I meant to blog about this long before Christmas, but didn't get around to it: a group of Lakota declared that they were unilaterally withdrawing from all treaties with the US, so that they are no longer citizens of the United States. The group explain their reasons for doing so on their site, and certainly it seems that they have every justification for doing so. The Federal government never properly honoured the the treaties, and for the past 150 years or so, the Lakota people (and other First Nation people) have been gradually impoverished, marginalised and denied access to parts of their land. I'm no lawyer, but there also seem to be legal provisions for such an action within US and UN law.
The original declaration implied that there was widespread support within the Lakota Nation. They posed the intriguing notion that an area within five States of the US (North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska) would become an independent nation within a state, with powers to issue passports, their own currency and raise (or not raise) their own taxes. It also implied that anyone living within the five states (Lakota or not) would be welcome to join their new nation.
The practical issues are formidable. How will this new independent nation generate power and income, organise its currency and trade with the rest of the US, or police its borders, particularly since it is currently so impoverished? However, another issue has surfaced since December of last year: it is unclear how much support the proposal has. A breakaway group calling itself 'Lakota Oyate' has emerged, and claims to "represent the people's voice in reclaiming freedom". Elsewhere on the web, allegations have been made that the Republic of Lakotah, lead by Russell Means (Oyate Wacinyapin), does not have widespread support, and has not consulted Lakota Elders or Tribal Presidents. In a response to an email from a Lakota man from Rosebud Reservation, Russell argues that Tribal Presidents are part of the US Federal system:
We did not ask the permission of the US authorities disguised as tribal leaders. They like the existing system. They are in power, and they get to keep that power by begging to Washington for crumbs for our people.
Perhaps there's some truth in that, but it seems to me that the movement will not be successful unless it has widespread local support and legitimacy.
It's an interesting situation, and I certainly wish the Lakota well in their struggle to take back control of their own lives from the Federal Government, which seems completely indifferent to them. The thing which shocked me most was reading the statistics about the level of poverty on Lakota reservations. Male Lakota life expectancy is reportedly only 44 years, which would be dreadful for a developing country, but is unbelievable for a community within one of the most prosperous countries in the world. I'm not surprised that some Lakota feel that they couldn't do a worse job of looking after their own people than the US Government.