Morgan: Accept Black Hills financial award

Morgan: Accept Black Hills financial award
People often think there is little economic opportunity on South Dakota Indian reservations.

Lance Morgan would love to have the chance to prove them wrong.

One of his biggest ideas � a plan that may offer the most financial prosperity to South Dakota's indigenous people � usually raises the most controversy.


Not among South Dakota's whites. It's the state's Indian people who find the plan objectionable.

Morgan, president and chief executive officer of Ho Chunk, Inc., the economic development corporation of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, believes it's time for South Dakota Native Americans to seriously consider that the Black Hills will never be returned to them.

Decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court awarded tribes hundreds of millions of dollars to settle this dispute over the Black Hills. So far, Native Americans have refused to accept payment for land they consider sacred. "I think it's time to look at accepting that reward," Morgan said Friday at a conference sponsored by the Institute of American Indian Studies titled "From Termination to Sovereignty: A 50-Year Retrospective on National Indian Policy."

Morgan and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, were co-panelists at a discussion held Friday at the Al Neuharth Media Center on the USD campus. Their talk focused on a new era of sovereignty.

"If I understand correctly, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that South Dakota Indian tribes should receive $800 million for the taking of the Black Hills by white people, but so far, they have turned that settlement down, because they want the Black Hills back," Morgan said.

The chances of white people ever being ordered to leave the Black Hills are nil, he said. Indian people, he said, would be better off taking the money.

"You could invest the money, and by just using the interest alone, you could buy back as much Black Hills property as possible, and I think you could buy back the entire reservation areas in South Dakota quite quickly."

Such ownership of property, Morgan said, would represent a giant step toward sovereignty for South Dakota Indian people.

"There's a lot of opposition to that idea," said Cook-Lynn, who is professor emeritus of English and Native American Studies at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, WA. "I think that might be a lawyer's dream; an economist's dream, but it's not what South Dakota is ever going to accept, so what we have to do is hang on."

Morgan, who earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Nebraska in 1990 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1993, reminded the audience of the economic potential in Indian country.

"We could buy a company, internalize what we used to pay in taxes, and we could use those funds to pay the company's debt service," he said.

Great opportunities also exist if tribes could either purchase or launch their own insurance company.

"They make most of their money on stocks and bonds and investments which they have to pay taxes on," he said. "I'm thinking that tribes are perfect for those kinds of things, so if I ever get enough money, I'd like to do some of

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these things."

South Dakota's Native Americans have to remember, as they make the journey toward sovereignty, that money talks.

"This is America," Morgan said. "We were a nobody until we got big enough to be somebody economically in our neck of the woods. It's not everything; it's not how we define ourselves, but it's how others define us."

Cook-Lynn worries that Native Americans may be focusing not on the development of businesses, but rather in the marketing of their spiritual lives.

"I happen to think that we have no business proselytizing," she said. "That's no part of the Lakota or Dakota culture. So, sharing the message with everybody is a Christian attitude, and that's fine. But I think there are some religions that don't thrive from that sort of thing, and I'm really offended by some of the things that are going on spiritually and religiously."

In the traditional sense, many Indian rituals and ceremonies derive from mythology and specific places or natural phenomenon.

"Ritual ceremonies are connected to very, very old ideas about this universe," she said, "and a lot of us have forgotten all of that stuff. So, anybody who knows the background of these things or knows the language is just offended by all of this.

"I do think we lose a lot in the process by trying to have a spiritual life," Cook-Lynn said.

Morgan said it's easy for people to suffer harm to their identity based on their beliefs.

"People start to differentiate themselves, and some may start to elevate themselves based on what they believe in," he said. "I think that leads to negativity in a community, especially in a fast-changing environment. I think culture can be a weapon against people. I think that's really terrible.

"I hate the hypocrisy of being a spiritual person and using one's spiritual side to put others down," he said. "I think that happens a lot."

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