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Tribal Historical Overview - Self-Determination

Intro | Migration | Contact | Treaties | Dakota Conflict |
Creation of Reservation | Federal Policy and Legislation |


The period between 1960 and 1980 became known as the era of self-determination. In the early 1970s, a new Indian activism created a national awareness of the severe economic conditions that tribal governments and reservations faced. Without income sufficient to meet basic needs, training or jobs, the economic depression on the reservation worsened. With the assistance of North Dakota’s senior senator, Milton R. Young, the Sioux tribe entered into a joint venture relationship with the Brunswick Corporation to manufacture camouflage nets under contract with the federal government. With a fluctuating labor force, employment figures at the plant varied from 150 to 300 annually. The Sioux Manufacturing Corporation operated successfully, and from at its high, the plant completed contracts annually in excess of $60 million. Having completed its fixed participation period in the government’s minority small-business set-aside program, the company diversified. In 1986, Dakota Tribal Industries, a 100 percent tribally-owned company, was created and began the manufacture of military helmets and camouflage netting. In the late 1970s the tribe added an economic stimulus with the assistance of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), by establishing a small shopping center complex on the reservation. The shopping center featured a small cafe, laundromat, grocery store, and gas station. Because of the Tribe’s location to Devils Lake, Sully’s Hill National Game Reserve, and the declaration of the old military fort at Fort Totten as a national historic site, tourism became a positive factor for the community.

From the period of allotment through the 1930s, millions of acres of Indian trust land went out of Indian ownership. Because few Indians made wills and died without providing for the division of land, a problem of “fractionated heirship” arose. As the years progressed, claims for shares were so numerous and small, that it virtually made land lease payment administratively impossible. In 1983 Congress passed the Indian Land Consolidation Act, to deal directly with this situation on the reservation. This Act permitted tribes to receive ownership of small shares of land (if that land represented less than 2 percent interest and had earned less than $100 in the previous year) from deceased tribal members. Because of the “checkerboard” pattern of Indian and non Indian land ownership on Indian reservations creating numerous jurisdictional problems, the Act provided an opportunity for tribes to reacquire portions of their reservation land base.

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