Black Hills Sacred Site Sparks Strong Words, Legal Battle

The Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) Nations successfully purchased a small chunk of land in the Black Hills, land sacred to their people. But they still face battles, both over the land’s legal status and white politician’s condescending attitudes.

A quick historical recap: The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 affirmed Lakota ownership of the Black Hills and closed it to whites. Whites came illegally anyway, found gold, and provoked a war. By 1877, less than 10 years after the treaty, the U.S. government claimed the Black Hills, forcing the Lakota off their sacred lands onto much less productive land.

In 2012, a group of Native nations raised $9 million to buy 2,300 acres in the Black Hills at the sacred site known as Pe’ Sla. So far, so good.

At this point, the government can classify the land in one of two categories: trust status or fee status. Under trust status,the federal government technically owns the land and holds it in trust for the Native nation. The nation has sovereignty on the trust lands and does not pay taxes. If the land is in fee status, it means the tribe owns the land but has to pay property taxes on it (in this case, about $80,000 a year) and state laws, not tribal sovereignty, applies.

Determining the land status is a lengthy process. The Oceti Sakowin Nation has applied to put the land in trust status. The state of South Dakota is officially opposing the request, and doing so in patronizing terms.According to an Associated Press story headlined: Sioux tribes push to protect sacred Black Hills site Pe’ Sla, the state’s opposition stems in part from jurisdictional concerns. “The state contends that tribes can already use Pe’ Sla as a sacred site, while it remains subject to state law,” it said.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard attended a tribal council meeting at the Rosebud Reservation at offended people by criticizing the tribe’s decision to spend its money to buy and maintain the sacred site in the first place. According to the AP story, he told the Council:

“You have many tribal members who have needs here on the reservation, and if grandma needs housing, or if grandma needs food, or if grandma needs transportation, grandma doesn’t need you to spend tribal resources on a parkland setting 200 miles away for religious use or for buffalo agricultural use.”

The Minnesota-based Indian Land Tenure Foundation helped with purchasing Pe’ Sla. In an email to supporters, Foundation President Cris Stainbrook (Oglala Dakota) fired back at Daugaard’s comments.

Governor Daugaard’s comments are condescending and racist. They reflect a complete disregard for American Indian people to control their destiny and demonstrate total ignorance of the spiritual and cultural importance of Pe’ Sla and Paha Sapa (the Black Hills). The Indian Land Tenure Foundation will continue to support the Oceti Sakowin Nations throughout the process for appealing the governor’s decision.

To expand on Stainbrook’s criticism a bit further, Gov. Daugaard’s logic has major blind spots. First, he questions the need to buy land 200 miles away from Rosebud when “grandma” has so many other needs. Daugaard fails to recognize that the reason “grandma” is in Rosebud, remote from Pe’ Sla, is because the U.S. government broke the Treaty of Fort Laramie and moved grandma’s ancestors far away. The Lakota are simply trying to get back to their spiritual home.

Second, Gov. Daugaard’s comments imply concern for the wellbeing of Rosebud’s grandmothers in a way that seems cynical. He faults the Rosebud Tribal Council for grandma’s lack of food, housing, and transportation. (In effect, he is wagging his finger at the tribe in an apparent effort to shame leaders into changing their decisions.) The Governor fails to own the fact that one big reason the Rosebud Lakota are so broke and broken is because the U.S. government took their valuable land, dumped them on barren land, and did what it could to eradicate their language, culture, and religion.

Does Daugaard have any concern at all for the grandmas on the reservation? He seems to have little insight into how the historical trauma inflicted on generations of Lakota people continues, let alone show a willingness or desire to help.

For more, see Indian Country Today: Pe’ Sla Brings SD Governor to Rosebud, Sparks Outrage

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