Publication Date

April 2018


Justine Quijada


Religion, College of Social Studies


English (United States)


Examining the history of the Black Hills land dispute and sacred land jurisprudence in the United States, this thesis demonstrates how the contentious relationship between the American state and indigenous communities has disrupted Native American efforts to preserve their sacred sites and practice their religions. The fight over the Black Hills, like other sacred land conflicts, has arisen in the context of the United States? settler-colonialism, the conceptual framework underlying the country?s pursuits of accruing resources and establishing national identity through the elimination of indigenous communities and their culture on colonized lands. However, institutional structures alone do not initiate this violence; through necropolitics, the processes of excluding communities from the accepted public, individual actors further the broader goals of the state. Within this multifaceted interplay between settler-colonialism and the necropolitical exercises of decision-makers within the system, sacred land disputes reflect nodes of power inequalities between the United States and its indigenous communities. Specifically, the conflicts stem from a denial of indigenous access and authority over their sites, a product of past necropolitical efforts to fulfill the settler-colonialist state?s interests. Translating the broader theoretical frameworks, in which the institutional structures and individual actors operate within, into notions of access and authority helps elucidate how present controversies stem from past actions. More importantly, these terms facilitate a normative discussion of how to resolve these disputes in a manner that properly restores indigenous communities? relationships with their sacred spaces. The thesis then considers how legislative and extralegal action can address issues of authority through impactful policies, such as land returns and co-management plans. Afterwards, this project concludes by applying these insights to the contemporary efforts to protect Standing Rock and Bears Ears. Overall, this thesis strives to revitalize discourse surrounding sacred land conflicts with an unconventional case study, the Black Hills land dispute, and a novel combination of theoretical approaches.



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