On April 26, 1991, an article was released from the Medill News Service entitled, “lnouye Suggests Study of Sioux Land Claims.” In that article Senator Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, was reported as asking South Dakota’s congressional delegates to discuss forming a commission to study the Sioux Black Hills land claim. Senator Inouye proposed a nine person Presidential Commission, with three members each to be appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and the President. Such a commission would be charged with conducting a “comprehensive examination of whether federally held lands in the Black Hills taking area, particularly lands of religious significance, should be restored to the Sioux Nation.” The intent was to have the commission hold hearings on the land claim before issuing any recommendations to resolve the dispute. It was also reported that Senator Inouye would do nothing if the South Dakota delegation was opposed to such a presidential commission.
The article also pointed to the Episcopal Church’s role of leadership in recommending such a commission, given the tension that surrounded the controversial Bradley Bill and Stephens proposal. The Episcopal Church’s calling for such a commission grew out of earlier attempts to act as an agent of reconciliation in encouraging resolution on this ongoing and unresolved issue within the state.
Coincidentally, the Governors council on Reconciliation met on Monday, April 29th. As was reported in The Rapid City Journal, the Governor’s Council unanimously endorsed the formation of such a presidential committee in 1ight of Senator Inouye’s initiative. The resolution was forwarded to the Governor with the important caveat that the council’s support of the commission concept did not mean that members were taking a position on land claims but did send a clear message to South Dakota’s congressional delegation to support the call for dialogue and understanding. Support from the South Dakota congressional delegation is considered crucial for the success of such a commission.
Since the Governor’s Council on Reconciliation endorsement of the Presidential Commission, there have been responses from Senators Daschle and Pressler, as well as Congressman Johnson and Governor Mickelson. Initial reactions suggest that in all probability they will not be supportive of such a commission.
Following the appearance of the articles on Senator lnouye and the endorsement of the Governor’s Council for Reconciliation for a Presidential Commission, I have received letters and telephone calls both in support and critical of the Episcopal Church’s leadership role in calling for dialogue and discussion which could eventuate in deepened understanding with the possibility of some resolution on this issue. This article is not only a response to that support and criticism but also to call us as a Church to understand what has and has not been said by virtue of diocesan, General Convention and Association of Christian Churches actions and, more importantly, a call for the Church to continue its role as an agent of reconciliation. In what follows I shall attempt to describe briefly the background concerning the Church’s role in calling for such a Presidential Commission as well as suggesting that churches throughout the diocese reflect on this issue theologically. In making this suggestion I will provide some concluding discussion questions that I hope will prove helpful in an attempt to better understand the Church’s role and responsibility in this matter.
In 1987, as a result of a Niobrara Convocation resolution, Resolution 018(S) came to the floor of our Diocesan Convention, held in Rapid City. The essence of the resolution read:
Resolved, that the Diocese of South Dakota submit the following resolution to the 1988 General Convention of the Episcopal Church:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, pursuant to the action of the 1985 General Convention in its resolution B007a requests that a panel of Diocesan Chancellors be appointed by the Presiding Bishop to assist the Great Sioux Nation through his Blue Ribbon Task Force on Indian Affairs to assist in the recovery of lost treaty rights, and meeting the needs of education, jobs, and health services, for all Native Americans; in all forums, local, state, and national, both public and private.
This particular resolution proved to be controversial and generated a good bit of feeling and discussion. The resolution was passed and since that time efforts have been made to address each of the four areas outlined in the resolution. Specifically, the following actions took place subsequent to Diocesan Convention in an attempt to follow up on the mandate of Diocesan Convention with regard to the treaty rights portion of R.018S.
Resolution 018(S) was taken to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which met in Detroit in July 1988. where it was adopted unanimously by both houses and resulted in other resolutions calling for the Episcopal Church to stand in solidarity with all Native American and Alaskan persons in calling for advocacy and support of investigation of treaty rights. Following the 1988 General Convention the Western Diocesan Chancellors requested, through resolution, that the Presiding Bishop support the call for a Presidential Commission “to resolve the conflict in South Dakota over the Black Hills.”
At the state level, I presented R.018(S) to the judicatories of the Association of Christian Churches (American Baptist Church of the Dakotas, Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, Diocese of Rapid City (Roman Catholic), Diocese of Sioux Falls (Roman Catholic), Diocese of South Dakota, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church). They in turn presented it to the churches for which they have responsibility and at the annul meeting of the Association of Christian Churches in Rapid City on April 3-4, 1989, adopted the following:
There are four issues that we identify from the perspective of social and economic justice that require resolution and understanding:
- Treaty rights. This is the base which must be acknowledged and which must find some equitable resolution.
- Unemployment on the reservations. The consequences of this reality are a series of subsequent societal problems including family disintegration, substance abuse and the loss of cultural identities.
- Health services. Facilities, personnel and programs all need attention for present services do not meet medically acceptable standards.
- Education. There are no opportunities for personal or social choices if persons have no marketable skills or perspectives on their heritage and possibilities.
It is our belief that these four issue areas, if addressed, will begin to lead to actions consistent with historical documents and current intentions. Possible goals of dialogue between and among South Dakota’s residents would include:
- Shared attention to the issues across racial/ethnic boundaries.
- Awareness that all segments of society are affected by the needs of one part of society.
- The reduction of tensions as Indian and non-Indian persons struggle with varied expressions of one humanity.
- The development of coalitions around specific sub-theme work areas as persons learn to trust one another and find respect in variant attempts to address common problems.
We therefore call upon the people of South Dakota to consider this statement and to address these issues with the goal that the actions suggested become reality.
With the support of the General Convention, the Western Diocesan Chancellors and the Association of Christian Churches, I presented the Association of Christian Churches’ statement to Senator Inouye and Congressman Morris Udall while attending a meeting of the National Council of Indian Work held in Washington D.C. My presentation to Senator Inouye and Congressman Udall was favorably received. They suggested that I talk to the congressional leaders of South Dakota, given the fact that they would not act on the call for a presidential commission without the South Dakota congressional delegates either agreeing to or not blocking such a proposal. I visited with Senators Pressler and Daschle, as well as Congressman Johnson, given this suggestion. The reaction was mixed but each of our congressional leaders said they would take the resolution under advisement. Subsequent to those meetings I did hear from each of our congressional leaders stating that they could not support such a resolution. Senator Inouye also contacted each of our congressional leaders urging them to support a Presidential Commission which could lead to appropriate legislation.
It is important to note that in Resolution 018(S), the Association of Christian Churches statement, the Western Chancellors’ resolution, the National Church’s resolution, and in my own attempts to bring about dialogue and understanding, there has never been direct support of any particular legislation. This is important because there has been some confusion whether the Church has supported the Bradley Bill, the Stephen’s proposal or any other particular bill or legislation. The Church has not and will not support any particular bill. The Church will continue, however, to support any and all efforts to promote reconciliation borne of dialogue, conversations and a presentation of the facts.
The actions of the Diocese and the larger Church since 1987 have been consistent with this principle. It is unfortunate and indicative of the need for such understanding that this has been a source of misunderstanding given past attempts to clarify explicitly what the Church has and has not said and done.
To reiterate, the Episcopal Church in South Dakota and the Association of Christian Churches in South Dakota do not support the Bradley Bill or the Stephens proposal, or any other particular piece of legislation. The Church in South Dakota and the Association of Christian Churches, as well as General Convention of the Episcopal Church, does support any and all attempts for the just settlement of treaty rights and pledges its resources, prayers and work in recognizing that there can be no reconciliation without a firm foundation of justice embodied in legal, civil and human rights.