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Black Hills gold mining and land theft, South Dakota, USA

Sioux people have been fighting for the return of their sacred lands for 150 years in a meta-conflict that shapes regional struggles for control of land, gold, oil, and narrative about US history


He Sapa (also called the Black Hills) in the US state of South Dakota was stolen from the Sioux Nation by the federal government of the United States in 1877. He Sapa is a large region that contains many sacred sites, and some Indigenous people regard it as their place of origin [2][12]. It is also claimed by other Indigenous nations such as the Cheyenne and Arapaho [11]. The Sioux have never relinquished their claim over this land, and the resulting tension between the Sioux and the US government continually shapes conflicts that have occurred in the region over the past 150 years. These conflicts include the massacre of Wounded Knee (1890), the later occupation of Wounded Knee (1973), the Dakota War (1862), the desecration of Tunkasila Sakpe (so-called Mt Rushmore; 1927-39) [2], the Dakota Access pipeline protests (2016-17) [9]; opposition to the Keystone pipeline (2008-15 ) [10], and the emergence of the modern Land Back movement [8]. All of these episodes in American history should be understood in the context of an over-arching struggle for ownership of the so-called Black Hills.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Black Hills gold mining and land theft, South Dakota, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:South Dakota
Location of conflict:Deadwood
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Logging and non timber extraction
Tailings from mines
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 established the Great Sioux Reservation at 60 million acres (24.3 million hectares) [1]. Most of this land has been stolen, as in 2021 the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota cover only 5 million acres in total (2 million hectares)[16]. Black Hills National Forest is 1.2 million acres (486,000 hectares).

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Project area:24,000,000 hectares
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectmultiple projects
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:Sioux nation population 170,110 (2010 census)
Company names or state enterprises:United States Federal Government (USA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:NDN Collective
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Sioux tribe
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Threats to use arms
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Boycotts of companies-products
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Oil spills, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Land Back movement demands that land be returned to Sioux Nation.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the Sioux won their 60 year legal battle with a decision from the Supreme Court in 1980, they have refused compensation for their land and demand that it be returned. They have received no compensation for gold extracted from their land, and their sacred sites have been desecrated.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Neville; Anderson. "THE DIMINISHMENT OF THE GREAT SIOUX RESERVATION TREATIES, TRICKS, AND TIME" (2013) Great Plains Quarterly. 2556
[click to view]

[8] “Land Back: A meta narrative to help indigenous people show up as movement leaders” (2021) Leadership, 17(1), 47–61
[click to view]

[click to view]

[10] Woods, Cindy S. “THE GREAT SIOUX NATION V. THE "BLACK SNAKE": NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS AND THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE” (2016) Buffalo Human Rights Law Review 22, pg 67-92.
[click to view]

[11] Estes, Nick. “Wounded Knee: Settler Colonial Property Regimes and Indigenous Liberation”. (2013) Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. 24(3), 190-202

[15] Pfeifle, Stamm, Stone. “Arsenic Geochemistry of Alluvial Sediments and Pore Waters Affected by Mine Tailings along the Belle Fourche and Cheyenne River Floodplains” (2018) Water Air and Soil Pollution 229(6)
[click to view]

[2] High Country News: “The battle for the Black Hills“ 1/1/21
[click to view]

[3] NDN Collective LandBack website
[click to view]

[4] Smithsonian Magazine, “In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice”, 11/7/2018
[click to view]

[5] Associated Press: “Native Americans protesting Trump trip to Mount Rushmore” 6/26/2020
[click to view]

[6] Associated Press: “Lakota activist: Mount Rushmore key in move to regain land”
[click to view]

[7] Intercontinental Cry: “ NATIVES SEIZE TRUMP STUMP AT MOUNT RUSHMORE” 7/14/2020
[click to view]

[12] Associated Press. “South Dakota tribes buy land near Wounded Knee massacre site.” 9/10/2022
[click to view]

[13] U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. “The Homestake Gold Mine” (1991)
[click to view]

[14]New York Times. “Gold Mine Seeks A Way to Operate Without Polluting” 12/13/1970
[click to view]

[16] "South Dakota reservations by the numbers" 2021
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update20/11/2022
Conflict ID:6186
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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