Lower Brule Territory
1825 - present
Our homeland has no formal boundaries. For thousands of years we have lived in the grasslands and river valleys between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes - in recent centuries, west from the Missouri River in present-day South Dakota to the Platte River, in Nebraska, to the Yellowstone River in Wyoming and Montana, to the edge of the forests in Minnesota south of the Great Lakes.
Soon after the first agents of the United States government traveled through Lower Brule lands in 1804, our world drastically changed. Between 1825 and 1962, the US government forced our people to make ‘treaties’ and ‘agreements’ that resulted in the loss of most of our territory. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, the construction of two huge dams along the Missouri River in South Dakota flooded most of our forests, hunting, fishing and gathering grounds, agricultural lands, and settlements, creating the Lake Sharpe and Lake Francis Case reservoirs.
1825 - Fort Lookout Treaty
On June 22, 1825, representatives of the US government signed a treaty with several bands of Lakota, Yancton, and Yanctonnais at Fort Lookout on the Missouri River. Among the Lakota were representatives of the two bands of the Sicangu, one of the seven tribes of the nation – the Kul Wicasa Oyate (Lower Brule Tribe) and the Heyata Wicasa (Upper Brule Tribe). The Sicangu centered their territories around the White River, from its mouth to the margins of the Black Hills. Today, Fort Lookout is on the southern boundary of the present-day Lower Brule Sioux Reservation, at the south end of the Fort Hale District.
This treaty was seemingly “For the purposes of perpetuating the friendship which has heretofore existed, as also to remove all future cause of discussion or dissension”. To perpetuate this friendship, however, the tribes had to agree “that they reside within the territorial limits of the United States, acknowledge their supremacy, and claim their protection”.
Deeper into this agreement came a phrase that would have profound impacts on these assembled tribes – and every other tribe in the United States: “the limits of their particular district of country”. For the first time, these Sioux tribes faced an issue alien to their way of life – limits to their territory.
1851 - Fort Laramie Treaty
In 1851, the leaders of several tribes in the Great Plains were cajoled into defining those limits. On September 17, 1851, at Fort Laramie, commissioners appointed by the President of the United States signed a treaty with representatives of the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Crow, Assiniboine, Gros-Ventre, Mandan and Arikara Nations. For the first time, Lakota people had to accept a specific portion of land as their territory: “commencing the mouth of the White Earth River, on the Missouri River; thence in a southwesterly direction to the forks of the Platte River; thence up the north fork of the Platte River to a point known as the Red Buts (sic), or where the road leaves the river; thence along the range of mountains known as the Black Hills, to the head-waters of Heart River; thence down Heart River to its mouth; and thence down the Missouri River to the place of beginning”. Lower Brule people traditionally travelled as far south as the Platte River to hunt, but after this agreement, the United States regarded such acts as illegal.
1865 - Fort Sully Treaty
On October 14, 1865, at Fort Sully, the US government and the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (traditional name: Kul Wicasa Oyate) signed a specific treaty that established a Lower Brule Sioux Reservation. This tract of land covered their main settlement area at the time, extending north from below the mouth of the White River along the Missouri River to Fort Lookout – about 20 miles as the crow flies – and west ten miles in depth.
1868 - Fort Laramie Treaty
Three years later, in 1868, the second Fort Laramie Treaty created a territory for all the Lakota tribes called the Great Sioux Reservation. Without acknowledging the 1865 treaty, this treaty encompassed all the lands from the south boundary of Dakota Territory, west from the east bank of the Missouri River to the west side of the Black Hills and north to near the present-day boundary of North and South Dakota. The northern boundary was later extended to the Cannonball River.
The treaty included this statement: “the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons except those herein designated and authorized so to do, and except such officers, agents and employees of the Government as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties enjoined by law, shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory”.
Treaty Violations, and the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn), June 26, 1876
These were fine words, as it set apart a homeland that included the Black Hills, but this did not stop settlers from streaming west. In 1874, when a US Army expedition led by General George Armstrong Custer entered the Black Hills and discovered gold, they announced it to the public, and the flow became a flood. The tribes fought back, and in 1876, defeated General Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn), near present-day Hardin, Montana.
1876 - Indian Appropriations Act
In retribution, the United States first attached a rider to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 that cut off all rations for the Lakota – who faced starvation because of the extermination of the buffalo – unless they ended hostilities and ceded the Black Hills.
1877 - Manypenny Agreement, the Act of February 2
Under these terrible circumstances, the Tribes had to agree to the Act of February 2, 1877, which officially removed the Black Hills from the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1979, the United States Court of Claims confirmed that this seizure was illegal, as it violated the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
While it appeared that the United States broke this treaty in revenge for the General Custer’s defeat, their long-term goal was to break up reservations and to force Indians to assimilate into the dominant white culture.
1880 - Railroad Right-of-Way Agreement
A crucial step in this process was one of the terms in the 1877 Act – the Lakota had to allow transportation corridors through the Reservation. By this time, development along the Pacific coast had increased dramatically and the United States government wanted to connect the east and west parts of their country, despite the 1968 treaty. For the people of Lower Brule, who at this time lived along and near the west side of the Missouri River, with main camps at American Crow Creek, the White River and Bull Creek, the impact was immediate. In 1880, as permitted by the Act, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company negotiated directly with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe for lands they wanted for a depot to support the new section of railroad running from the west side of the Missouri River at Chamberlain. The Tribe had no choice, and with this 1880 Railroad Agreement, they lost 640 acres of prime settlement lands in what is now the town of Oacoma.
1882 - Act of August 7 (unratified)
The next attempt to reduce the Lakota land base began with the proposed Act of August 7, 1882, which in part authorized the government to "negotiate with the Sioux Indians for such modification of existing treaties and agreements with said Indians as may be deemed desirable by said Indians and the Secretary of the Interior". The threat of losing more land forced tribal bands into competition, and this affected the relationship between the Kul Wicasa and their relatives, the Heyata Wicasa, who lived away from the Missouri in the uplands in the White River region and interacted through the government at the Rosebud Agency. The government sent out a group of Commissioners to obtain agreements from the two bands to occupy different areas, but among the Kul Wicasa, Iron Nation and his people did not want to split up the tribe, and they refused to sign any agreement that did so.
1883 - Agreement of January 27 (rejected)
To force the Kul Wicasa into an agreement, the Commissioners and the Brules at Rosebud Agency agreed on a Lower Brule Reservation on January 27, 1883, but without the agreement of three-quarters of eligible voters among the Kul Wicasa, it did not pass.
1887 - Indian General Allotment Act, Dawes Act
The next move was successful – the Indian General Allotment Act of 1887 (Dawes Act). This was a scheme to take Indian land without breaking up the Reservation by doing it from within. It allotted Indian lands into 160-acre tracts to individual heads of households and smaller amounts to other family members. Once all Indian people had their allotments, the federal government began to sell off unallotted lands within reservation boundaries to non-Indians.
1889 - Act of March 2
By this time, it was clear that the Great Sioux Reservation, as agreed by the Lakota, was intolerable to the federal government. After almost 10 years from the railway agreement, the Reservation was broken up into smaller reservation by the Act of March 2, 1889. The Act split the Sicangu into two: the Rosebud Reservation was established south of the White River; and the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation was moved north, so that its southern boundary was 20 miles upstream from the White River, at Fort Lookout, where the 1825 Treaty was signed. Of course, this ‘new’ reservation, an area of 446,500 acres, was actually well within Lower Brule aboriginal territory.
1899 - Act of March 3
In 1898, the US government began to force another agreement on the Lower Brule, relating to tribal members who continued to resist removal to the Reservation north of Fort Lookout. The Act of March 3, 1899 made these tribal members and their families members of the Rosebud Reservation – and also transferred their rights to Lower Brule trust land. This reduced the Lower Brule Reservation by 120,000 acres.
1906 - Act of April 21
The Reservation boundary was fixed for less than ten years. The Act of April 21, 1906, allowed the US government to take 56,560 acres of unallotted lands in the Stanley County portion of the Reservation and provide them to non-Indian homesteaders. Most of this lost land is now part of the Fort Pierre National Grassland. The Tribe still disputes the legality of this takeover.
1906 - Act of May 8, Burke Act
That same year, the Act of May 8, 1906 (Burke Act) allowed the Secretary of the Interior to convert an Indian allotment, which could not be bought or sold, to fee land (saleable to non-Indians, and subject taxation), even without the knowledge or permission of the allottee. This was typical of divisive measures that contributed to the steady erosion of Lower Brule land well into the 20th century, as tribal members, enduring great poverty, were forced to sell their allotments to non-Indian ranchers and farmers.
1934 - Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act), June 18
In 1923, a group of non-Indian writers and social scientists formed the American Indian Defense Association (AIDA) and elected a social worker named John Collier as executive secretary. The AIDA promoted American Indian cultural autonomy by recommending radical changes in the US government’s approach to Indian land rights and culture. When US President Franklin J. Roosevelt appointed John Collier as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1933, it created a tide of change. Unlike previous government politicians, commissioners, and agents, Collier understood the starkly different concept of land held by aboriginal peoples, as he stated in his annual report to the government in 1938: “the Indian by tradition was not concerned with possession, did not worry about titles or recordings, but regarded the land as a fisherman might regard the sea, as a gift of nature, to be loved and feared, to be fought and revered, and to be drawn on by all as an inexhaustible source of life and strength”.
The constant efforts of tribal representatives, non-Indian activists and Commissioner Collier’s work within the government resulted in the Indian Reorganization Act, June 18, 1934 (Wheeler-Howard Act), which finally eliminated the discreditable land grab initiated by the Indian General Allotment Act of 1887. It stated that “hereafter no land of any Indian reservation, created or set apart by treaty or agreement with the Indians, Act of Congress, Executive order, purchase, or otherwise, shall be allotted in severalty to any Indian”; that “the existing periods of trust placed upon any Indian lands and any restriction on alienation thereof are hereby extended and continued until otherwise directed by Congress; and that “the Secretary of the Interior, if he shall find it to be in the public interest, is hereby authorized to restore to tribal ownership the remaining surplus lands of any Indian reservation heretofore opened, or authorized to be opened, to sale, or any other form of disposal by Presidential proclamation, or by any of the public land laws of the United States”.
1934 - 44th Parallel Controversy
The next loss of Lower Brule territory did not come to light until 1932. In the Act of 1889, the southern boundary of the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation was defined as the 44th parallel of latitude. After the Sioux Tribes sued the United States for an accounting of all the lands which had been opened for settlement and disposed of under the Act of 1889, it emerged that the location of the 44th parallel by the surveyor in 1890 did not agree with the location of the parallel as determined by the United States Geological Survey, which placed it more than a mile south. In 1934, the Sioux Tribes, on the basis of this report, amended their petition to include a claim for the more than 30,000 acres of land which would have been included in the Lower Brule Reservation if the United States Geological Survey line had been its southern boundary. After a succession of court cases between 1934 and 1963, the courts agreed that the southern boundary was improperly located, and that lands which were properly part of the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation had been sold as public lands. To this date, the Tribe has not been justly compensated.
1944 - Pick-Sloan Act
1954 - Fort Randall Taking Act
1962 - Big Bend Taking Act
The Lower Brule people had to endure two more damaging actions by the US government in the mid-20th century, when they passed the Pick-Sloan Act in 1944, which authorized the construction of dams on the Missouri River.
The Fort Randall Taking Act (1954) and the Big Bend Taking Act (1962) took away the bottomland of the Missouri River valley and with it, almost the entire social, cultural and economic base of the Tribe.
These lands, 22,296 acres of prime, rich floodplains and terraces, were sacrificed when the government decided in a cost-benefit analysis that destroying tribal homelands along the Missouri River was better than placing the dams where they might impact non-Indian farmers and settlements. The entire town of Lower Brule, once the largest settlement between the Missouri and the Black Hills, was inundated – sixty-nine percent of the reservation families forced from their homes, miles of roads, housing, farm and ranch buildings, a rodeo arena and a race track lost, many ancestral areas, including worship and gathering places, flooded or destroyed, and whole cemeteries of our people once again uprooted and moved to higher ground! This left us with an open wound, as every year, the crashing waves of Lake Francis Case and Lake Sharpe eat away more land and more of our ancient cultural sites.
1963 - present
After almost 300 years since Lakota tribal leaders signed a treaty with the United States at Fort Lookout (1825), the Lower Brule Reservation is a confusing checkerboard of lands with several different kinds of ownership: land belonging to the Tribe or tribal members, held in trust by the US government (trust lands, tribal lands, and allotted lands); and land removed from trust and owned outright by tribal and non-tribal individuals (fee lands). Because the inheritance of allotted lands was to descendants, a single plot of land today might be divided among many relatives, making it extremely difficult to deal with land management issues.
The most urgent priority in this complex cultural landscape has been the return of lost lands. As almost half the property in the Reservation was non-Indian-owned as late as the 1950s, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe has established an aggressive land re-purchase and consolidation program. Lower Brule has now regained at least 20% of this land and recovered several large tracts of aboriginal territory, including 93 acres in Oacoma, near the old Lower Brule Agency of the late 1800s and several ranches along the Native American Scenic Byway (Highway 1806), from the northern Reservation boundary almost to the town of Fort Pierre.
The first federal government action to return lands taken from Lower Brule took place in 1999. Title VI of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 included the “Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, and State of South Dakota Terrestrial Wildlife Habitat Restoration Bill”. This legislation eventually resulted in the return of 7,000 acres – what was left of the dry lands along the shorelines of Lake Sharpe and Lake Francis Case that the United States took from Lower Brule when it authorized the dams on the Missouri River in 1944.
In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Confederacy in Montana, and others, filed a class action suit against the Department of Interior. The suit contended that the Department had mismanaged trust accounts and failed to pay appropriate funds to individual tribal members whose ancestors had been assigned allotments under the General Allotment Act of 1887. In 2009, the parties ended the suit with the Cobell Settlement Agreement and it became law in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. As part of this agreement, the Department of Interior established a Land Buy-Back Program that allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land, which would be put back in trust for their Tribe. As of 2017, Lower Brule has regained more than 13,000 acres, divided between surface and mineral rights, sold by allottees to the government and placed into trust. The program is ongoing.
In 1906, after the loss of land in Stanley County, the Lower Brule Reservation was 277,940 acres.
As of 2022, the Tribe now controls 165,659 acres within a Reservation of 258,560 acres. The other 92,901 acres belong to non-Indian ranchers and farmers.
The other land claim issues outlined above in this brief history are still unresolved.