UPDATE: See our notes at the bottom of this article.
The Lakota Indian Tribe, which is a part of the Sioux Nation sent a notice to the US State Department yesterday that they have officially seceded from the United States.
"We are now a free country and independent of the United States of America," Said political activist Russell Means, founder of the Indian activist organization The American Indian Movement. "This is all completely legal."
To understand how all of this could take place, a little history lesson is in order:
In 1868 the United States signed what is known as the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which guaranteed the Lakota tribe ownership of the Black Hills of South Dakota, which the Lakota consider sacred. According to the treaty, All of South Dakota west of the Missouri River and additional land and hunting rights in both Wyoming, and Montana were to be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Lakota Indians.
However, gold was soon discovered in the Black Hills territory and that naturally changed everything in the eyes of the US. Prospectors quickly flooded the territory, violating the treaty and Federal Law. The Lakota argued that the US Military did nothing to stop the influx of miners. Eventually a series of conflicts took place which sparked what is known in the history books as the Black Hills war.
According to Wikipedia, Many historians believe that the Ulysses S. Grant Administration deliberately provoked the war, since a new gold rush and the opening of the Black Hills would aid recovery from the economic depression which had lasted three years.
Following unreasonable demands for Lakota families and hunters to report to the various agencies in the middle of the winter of 1875-76, President Grant approved orders for the Army to round up the Indians by force. This action sparked the Indian wars - the most famous of which is the battle of Little Big Horn, where George Armstrong Custer and his famous 7th cavalry got their asses handed to them by the combined forces of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians. The victory was short lived, however and the US Government illegally re-claimed the Black Hills land in 1877.
Flash forward to almost a century later. In 1942, the US congress formed the Indian Claims Commission, which was designed to settle the land disputes. In 1975, thirty three years after it was formed, the ICC finally ruled that Congress's 1877 law was unconstitutional and amounted to an illegal seizure, or "taking," of the Lakota lands. The commission declared that the Lakota Indians were entitled to the 1877 estimated value of the seized lands, plus interest.
The U.S. government naturally appealed this, but in June of 1980, the Supreme Court upheld the ICC ruling. This ruling established the legal basis for the compensation for illegally seized Indian lands and upheld an award of $17.5 million for the market value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years worth of interest at 5 percent, for an additional $105 million.
They did not, however give the Lakota the land back.
Maintaining that the Black Hills are sacred and that no monetary amount could compensate their communities, Lakota leaders refused the settlement and demanded return of the Black Hills.
And so now, the American Indian Movement has taken its latest step to once-and-for-all re-claim the land that was originally theirs in the first place and seized illegally by the US.
According to the AIM, the new Indian country will issue its own passports and driving licenses, and living there will be tax-free, as long as citizens renounce their U.S. citizenship.
"It will be the epitome of individual liberty, with community control," Means said.
Naturally, the State Department has not yet reacted to the Lakota declaration of independence.
We're not really sure why this hasn't made bigger headlines as the only people that seem to be reporting it are such big name news outfits like the Rapid City Journal and the UK's Telegraph.
We'll stay on top of this and report back with any new information.
UPDATE: three days after we published this article, there was some additional information that came to light about Russell Means. Follow the link for more info.