Native American tribal members from around the country gathered with state and federal officials at Fort Laramie last weekend to commemorate the 150th anniversary of a treaty signed between the Lakota people, Dakota people, Arapahoe Nation and the United States government in 1868.
In this photo, dismounted horsemen gather behind Lakota activist and advocate Joann Spotted Bear. The men had recently left a tent where speeches were made, and Spotted Bear asked them to gather behind her for the photo, Laramie photographer Mike Vanata said.
The men hold chieftain staffs, tribal flags and an older version of the U.S. flag with a rip on its left side. The tear was symbolic of two nations that were to come together and live in peace for eternity, Spotted Bear said at the time, according to Vanata.
Spotted Bear is a veteran activist. Online videos and news accounts show her being arrested in the U.S. Senate chambers while protesting the nomination of now-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, speaking to actress Scarlett Johansson about the value of treaties, and speaking at a United Nations forum in New York.
Tribal government leaders and Native American activists shared the fort grounds with Wyoming politicians including U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney , U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, and Gov. Matt Mead. Some tribal leaders expressed dismay at today’s treatment of treaties, saying they are not honored, according to a report in the Scottsbluff Herald. Others said they would have liked to see President Donald Trump or Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke attend the gathering to demonstrate their understanding that the treaties were agreements between the United States and other sovereign nations.
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In comments made to national media before the gathering, Fort Laramie National Historic Site Superintendent Tom Baker talked about how the treaties should be valued.
“It’s equivalent to our Constitution of the United States,” Baker told National Public Radio. “That’s how important it is. It’s international law. It’s a treaty.”
When I say that I am haunted by the injustice that provided my family with property titles in Wyoming while it left tribes conscripted to reservations, so many people tell me that they feel the same but they don’t know what to do with their desires to bring a real relationship forward. I think Wyoming’s dominant settler culture is ready to move toward right relations with the American Indians for whom Wyoming was the last place to sign treaties. Right relations could mean restoring the dignity of American Indian place names and stories, like Bear’s Lodge (let’s relinquish the dusty old Devil of Devil’s Tower). As a kid who grew up next to it, I always pictured seven American Indian sisters on top of the rock with the great bear climbing it and I never pictured a horned devil there. If we restore the American Indian place names, the pervasive presence and knowledge of American Indians would be restored as part of our landscape. Right relations could mean looking at the financial capital that is now raised on lands (like Cody) that were once treatied to American Indians (Apsáalooke/Crow), and developing recognition for the theft by creating educational and social funds for American Indian revitalization efforts with an intellectual property tax so that the dominant culture contributes tiny, consistent amounts to the strengthening of the cultural revitalization that will lead toward tribal resilience. We call it Aftermath–in the aftermath of the conquest of our oldest and founding culture, how do we become more human, in right relationships that ennoble the souls of all of us?