has the consent of the Lakota people been sought.

Last month it was announced that Dakota Gold, a company that just went public on the New York Stock Exchange this past April, is planning to drill 345 holes in the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota in search of gold. The mining corporation is the largest landowner in the Black Hills at present, having acquired control of 45,000 acres. Their ultimate goal is to build a huge, large scale mining operation, like the “pioneer” mining operations of old.

 

But they are hardly alone. Exploratory drilling is booming in the sacred Black Hills. Golden Crest Exploration Drilling Project, run by Solitario Zinc, a Colorado company, is planning to drill 25 holes in the National Forest of the Black Hills along a scenic byway. Many others join them.

 

While mining has been continuous since a gold rush in the late 1800s that was instigated by George Armstrong Custer (yes, that Custer), there is no doubt that gold mining is seeing a resurgence in the region.

 

Today, it’s pretty much a free-for-all. Corporations do not need a permit to perform exploratory drilling on private land in South Dakota. Their only legal requirement is that they must provide notice of intent to drill—jarring, considering the environmental damage mining has done and will do to the lush, pristine Black Hills forest.

 

Homestake mining leeched so many toxic pollutants into Whitewood Creek that it was transformed into Cyanide Creek. Just 20 years ago, Gilt Edge Mine bolted after bankruptcy and left behind 150 million gallons of water poisoned with arsenic, lead, and acid.

 

History shows that the rape and plunder of Native lands and resources was part and parcel to colonization, but Native Nations have known that extractive industry would eventually push to come for what’s left. Fossil fuels and minerals like gold and uranium are finite resources, and Native lands, skillfully managed by Tribes, remain virtually untouched. They contain 30% of coal reserves west of the Mississippi, 50% of uranium reserves, and 20% of all known oil and gas reserves within the boundaries of the United States. These resources, including lead, gold, and other minerals, are worth trillions of dollars.

While the sacred Black Hills are not under the control of the Lakota people today, our ancestors tended and cared for the land for millennia.

RUTH H. ROBERTSON

While the sacred Black Hills are not under the control of the Lakota people today, our ancestors tended and cared for the land there for millennia. In fact, it is said that the Lakota people first emerged from Ina Maka (Mother Earth) from Wind Cave, nestled deep in the Black Hills. It is no accident that the Black Hills are a prime location for a profusion of life and filled with an abundance of natural resources.

 

It was covetous, greedy settler invaders, led by Custer, and backed by the federal government, who breached Treaty Law, the Supreme Law of the land according to the Constitution of the United States, and stole the Black Hills from the Lakota so they could claim the land and its rich bounty for themselves and their descendants. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, ratified by the U.S. Senate, acknowledged title in the “Sioux Nation” (A.K.A. the Oceti Sakowin Lakota) to around 60 million acres of land within present day Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 went on to establish the “Great Sioux Reservation”—26 million acres of land that included the sacred Black Hills. It was set aside for our absolute and undisturbed use and occupation.  It also set forth that, any future cession of these lands, in order to be valid, would require the signatures of 75% of the “Sioux” adult male population. This never occurred.

 

In The Great Sioux Nation vs. the United States (1980), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the seizure of the Black Hills by the U.S. was an unlawful taking, and that Congress owed the Oceti Sakowin just compensation for land they stole from us.

We never consented to this theft. Our consent was never sought. The wound is more than physical, it is spiritual—and we are still bleeding out.

RUTH H. ROBERTSON

Untold riches have been looted from Lakota Treaty lands. Here’s an example: In 1965 alone, 31,207,892 oz (884,729 kg) of gold were extracted from the Black Hills. In today’s market, that’s $48,253,400,000 worth of gold. In the meantime, Lakota reservations are among the poorest in the country. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, where many Lakota presently live, nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line. Poverty has been imposed upon the Lakota and has caused untold suffering for generations.

 

While our elders say rent is due, Khe Sapa wakan (the sacred Black Hills) is not for sale. The Black Hills are worth more than gold. They are priceless, a spiritual legacy that we have an inborn duty to protect. We want the LAND BACK, so we must defend it for future generations, both Native and non-Native.

 

Besides gold and uranium mining, it has recently come to light that illegal lithium mining may be taking place in the sacred Black Hills as well. The Lakota people stand in opposition to mining in our sacred Black Hills. Groups like the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance stand with us in protecting our sacred lands from soulless mining vipers. Please support them, as well as Oceti Sakowin Tribes, in protecting the Black Hills from all those who continue to unlawfully steal from us while destroying the land and endangering all creatures that live there.

 

We face an uphill battle. The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been waging a silent war against mining in the Black Hills for decades. Just last month, a federal appeals court denied the Tribe’s request for a review of a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision to grant a license for a possible uranium mine in the Black Hills despite the Tribe not being consulted on the potential for serious, permanent impacts to their cultural resources. While the resources gleaned from our lands may benefit others abroad, it is we and our children who are faced with the enduring, damaging consequences of their extractive devastation. We never consented to this theft. Our consent was never sought. The wound is more than physical, it is spiritual—and we are still bleeding out.

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