It is time to recognise


Members of the American Indian Movement and the Oglala Sioux in a stand-off with FBI agents, National Guard soldiers, and federal marshals at Wounded Knee in March 1973. PHOTO/Bettmann/Getty

The Lakota, like other groups, see themselves as a sovereign people. Can Indigenous sovereignty survive colonisation?

By the late-18th century, Native Americans and European newcomers had lived together in the Americas for nearly 400 years. They had cajoled, fought, killed and hated one another, and Europeans had built colonies on coastal plains and along major river valleys, dispossessing dozens of Indigenous societies – with the crucial help of smallpox and other new deadly diseases that wreaked havoc in Native communities. Yet in 1776, much of the continent was still under Indigenous control. That changed, with shocking rapidity, when the 13 colonies rebelled against British rule and became the United States of America. Liberated from British restrictions on western settlement, self-styled American pioneers began to push beyond the Appalachian Mountains, seeking land and personal independence. That the West belonged to Native nations who had lived there for multiple generations mattered little to them.

In April 1832, the US president Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the ruling of John Marshall, the chief justice of the US Supreme Court. In Worcester v Georgia, the Marshall Court had decided that Native American nations retained their ‘natural rights as the undisputed possessors of the soil from time immemorial’. Dozens of treaties between the Native nations and the US had sanctioned these rights. Jackson, however, was unmoved. By 1850, in a sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing, 100,000 Indians had been deported west of the Mississippi.

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