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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/30/18

The Fort Laramie Treaties are the backbone of law statutes governing High Plains Indian lands

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This is the second of a two-part series on fracking for natural gas by a large operator's group of petroleum and gas companies in Converse County, Wyo. The byproducts of fracking and all of their negative consequences not only pose dire problems for Native American tribes in this region, but for non-Native communities, as well.

In areas of the country where there are a lot of Indian lands -- large tracts of properties owned by Native American tribes, American Indian families, and the like -- treaty laws are the supreme laws of the land. But two treaties established by the Sioux people, beginning in 1851, were broken almost immediately after these treaties were established.


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The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1876 protect lands in which the seven tribes of the Lakota have established as their homeland, along with lands being held by other Native American tribes. Article V of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 defines the territory of the Great Sioux Nation as follows: The territory of the Sioux or Dakota Nation, commencing at 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 Butte, or where the road leaves the river; thence along the mountain range known as the Black Hills, to the headwaters of the Heart River; thence down the Heart River to its mouth and thence down the Missouri River to the place of beginning.

Article XVI of the Fort Laramie of 1868 states that: The United States hereby agrees and stipulates that the country north of the North Platte River and east of the summits of the Big Horn mountains shall be held and considered to be unceded Indian territory, and also stipulates and agrees that no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the same; or without the consent of the Indians, first had and obtained, to pass through the same.

So how is it that already, about 1,300 private fracking wells are operating in Converse County, Wyo., with another 1,500 set to open sometime within the next 10 years or so? This monstrous project, in which natural gas is the main product sought after, is due to cap out at 5,000 fracking wells. The Oil and Gas Operator Group (OG), includes: Anadarko Petroleum Company, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Devon Energy, EOG Resources, Inc., and SM Energy.

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The overall area included for the development of these wells constitutes 1.5 million acres of land, all of which falls under the treaties established under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1876. The Operator Group will use "directional, vertical, horizontal and other drilling techniques . . . to develop infrastructure to support oil and gas production in the project area including: well pads, roads, pipelines, power lines, compressor stations, electrical substations, and ancillary facilities such as water supply wells and water disposal facilities . . . and the companies making up this Operator Group have requested year-round drilling to protect wildlife species in the project area, according to a press release drafted by Atty. Mario Gonzalez, who represents the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe and other tribes affected by this land grab.

For the time being, at least, Atty. Gonzalez's legal efforts are focused on the public lands (state and federal properties), that are being proposed to be planted in Converse County. Atty. Gonzalez told this writer in a series of telephone interviews, however, that sooner or later, the tribes involved must take a good look at the desecration of the land wrought by all this fracking and its consequences and must take legal action against this manifest destiny of the petroleum industry. This land is protected under treaty law and even if private landowners agree to the terms of leasing established between them and the Operator Group, if the Native American tribes in this region are against this sort of 'so-called development', it is in direct conflict of treaty law and is indeed, illegal. What private landowners and the Operator Group establish as business dealings comes subordinate to what the tribes dictate in relation to the land and its intended usage.

The Lakota and other tribes in the region have a heartfelt devotion to The Earth Mother, and for the average tribal member of any of the tribes who live in this region, such rampant and blatant breaking of treaty law is heartbreaking. Of course, the white race has reneged on about 500 treaties established between Indian tribes and the U.S. government. So why should the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1876 see anything different?

In addition, Converse County is home to one commercially active uranium mine, the Smith Ranch/Highland Uranium Mine, operated by Cameco-owned Power Resources. The Smith Ranch/Highland Uranium Mine has been in continuous operation since early 1990's. It's the nation's largest in-situ leaching uranium mine in terms of production capacity and this mine has a production capacity of 5.5 million pounds of uranium per year.

For the monstrous Converse County fracking project, though, according to reports, this overall fracking initiative could unlock 1.37 billion barrels of oil and 5.79 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and create about 8,000 jobs over the 40-year life of the project. But already, contamination of ground water, contamination of the Cheyenne River and other waterways, as well as people getting sick have resulted from the fracking wells already established and operating. Also, there are agricultural concerns throughout this region and clean water has been negated for the price of fracking for natural gas. Hunting and fishing rights for the tribes in this region are also affected by this fracking. In a lot of ways, according to Gonzalez, the new menu and the menu of old times is about the same. Many tribes still rely on hunting and fishing for their peoples' sustenance and diets.

Also, flaring, the process of burning off excess gas from fracking operations, and loose transmissions of gas into the atmosphere, have created a surplus of problems to not only the Native American communities in this region, but also, non-Native American communities, as well, according to Gonzalez.

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As has already been stated, the white race and in particular, Uncle Sam, have been egregious treaty breakers of these two treaties the federal and state governments have held with the Sioux since the mid-19 th Century. In 1866, the Sioux bands were engaged in a war with the United States in the Powder River country (which encompasses much of the states of Montana and Wyoming). This war's impetus was that the United States was attempting to build a road through the 1851 treaty lands, which the Sioux bands considered to be their best hunting grounds. This road, known as the Bozeman Trail, was intended to protect miners traveling to the Montana gold fields.

The next year, by the Act of July 20, 1867, U.S. Congress authorized the President to appoint a peace commission with the power to meet with the Indians then waging war against the United States so as to ascertain the causes of their acts of hostility and to enter into treaties with these Natives which would remove the causes of their complaint. Congress also wanted to establish security along the railroad line to the Pacific and other thoroughfares of travel to the west, to ensure peace and safety for the whites traveling by these routes. The commissioners were also instructed to examine and select a district or districts of to serve as a permanent reservation for all the Indians residing east of the Rocky Mountains. The peace commissioners (according to the preamble of the 1868 treaty) consisted of Lieutenant-General William T. Sherman, General William S. Harney, General Alfred H. Terry, General C.C. Augur, J.B. Henderson, Nathaniel G. Taylor, John B. Sanborn, and Samuel F. Tappan.

The next year, the Fort Laramie Treaty of April 29, 1868, was ratified by Congress. This treaty established peace between the Sioux bands and the United States and established a 26 million acre reservation (the Great Sioux Reservation) for the "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Sioux bands. This treaty also provided that no future cessation of the reservation would be valid without the signatures of three-fourths of the adult male population of the Sioux bands. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 also provided the Sioux bands to have hunting and fishing rights of their 1851 treaty lands westward to the summits of the Bighorn Mountains and southward to the Republican river so long as the Buffalo ranged in such numbers as to justify a chase.

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)
 

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