Defenders of the Black Hills
Black Hills in focus ⬿

Defenders of the Black Hills

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John Ahni Schertow
December 1, 2007
 

This 12-minute video, produced by the Seventh Generation Fund, discusses the Defenders of the Black Hills, “a group of volunteers, without racial or tribal boundaries, whose mission is to ensure that all of the provisions of the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 are upheld by the federal government of the United States.”

In doing so, these volunteers are also upholding the Constitution of the United States which, in Article Six, states that “treaties are the Supreme Law of the land.” Until the

Treaties are upheld, the actions of the Defenders are to restore and protect the environment of the Black Hills and the surrounding Treaty Area to the best of their ability.

The Black Hills themselves stretch across western South Dakota, northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana. More than 60 indigenous nations had been traveling to the Black Hills for millennia to conduct spiritual ceremonies.

“At one time, many streams and creeks fed numerous species of animals, now gone: buffalo, grizzly, black and brown bears, wolves and mountain sheep to name just a few. American scientists now know that the Black Hills contain unique species of plants, animals, birds, insects, and reptiles not found anywhere else in the world.

In the early 1870s, prospectors illegally entered the Black Hills and carried out nuggets of gold. The United States turned a blind eye to this illegal activity and eventually began a succession of deceitful actions that continue today. They have allowed the exploitation of everything sacred in the Black Hills and they exclude the rightful owners, the Great Sioux Nation and members of other indigenous nations, from determining what happens in that sacred place.

All of the gold has been removed, so new kinds of mining are occurring. Feldspar mining is becoming popular involving huge monoliths of quartz that are blasted into smaller and smaller pieces before being shipped out to make ceramic. All of the forests in the Black Hills have been logged at least once. Ninety-seven percent have been logged at least three times. Most recently, the oldest trees in the Black Hills, supposedly protected by a US

Wilderness designation, were cut down for road safety and expansion. There are over 8,000 miles of roads in the Black Hills, more than any other National Forest. Housing development is increasing at such a rapid pace that local officials are finally starting to worry about the lack of water and pollution to underground water caused by the rampant and unsupervised explosion of septic systems.

Two large man-made dams have altered the ecology of the Black Hills. Forest fires have been suppressed for more than 100 years, so many species, particularly those requiring old growth, are no longer able to exist. Burial sites, archaeological sites, and sacred sites are bulldozed for other activities.

The entire Black Hills are sacred, not just one place, one burial site, one prayer site. There is a sacred energy field around the Black Hills. How far does it extend? One elder said that it continues about 50 miles around the Black Hills. How can people who believe that only man-made designations, such as a church or a cemetery are called sacred, understand a sacred space and landscape that extend for hundreds of miles? That is why Defenders of the Black Hills have as our motto: “Remember, the Black Hills are sacred.” We ask only that respect be given for another peoples’ understanding of spirituality. Maybe that respect will begin to generate more concrete actions that will contribute to the restoration of these sacred grounds. “

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