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A new Declaration of Independence

The Lakotah-Sioux have re-declared their independence, and are hoping to secede from the United States. As the Western Standard discovers, the Lakotah's struggles bears a striking resemblance to the struggles of the Nisga'a in British Columbia.

Terrence Watson - February 4, 2008

The small delegation of outsiders arrived at the U.S. State Department on an overcast December 17. Echoing the methods of the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, the delegation produced a list of grievances--including a male life expectancy lower than anywhere else on earth, the disappearance of their culture and the theft of their natural resources--before announcing that the Lakotah "formally and unilaterally withdraws from all agreements and treaties imposed by the United States Government on the Lakotah People."

According to the weather services, sometime after the delivery of this message, the skies over Foggy Bottom cleared. But what the representatives of the Lakotah Sioux had brought to the State Department was not another declaration of independence. It was, according to Russell Means, founder of the American Indian Movement and Chief Facilitator of the new Lakotah Nation, a re-declaration of their independence, a status they had never lost.

In a press notice to foreign governments and private land owners, Means affirmed that, "Despite many years of repeated bad faith on the part of the United States government... the Lakotah hold no animosity toward the American people... We wish to deal with the American people in good faith and in a win-win manner."

Means, who has since changed his name to Oyata Wacinyapin, does not want land owners or members of other nations to leave the Republic, which is comprised of portions of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. In a YouTube video posted on January 3, Means invited everyone, including members of the Nation of Islam, libertarians, U.S. citizens, farmers, ranchers, and anyone interested in "individual freedom" to come to the new nation and become a part of it.

While several news agencies in Europe have reported on the Lakotah secessionist bid, some are crying foul. Local sources have raised the fact that Means may not be a legitimate or "official" representative of the Lakotah Sioux at all. Means failed to win the presidency of his tribe in 2006 when he ran for the position. In fact, the delegation that delivered the Lakotah declaration of independence to the U.S. State department is not an "official branch" of any Lakotah tribe.

Nevertheless, Means and other activists have been working for Lakotah independence for decades. Means told Agence France-Presse that they "wanted to make sure that all our ducks were in a row." The movement received an important push after the United Nations adopted a non-binding "Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" last September. According to the UN’s news centre, "The Declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions." Canada, the United States, and Australia opposed the Declaration.

Regardless of its ultimate success, the Lakotah independence movement bears some resemblance to the drive for First Nations self-government currently playing out in Canada. One obvious example is the Nisga'a Treaty, which came into effect in 2000. The factors that led to this historic agreement between British Columbia and the Nisga'a, and the Treaty itself, shed light on differences in the way Canada and the United States accommodate the moral and legal claims of their aboriginal peoples.

The Nisga'a Treaty turned more than 2,000 square kilometers of land in northern British Columbia over to the Nisga'a people. This land, including that from 56 Indian reservations, had previously been owned by the government. The Nisga'a Treaty placed the land under the control of a central Nisga'a government and four smaller Nisga'a village governments. These governments were given expansive control over the use of the land's vast natural resources.

More articles by Terrence Watson