Standing Rock members reimbursed for land 8-07

FORT YATES, N.D. (AP) – Decades after their land was flooded for a Missouri River reservoir, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are getting payments for their loss.

More than 100 tribal members who were displaced from their homes by the Oahe reservoir will share about $2.5 million. The tribe is providing the money from revenue at its Prairie Knights casino.
Tribal members picked up checks Thursday for up to $40,000.

“This is the first time we’re ever getting justification for the land we lost,” said Doug White Bull. “This is still just a pittance, but at least it’s something.”

White Bull, 63, who was paid $5,000, said the money cannot make up for the loss of land.

“That was home. I grew up on river-bottom land, in a forest of giant cottonwood trees,” White Bull said. “I vividly remember it. Everything was there in the land for us.”

In the mid-1980s, a joint federal-tribal advisory committee decided the Indians had been underpaid for their land. In 1992, Congress set up federal trusts for the Standing Rock tribe and the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold reservation near the Garrison Dam.

The perpetual trusts are used for education, economic development, social welfare and other tribal needs. Tribal officials say none of the trust money is earmarked for individuals, and the payments issued Thursday are intended to fill that need.

“Before this, the people that actually lost the land were never compensated,” said Avis Little Eagle, the Standing Rock tribal vice chairwoman. “That’s what this is all about. A lot of our elders are dying, and that’s deeply saddening. This needed to happen now, so they could see something for what they lost.”

The one-time payments go to enrolled members who owned 40 acres or more of land that was flooded by the reservoir. Pending certification by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, those “first-generation” owners can get $40,000 from the tribe. They have until Jan. 1 to apply for payment.

If the original owners have died, their children are eligible for payment. If the children are 60 or older, they can get up to $20,000. Families with more than one child older than 60 will evenly split the $20,000.

The tribal council ratified the Elderly Payment Plan at last month’s meeting. Mary Louise Defender Wilson and Patti Kelly helped shape the resolution and pushed it at council meetings.

“This is a long time coming,” Wilson said. “We can’t ever properly repay everyone who lost land and lost money, but this is a step in the right direction.”

So far, Wilson and Kelly have found 125 people who will be paid. Eleven first-generation owners still live on the Standing Rock reservation.

One of them, Beverly Howard, remembers when her home was flooded.

“I couldn’t bear to watch it,” Howard said Thursday. “That was a terrible time.”

Howard said promises of payments have been made many times.

“For a long time, the money was always coming ‘tomorrow,”’ she said. “We were ‘Monday Elders’ or “First of the Month Elders.’ Now it’s finally done.”

Information from: Bismarck Tribune,