Political activist Russell Means, a founder of the American Indian Movement, says he and other members of Lakota tribes have renounced treaties and are withdrawing from the United States.
"We are now a free country and independent of the United States of America," Means said in a telephone interview. "This is all completely legal."
Means said a Lakota delegation on Monday delivered a statement of "unilateral withdrawal" from the United States to the U.S. State Department in Washington.
The State Department did not respond. "That'll take some time," Means said.
Meanwhile, the delegation has delivered copies of the letter to the embassies of Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and South Africa. "We're asking for recognition," Means said, adding that Ireland and East Timor are "very interested" in the declaration.
Other countries will get copies of the same declaration, which Means said also would be delivered to the United Nations and to state and county governments covered by treaties, including treaties signed in 1851 and 1868. "We're willing to negotiate with any American political entity," Means said.
The United States could face international pressure if it doesn't agree to negotiate, Means said. "The United State of America is an outlaw nation, we now know. We've understood that as a people for 155 years."
Means also said his group would file liens on property in parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming that were illegally homesteaded.
The Web site for the declaration, "Lakota Freedom," briefly crashed Thursday as wire services picked up the story and the server was overwhelmed, Means said.
Delegation member Phyllis Young said in an online statement: "We are not trying to embarrass the United States. We are here to continue the struggle for our children and grandchildren." Young was an organizer of Women of All Red Nations.
Other members of the delegation include Rapid City-area activist Duane Martin Sr. and Gary Rowland, a leader of the Chief Big Foot Riders.
Means said anyone could live in the Lakota Nation, tax free, as long as they renounced their U.S. citizenship. The nation would issue drivers licenses and passports, but each community would be independent. "It will be the epitome of individual liberty, with community control," Means said.
To make his case, Means cited several articles of the U.S. Constitution, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and a recent nonbinding U.N. resolution on the rights of indigenous people.
He thinks there will be international pressure. "If the U.S. violates the law, the whole world will know it," Means said.
Means' group is based in Porcupine on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
It is not an agency or branch of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Means ran unsuccessfully for president of the tribe in 2006.
Lakota tribes have long claimed that the U.S. government stole land guaranteed by treaties - especially in western South Dakota. "The Missouri River is ours, and so are the Black Hills," Means said.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 awarded the tribes $122 million as compensation, but the court did not award land. The Lakota have refused the settlement. (As interest accrues, the unclaimed award is approaching $1 billion.)
In the late 1980s, then-Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey introduced legislation to return federal land to the tribes, and California millionaire Phil Stevens also tried to win support for a proposal to return the Black Hills to the Lakota.
Contact Bill Harlan at 394-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org