Pine Ridge Reservation stretches across some of the poorest counties in the United States. Plagued by an unemployment rate above 80 percent, arid land, few prospects for industry, abysmal health statistics and life-expectancy rates rivaling those of Haiti, it’s no wonder outsiders ask: Why do the nine tribes constituting the Great Sioux Nation, including those on Pine Ridge, staunchly refuse to accept $1.3 billion from the federal government?
In 1980 the Supreme Court agreed with the Sioux that the land, long since settled, had been taken from them wrongfully, and $102 million was set aside as compensation. The trust's value continues to grow well beyond $1 billion, but the Sioux have never collected. The tribes say the payment is invalid because the land was never for sale and accepting the funds would be tantamount to a sales transaction.
Ross Swimmer, former special trustee for American Indians, said the trust fund remains untouched for one reason: “They didn’t want the money. They wanted the Black Hills. It’s a tough, tough group up there. I’m amazed that they have been willing to sit on the money this long without taking the money”
“The Sioux tribes have always maintained that that confiscation was illegal and the tribes must have some of their ancestral lands returned to them, and they’ve maintained that position since 1877” said Mario Gonzales, general counsel for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Former Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls said “If we accept the money, then we have no more of the treaty obligations that the federal government has with us for taking our land, for taking our gold, all our resources out of the Black Hills … we’re poor now, we’ll be poorer then when that happens”.
Lionel Bordeaux, president of Sinte Gleska University on the nearby Rosebud Reservation said “We won the battle against Custer. But the war continues.”