Archives For Black Hills

What happens when sacred lands go up for sale? That is the situation faced by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is being sold by its owners. Though long in private hands, tribes had been allowed access to perform necessary ceremonies, and this is now in question with the sale. In addition, the government of South Dakota is planning on paving a road right through the middle of the site, a move that is seen as sacrilegious. In response, a last-minute campaign to raise funds to purchase the land has been launched, but with only a few days to go they are still far short of their million-dollar goal.

“The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has designated $50,000 for the purpose of purchasing Pe’ Sla land.  By contributing to the effort of all the Sioux Tribes, we aim to purchase at least some of the tracts, if not all.  Many of the Sioux Tribes continue to exist in poverty and do not have a thriving casino-based economy as the media may have portrayed.  Yet we continue to fight for what is sacred, because it matters!”

Ruth Hopkins, writing for Indian Country Today, puts the importance of this land in context.

“Like many other Indigenous groups, our ceremonies are tied directly to the Universe and the natural cycles of Ina Maka (Mother Earth). Therefore, it only serves that Pe’ Sla, a location in the heart of the Black Hills that serves as a basis for our star maps, is also a sacred site where ceremonies must be observed each year. According to our beliefs, these rituals must be performed to keep the Universe in harmony and preserve the well being of all, Native and non-Native alike. You see, to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, Pe’ Sla is not merely prairie. Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray. The danger of the Oceti Sakowin losing Pe’ Sla is real, and imminent. Should Pe’ Sla pass into the hands of someone other than us, it’s highly likely that it will be developed. The State of South Dakota has expressed that it wants to use eminent domain to build a road right through the heart of Pe’ Sla. Development of Pe’ Sla would effectively cut off our access to it, and spell its destruction as a sacred site.”

Point of fact, this land was illegally taken from the Great Sioux Nation, and they have refused a settlement award (currently nearly 600 million dollars) for it because that would legally terminate demands for that land’s return. Native tribes across the country have been working for years to reclaim land that was taken from them in the name of greed or “integration,” and even when lands are “safely” in the hands of the federal government, that is no guarantee that the wishes of American Indian tribes will be respected.

Pe'Sla in the Black Hills (Photo:South Dakota Magazine/Bernie Hunhoff)

Pe’Sla in the Black Hills (Photo: South Dakota Magazine/Bernie Hunhoff)

The protection of Native sacred lands is an ongoing issue in Indian country, encroachments and construction on sacred lands often done in the arbitrary name of economic development, or sometimes just for simple convenience (to non-Native folks of course). For some politicians it seems very plain there is no such thing as sacred land at all. However, we know there are consequences and a price to the eradication or desecration of sacred ground, whether it is Tara in Ireland or the peaks in Arizona. We can only hope that some sort of reprieve emerges, and this holy site isn’t developed and destroyed. We have to ask ourselves what sort of nation, culture, are we, that blithely moves forward in destroying indigenous holy sites in the name of commerce while screaming about “religious freedom” on somewhat flimsy (and politically motivated) pretexts. When you sell a people’s sacred ground, what dignity or honor is left, what claim do we have to be human beings?

For updates on this issue, see the site Last Real Indians.