A Story Dying to Be Told

When Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch took a shellacking in the world of high finances last week, many leaders of Indian tribes were hot on the phone lines to their brokers and money managers. I wonder how many of them will relay the information of their financial losses to their tribal members?

Because of extreme secrecy it's hard to determine how much money was lost by the Indian nations particularly to those tribes with rich casino operations, but you can place one sure bet on this fiasco: if they played the market they lost.

On July 31, 2008 the money in the interest bearing accounts of the tribes involved in Black Hills Settlement Claim, Docket 74B, was at $815,616,678.20 and the money invested in the Docket 74A account was at $113,193,512.73. If you combine the totals of these two accounts they come to $928,810,190.93 million. Now that is about as close to $1 billion as you can get. How many members of the Great Sioux Nation knew what was in their accounts or how much money was lost on Wall Street?

My sources tell me that millions of dollars of the Black Hills money was lost and the hope is that the recovery after the announced federal bailout may help to recoup some or most of it.

It strikes me as amazing that in the 1980 U.S. Census, four of the top 10 counties listed as the "Poorest Counties in America," were located on Indian reservations in South Dakota, with Shannon County, the seat of the Pine Ridge Reservation, taking the number one spot as the single poorest county in America. That was nearly 30 years ago and this is the time the original awards of $105,994,430.52 for Docket B, and $40,245,807.02 for Docket 74A, were handed down by the Court of Claims to the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. As you can see, after nearly 30 years, the interest-bearing accounts have grown considerably, but in those years there have been ups and downs as the market fluctuated.

Docket 74B was for the illegal taking of the Black Hills and Docket 74A for the taking of lands east of the Hills. For all of the of gold, silver, uranium, timber, water and other natural resources taken from the stolen lands until this very day, the monetary award offered to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people was less than puny. It was an insult. The people of the Great Sioux Nation have not received a single shilling for the theft of their homeland.

For all of those who boldly stand up on their hind legs and ask, "What about all of the money the Indians got for hospitals, schools, government and welfare?" the answer is for them to look into their own back yards at the millions they have received from the federal government for much of the same opportunities with one exception: They did not have to give up millions of acres of land to receive those benefits. All of the supposed gifts to the Indian people that non-Indians complain about were negotiated between two sovereign nations for the most part, or decided unilaterally by the federal government after it had consolidated its power over the Indian people. When the enemies of the United States became defenseless, that is when the outright theft of their lands began.

When the poorest people in America turn up their noses at nearly $1 billion dollars, what does that tell you? And why is this one of the least-reported stories in this country? When a Lakota family is struggling to put food on the table or trying to find money to pay for a ride to the Indian hospital or grocery store or is looking at ways to survive another South Dakota winter with a premium on heating expenses, don't you believe that they think about what they could do with the money sitting in a money market on Wall Street?

And yet they refuse to accept the money. This is one of the major stories of the century and yet it continues to go unreported in the mainstream media and even in the American-Indian media. Why?

I would truly like for someone at CNN, MSNBC, FOX Network News or CBS, NBC and ABC or the New York Times, to give me and the Indian people an answer to that question.

If the news was about a takeover of a village, a violent confrontation, or worse, the MSM would be here in droves, but this story is apparently of no interest to them. Not violent enough? Not shocking enough? Too bad because it is a story that is begging to be told in all of its entirety.

If nothing else, the money lost by the Indian people of South Dakota by the money market collapse should be news. If it rocked America, it certainly rocked the "poorest of the poor."

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com