Paha Sapa

Jan 22, 2018


On this date in 1915, the Sioux County Pioneer reported on a meeting at Fort Yates. The ten members of the permanent committee representing the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation gathered to discuss the matter of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills.

The Council considered a letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Council at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The Commissioner suggested that members of the nine nations of the Sioux should prepare a legal argument regarding the $7 million claim that the Sioux said was due them. This claim stemmed from the breaking the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. This treaty designated the Black Hills as the Great Sioux Reservation.

According to the treaty, the Black Hills were exempt from white settlement forever. But in 1874, George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills, and word got out that gold was found. Prospectors swarmed into the area. In 1876, a new agreement took precedence over the earlier treaty, and the United States took claim of the Black Hills.

The Sioux were sent to five smaller reservations in 1889. The move was very much against their will as it violated the 1868 treaty and forced them onto much smaller tracts of land. Nine million acres of the Black Hills were subsequently sold to ranchers and farmers.

In 1915, Congress was poised to approve $10,000 to investigate the claims of the Sioux. In preparation for the investigation, the Council at Standing Rock named Ben White to gather depositions of thirteen signers of the 1876 treaty. The depositions and other evidence would be sent to an attorney in Washington representing the Sioux.

The matter of the Black Hills remains unsettled today. A 1980 Supreme Court ruling agreed that the Black Hills were taken illegally. The Court ordered repayment of the initial offering price plus interest, nearly $106 million. The Sioux wanted the Black Hills returned, and refused the money. The money remains untouched in an interest-bearing account. As of 2015, it amounted to over $1 billion. The Sioux believe that accepting the money would allow the government to justify taking the Black Hills.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Sioux County Pioneer. “Act to Investigate Black Hills Claim.” Fort Yates ND. 22 January 1915. Page 1.

Ostler, Jeffrey. The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground. New York: The Penguin Library of American Indian History. 2011.

United States Forest Service. “Black Hills National Forest.” Accessed 17 December 2017.