Republic of Lakotah proposal
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The Republic of Lakotah or Lakotah is a proposed independent republic in North America for the Lakota people and other people. Proposed by activist Russell Means, the suggested territory would be enclaved by the borders of the United States, covering thousands of square miles in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. These proposed borders are those of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie between the United States government and the Lakota. These lands are now occupied by Indian reservations and non-Native settlements. None of the existing Lakota tribal governments support the proposed republic, and they were not consulted about the proposal.
In a paper published in February 2020, Hiroshi Fukurai, a Professor of Legal Studies and Sociology, wrote that "the declaration of independence by the Republic of Lakotah in 2007 has been largely ignored by the US, as well as by the UN and its Member States."
Four activists, calling themselves the Lakota Freedom Delegation, traveled to Washington, D.C., on December 17, 2007, and delivered a statement declaring that they were, "withdrawing from the treaties their ancestors signed with the U.S." and "setting up their own independent nation." Reasons cited included that "the federal government has failed to abide by 33 treaties that promised land, health care, education and other services." Their leader was Russell Means, one of the prominent members of the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s.
The Lakota Freedom Delegation stated that they did not recognize tribal governments or presidents as recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, sometimes referring to these groups as "stay-by-the-fort Indians". Nor did any tribal governments, elected by the tribal people themselves, recognize the Republic of Lakotah.
Territory, demographics, and economics
The proposed boundaries of Lakotah would be the Yellowstone River to the north, the North Platte River to the south, the Missouri River to the east and an irregular line marking the west. These borders coincide with those set by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie:
The territory of the Sioux or Dahcotah Nation, commencing the mouth of the White Earth River, on the Missouri River; thence in a southwesterly direction to the forks of the Platte River; thence up the north fork of the Platte River to a point known as the Red Buts, or where the road leaves the river; thence along the range of mountains known as the Black Hills, to the head-waters of Heart River; thence down Heart River to its mouth; and thence down the Missouri River to the place of beginning.
On January 1, 2008, the republic announced that it would file liens on all U.S. government-held lands within their claimed borders; however, the first round of liens, in an unnamed county in South Dakota, were rejected.
In July 2008, Means announced that the Republic of Lakotah would be founding an all-Lakota "grand jury" to investigate corruption by U.S. government officials on the seven reservations in the republic's claimed territory.
Politics and government
Citizenship in the proposed republic would be open to people of all races and to any resident of the land Lakotah claims. The group said they planned to issue their own passports and driving licenses in the name of the proposed nation.
The group proposed that the nation be organized as a confederation that would respect the libertarian principles of posse comitatus and caveat emptor, would offer "individual liberty through community rule," and would collect no nationwide taxes. However, individual communities within the proposed nation would be allowed to levy taxes with the consent of the taxed. Russell Means suggested that the proposed nation should not use fiat currency but instead adopt a gold standard. Means stated that this system of government is derived from the traditional Lakota government system, saying, "we are going to implement how we lived prior to the Invasion. Each community will be a mini-state unto itself ... They will form the federation known as Lakotah." As of 2008, Russell Means identified himself as "Chief Facilitator" of a provisional government of the Republic of Lakotah. Means died in 2012.
The four signatories of the Lakota Freedom Delegation's letter to the United States Department of State that announced withdrawal from the U.S. identified themselves by the title of "Itacan of Lakota" in a press release. Leaders of communities would be informally chosen by elders of the community.
The following people identified themselves as members of the provisional government of Lakotah:
- Russell Means, chief facilitator (died 2012)
- Tegheya Kte, also called Garry Rowland (fully, Clarence Gary Anthony Rowland), facilitator
- Phyllis Young, provisional government member
The capital of Lakotah was not announced. The Republic of Lakotah gave its provisional capital as Porcupine, South Dakota with hopes in the long run to move administration to near Rapid City, South Dakota.
Assertion of independence
The Lakota Freedom Delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. and contacted the State Department, announcing that the Lakota were unilaterally withdrawing from the several treaties with the United States government. The delegation presented a letter, dated December 17, 2007 and signed by longtime Indian activists Russell Means, Garry Rowland, Duane "Canupa Gluha Mani" Martin Sr., and Phyllis Young, which declared the Lakota to be "predecessor sovereign of Dakota Territory" and cited gross violations of the treaties between the Lakota and the United States as the immediate cause for withdrawal. The letter also invited the United States government to enter into negotiations with the newly declared entity, there identified only as "Lakotah". It threatened that if good-faith negotiations were not begun then "Lakotah will begin to administer liens against real estate transactions within the five state area of Lakotah."
The group also has pursued international recognition for Lakotah at the embassies of Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, and South Africa. Russell Means has made reference to Finland and Iceland as well.
Legal basis for independence
Supporters of Lakotah argue that their assertion of sovereignty is entirely legal under "Natural, International and United States law". The group emphasizes that the Republic's establishment comes from a "withdrawal" from the United States, not a secession.
The group claims the right to withdraw, on behalf of the Lakota people, from the Treaties of Fort Laramie as a consequence of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Members argue that the decision in the case of Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553 (1903) shows that the United States Government does not adequately protect Indian rights. Means cites the Enabling Act of 1889, stating that clauses protecting Indian sovereignty on the lands comprising the states where the Lakota historically reside have been ignored.
In a 15 January 2008 news release, the Republic of Lakotah proposed that independence from the United States might follow a Compact of Free Association and suggested that the independence process could resemble that of the Philippines, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia or the Marshall Islands.
Russell Means stated that he intended to treat the result of the 2008 Pine Ridge Reservation Presidential election, in which he was a candidate, as a "plebiscite/referendum" on Lakota independence. He lost that election 1,918 to 2,277. 
Motivations for independence
Lakotah's founders cite the Oglala 1974 Declaration of Continuing Independence:
The United States of America has continually violated the independent Native Peoples of this continent by Executive action, Legislative fiat and Judicial decision. By its actions, the U.S. has denied all Native people their International Treaty rights, Treaty lands and basic human rights of freedom and sovereignty. This same U.S. Government, which fought to throw off the yoke of oppression and gain its own independence, has now reversed its role and become the oppressor of sovereign Native people.
The groups cite several reasons for its assertion of sovereignty, all connected to what they refer to as the "colonial apartheid" of the reservation system in the United States. The group claims that control by the United States has led to massive unemployment, poverty and disease among the Lakota people and also alleges that 150 years of U.S. administration is responsible for the statistical poverty of Lakota lands. The group claims that withdrawal from the United States will reverse these problems, and help reestablish the Lakota language and culture. The group also claims persistent violations by the United States of their treaties with the Lakota.
Another longstanding point of contention between the Lakota and the United States is the status of the Black Hills of South Dakota, which were part of Sioux reservation lands until they were taken without compensation by the US government and opened for gold mining following the collapse of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868). In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians awarded $105 million to eight tribes of Sioux Indians as compensation ($17.1 million for the market value of the land in 1877 and $88 million in 5% per annum simple interest between 1877 and 1980), but the court did not award land. The tribal governments of the Lakota have refused the settlement.
Russell Means and Canupa Gluha Mani have claimed that some 13,000 Lakota, including 77% of the population of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, have shown support for the Republic of Lakotah, and that the eight-member delegation which traveled to Washington, D.C. was only a portion of some 77 tribal elders and activists taking part in the movement. However, Rapid City Journal reporter Bill Harlan reported on his blog that "most folks I talk to hadn't heard about the declaration. The ones who had heard the news, to a person, did not want to talk about it on the record." The Journal has also noted that "there were no tribal presidents in the group which made the announcement, no one from the top ranks of any of the Lakota Sioux tribes." Nanwica Kciji, an Oglala Lakota and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, has also discredited the December 2007 developments, arguing that the Lakotah Freedom Delegation "never considered that treaties are made between nations and not individuals."
Recognized Native-American governments
Rodney Bordeaux, chairman of the Rosebud Sioux, said that Rosebud Indian Reservation has no interest in joining the Republic of Lakotah and said that the Lakota Freedom Delegation never presented their plan to the tribal council. Bordeaux stated that the group does not represent the Lakota people nor the support of the elected tribal governments. However, he did say that Russell Means "made some good points".
Joseph Brings Plenty, chairman of the Cheyenne River Lakota, agreed that the Lakota Freedom Delegation "are not representative of the nation I represent" but would not say whether he agreed or disagreed with their goals and message, noting some value in the group's actions in raising awareness for the history of the Lakota people.
The United States Department of State referred queries on the subject of Lakotah to the United States Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gary Garrison of the BIA said that the group's withdrawal "doesn't mean anything". "These are not legitimate tribal governments elected by the people ... when they begin the process of violating other people's rights, breaking the law, they're going to end up like all the other groups that have declared themselves independent — usually getting arrested and being put in jail."
Regarding the government response, or lack thereof, Russell Means stated that, "I don't expect the federal government to do anything. I don't believe they even know what to do."
Other American movements
The Alaskan Independence Party, in an announcement dated December 21, 2007, "applauded" the independent Lakota nation and granted it "full recognition". The secessionist movement Second Vermont Republic has also announced its support, and encouraged other American Indian groups to similarly declare independence from the United States.
Internationally, according to Russell Means, Venezuela's ambassador to the United States has stated to the group that his country cannot recognize Lakotah's independence based on Venezuela's interpretation of what the Lakotah Freedom Delegation is doing.
In February 2008, the Lakotah Freedom Delegation (including Means) handed over a formal petition, asking for recognition of the Republic of Lakotah, to the embassies of Russia, Serbia, Bolivia, Venezuela, the Republic of South Africa, Ireland, France, Nicaragua, East Timor, Chile, Turkey, India, Finland, Iceland and Uruguay. The text of the petition is available online.
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