Morton Country resurrects Custer’s 7th Cavalry, Lakota assert treaty rights

Tipis set up at third camp along Highway 1806 in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

CANNON BALL, N.D. – My Minneconjou relatives — the Fights the Thunder and Poor Buffalos tiospayes — went with Sitting Bull to Canada after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. One of my Lakota aunties reminds us how they fought to preserve our way of life, our land, our water, our sacred places, our burial sites.

The Battle of the Greasy Grass, as it was known to Plains tribes, was a short three generations ago for my dad. I have a picture of him sitting beside his great-grandmother, Lucy Fights the Thunder, the wife of Mathew Poor Buffalo. She was a little girl when she went with her mother to the Greasy Grass River in 1876 to look for relatives who fought Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

Fast-forward a short three generations to the Standing Rock Reservation where the cavalry ghosts and indigenous spiritual ancestors live on. Today, an epic gathering of Lakota and their water protector-sacred site allies are occupying the Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone Camps near the Cannonball River in North Dakota in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,110 mile-long oil supply chain.

The standoff is the biggest news story in Indian Country. Scores of journalists of all stripes from around the world arrive daily. On Sunday, Oct. 23, I was in the Oceti Sakowin Camp to get a press pass when an announcement was made on the camp loud speaker: Go to the front line, now. Camp residents immediately left. I watched then followed the stream of cars along Highway 1806.

About three miles down the road, camp organizers declared indigenous eminent domain citing the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. This is one of the most significant actions yet regarding camp opposition to DAPL, a faceless entity, perhaps best visualized as Morton County Sheriff’s Office, DAPL private security, attack dogs, armored vehicles, batons, assault weapons and air surveillance.

To protect the new, third camp. “from overtly militarized law enforcement,” protesters have set up road blockades along Highway 1806, which Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network organizer has described as the “no surrender line.”

Eight tribal nations signed the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, including the Cheyenne, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Assiniboine and Crow tribes. All the tribes who signed the treaty live on reservations created from the original treaty lands.

“We stand for the water, we stand on our treaties, we stand for unci maka- we stand and face the storm,” said LaDonna Allard, Camp of the Sacred Stone, in a prepared statement. She’s had protectors on her land since April.

To get to the front lines and campsites, one typically travels through Mandan, N.D. – a city sign reads: “Where the West Begins.” Just 7 miles south of Mandan – named after the Mandan tribe – is the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, a shrine to the fort commanding officer, Custer. He built a home there in 1874. If you drive another 35 minutes, or so, south, one enters the land of Chief Sitting Bull, who led the attack against an ill-prepared Custer in Montana.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark paddled through this area in 1804 and 1806. They described abandoned earth lodge villages that had been plagued by smallpox. Today, the state park that takes care of Custer’s house, also encompasses the On-A-Slant village, the Mandan earth lodge village that was occupied for about 200 years. About 130 earth lodge village sites have been recorded along the Missouri River and its tributaries.

I am Lakota. I am also an enrolled citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. I live on the Fort Berthold Reservation, also created by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. My home is about 30 miles from the Knife River Earth Lodge Villages – where Lewis and Clark first met Sacagawea near present-day Stanton, N.D.

Yes, the Old West survives in North Dakota. As American Indians, we are still fighting to protect our lands and sacred sites. And, the take-Indian-land, the Custer mentality still exists. We see it in the actions of the Morton County Sheriffs office, which has used military might to intimidate unarmed camp warriors – men, women and children. The only proof of weapons and side arms I’ve seen on TV were carried by farmers and riot police.

Our treaties are still valid.

“We have never ceded this land,” said Braun of the IEN. “If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland.”


Jodi Rave Spotted Bear is an award-winning opinion writer, including awards and column writing recognition from Columbia University School of Journalism, Native American Journalists Association and the  Montana Newspaper Association. She earned her journalism degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder.