Discoveries: ‘The Lakotas and the Black Hills’


The Lakotas and the Black Hills

The Struggle for Sacred Ground

Jeffrey Ostler

Viking: 228 pp., $22.95

Despite the presence of Mt. Rushmore, the Lakotas, who have lived in that region since the late 1700s and early 1800s, believe that at least a portion of the Black Hills is still rightfully theirs. In 1877, the Lakotas rejected the $102 million the government offered them for the land, saying “The Black Hills are not for sale.” In 1985, New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley introduced a bill that would return 18% of the Black Hills to the Lakotas but it failed to pass. Today, many Lakotas say that the Black Hills are sacred ground. Jeffrey Ostler describes the region, its history and topography. He tries to present a balanced view of negotiations between the Lakota leaders and the federal government, but it remains difficult to understand the government’s obstinacy in the face of so enormous an opportunity to right centuries-old wrongs. “Whatever the odds of the Lakotas regaining the Black Hills, the struggle for their return continues a long tradition. Black Elk, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Fast Thunder, the Ghost Dancers — none of these achieved their immediate goal. Even so, their commitment to the Black Hills laid the groundwork for later progress.” Ostler’s even tone makes an elegant, eloquent case for the Lakota.

Murder in the High Himalaya

Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape From Tibet

Jonathan Green

PublicAffairs: 236 pp., $26.95

In 2006, just 19 miles east of Mt. Everest, Chinese border guards shot and killed 17-year-old Kelsang Namtso, a Tibetan nun seeking refuge in India. Cho Oyu, the peak on which she was killed, is often used as an escape route to India. The shooting was witnessed by dozens of Western climbers and raised international outcry over Chinese oppression of Tibetans. Jonathan Green’s descriptions of the scenery of the High Plateau are breathtaking, even on the page — a region of 46,000 glaciers, “the biggest ice fields outside of the Arctic and Antarctic”; “forests of juniper, oak, ash, spruce, cypress, and jungles of rhododendron”; a “vast wilderness” full of snow leopards and Tibetan Blue Bear, monkeys and red pandas, giant griffon vultures and golden eagles. In this landscape the bullets of the Chinese soldiers reverberate. “The bright snow mushroomed into a brilliant red stain around her body,” Green writes of the shooting. “She was minutes from the border.”

Surviving the Dragon

A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years Under Chinese Rule

Arjia Rinpoche

Rodale: 266 pp., $24.99

In 1998, Arjia Rinpoche, believed to be the reincarnation of the founder of the Gelupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, dressed in Western clothes, escaped Tibet through Beijing and came to the United States. This is the story of his childhood in Chinese-occupied Tibet. When he was 8, in 1958, Chinese Communist soldiers came to the monastery where he lived with his family, tortured and arrested hundreds of monks. They took his family to prison but left the young monk, forcing him to attend a Chinese school and work at a labor camp for 16 years. After many decades, he chose a life of exile over “the Communist charade. I could no longer ignore the conflict between the government’s interests and my own religious vows.” “How can I continue to believe that Tibetans have reason for hope?” he writes. “The five stars on the Chinese flag could truly stand for the equality of China’s ethnic groups — the Han majority and the Tibetan, Manchurian, Mongolian and Muslim minorities — just as the 50 stars on the U.S. flag stand for fifty separate but united states. Like those white stars in a field of blue, China’s golden stars would shine for free peoples who share the daunting but glorious duty of governing a free country.”

Salter Reynolds is a writer in Los Angeles.