It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 7 years since the start of the Lakota Lands Recovery Project (LLRP). Regular reflection is a cental component to Village Earth’s praxis approach to community empowerment. In the spirit of Paulo Freire, the term praxis refers to an ongoing cycle of analysis, action, and reflection that has the power to reveal the root causes of oppression as well as the path out. The LLRP itself was launched after nearly two years of facilitating meetings across the reservation where we asked community groups about their vision for the future. By in large, this vision was about getting out of the overcrowded and deteriorating government housing projects and back onto their lands. Guided by this vision, the LLRP was formed, serving as a grassroots support organization to grassroots initiatives to recover, protect and utilize their lands on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Allied in praxis with people across the reservation we’ve learned many things about the tangled web of history, policy, bureaucracy, and trauma that Residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation and reservations across this country face on a day to day basis. This has evolved into three central pillars of our strategy; 1. Supporting Lakota’s who are already utilizing their lands, 2. Providing education and outreach on land-recovery, land-use, and 3. Advocating for the rights of Native Americans across the nation to utilize their own lands. Below I’ll try to briefly update you on the ways we are supporting each pillar.
The focus of our efforts for the first pillar has been in supporting the development of the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC), a cooperative we helped establish in 2008 to market and distribute grassfed and field harvested buffalo meat raised by Lakota families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Shortly after it’s incorporation in the State of South Dakota, we helped to form a regional distributor for Northern Colorado Allied Natural Meats (ANM), Ltd. For the past two years, ANM has been buying buffalo raised by the LBCC and distributing throughout Northern Colorado which is helping to generate income for these small producers on the Reservation to cover their expenses and grow their herds. It can also be purchased online at www.lakotabuffalocaretakers.org. We’ve continued our yearly donations of Buffalo in partnership with the Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch in Rye, Colorado. We’ve also been working with a private donor and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Elderly Assistance Program to distribute buffalo meat raised by the LBCC to elders across the reservation. We are happy to announce the re-organization and re-birth of the Lone Buffalo Project. It is now in the control of Henry Red Cloud and his Tiwahe. We are excited that this reorganization will breathe new life and energy into this project. Also, we are looking forward to assisting Virgil Bush to start up a new buffalo ranch on the reservation this fall. Virgil has been a long-time supporter of Buffalo reintroduction on Pine Ridge and after our recent fundraising tour in Germany and Switzerland, we are looking forward to helping him establish a herd of his own.
For the second pillar of our approach, we have recently completed a project in partnership with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) to simplify the maze of bureaucracy, forms, and applications necessary for Native land-recovery and use across Indian country. This work will be appearing in a forthcoming edition of the “Message Runner,” the ILTF’s newsletter. We also continue our work answering questions and distributing information to Lakota’s interested in consolidating and utilizing their lands. In fact, we have run out of copies of our highly popular strategic land planning manual/atlas. We are currently looking for funding to update and print more copies. This fall, we are also planning on developing an online course in Native Strategic Land Planning to be offered to make this information available to Indian allottees across the country.
Lastly, for the third pillar, we continue to weigh in on the debate regarding Native American land-use, in particular putting pressure on the government to honor their trust responsibility by processing appraisals and land exchange applications in a timely manner, a process that now takes nearly 4 years! We are happy to announce that because of our research, the Head of the BIA acknowledged that the land application “system is broken” at a major conference on Native American Agriculture. We plan to continue raising awareness of the general public and putting pressure on policy makers to lower the barriers for Native Americans to live on and utilize their own lands!