Environment | National

Native Sun News: Venerated Lakota site put up on auction block





The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy, Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.


Lying in the heart of the Black Hills, the majestic Pe Sla is one of the few ceremonial sites of the Lakota virtually untouched by commercial expansion. Next month, however, the land “owned” by the Reynolds family goes up for sale to the highest bidders. PHOTO COURTESY/RIVEREARTH.COM

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA –– A Native American spiritual refuge in the heart of the Black Hills continues to face utter decimation.

Almost 2,000 acres of the land known as “Pe Sla” by the area’s original inhabitants – the Lakota – are slated to be auctioned off on Aug. 25. The move would potentially open up the scenic, pristine prairie to development by non-Native Americans, spelling the end of one of the last quiet vestiges of traditional Lakota worship in the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa.

Translated to English, “Pe Sla” means “Old Baldy,” a reference to the sprawling prairie’s sudden but natural juxtaposition against the heavy forest cover of Paha Sapa. The 4,000-acre rolling expanse of hills and meadows is situated approximately 25 miles due west of Rapid City and is primarily undeveloped private ranchland, with a portion being public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The culturally significant mecca is also currently the subject of a road-improvement project initiated by Pennington County commissioners in 2004. South Rochford Road, which cuts a curved path through the center of Pe Sla from the town of Rochford to the Deerfield Lake recreation area, is being considered for paving, realignment and drainage-structure additions. Known as the South Rochford Road Project, the proposed improvements to the 12-mile stretch of gravel road are necessary to facilitate better year-round access to Rochford from Deerfield Lake, officials say.

Through a joint effort with the South Dakota Department of Transportation and Pennington County, the Federal Highway Administration is in the process of preparing a South Rochford Road Project environmental impact statement (EIS). In addition to the potential environmental effects of an upgrade, according to state Transportation Department Environmental Manager Terry Keller, the administration is examining the possible cultural effects of the three road project alternatives under consideration: taking no action, improving the existing alignment, and making improvements to a new alignment.

“(The alternatives) have to compete against each other to see which is the best one,” Keller told Native Sun News in April. And “one of the alternatives that has to be considered all the way through is to do nothing because there are times when doing nothing is the best option for the environment.” The projected completion date of the study is late summer 2014.

Leonard and Margaret Reynolds, whose predecessors bestowed the family name upon Pe Sla, currently own the tract of land up for sale. The open plain is referred to as “Reynolds Prairie” within non-Native American circles.

The Hill City couple did not respond to a request for comment.

For centuries before European invasion, the Lakota held their Wiping of the Tears ceremony undisturbed at Pe Sla. The sacred ceremony was performed every spring and helped the Oyate as well as the land, or Maka Ina (earth), cleanse and rejuvenate.

According to the Rev. Linda Kramer, founding director of Borderlands Education & Spiritual Center, which is located on Pe Sla, tribes would need around $10 million to secure the parcel up for grabs next month. Kramer said the Reynolds family has partitioned the land into five plots for saleability.

If tribes are unable to raise the money by Aug. 25 to purchase the plots and thereby protect their common vested interest in Pe Sla, the area will be open to commercial development, she said.

“I don’t know if (any tribes) can get together on getting the money together before August,” said Kramer, who was adopted by the Sicangu Lakota, or Rosebud Sioux Tribe, in a Hunka, or Making of Relatives, ceremony.

Borderlands Education & Spiritual Center, a component of the 135-acre Borderlands Ranch, was established by Kramer in an effort to assist the Lakota in protecting and preserving Pe Sla.

However, she said the auction “will be a devastating thing” and that she can’t protect Pe Sla anymore due to a lack of funds.

“The only thing positive about the auction is that the non-tribal people who might be interested in purchasing this land might be too scared to do that based on the status of Rochford Road being questionable,” Kramer said.

According to Sicangu Lakota elder Albert White Hat, Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community Chairman Stanley R. Crooks have been discussing the matter of buying land at Pe Sla on behalf of their respective tribes in South Dakota and Minnesota.

“But I don’t know where they are at with the talks,” said White Hat. “(The people) are hoping that the two leaders will do something because we have to in order to save the Pe Sla.”

White Hat says if the land is sold to non-Native Americans, the Lakota may not be allowed access to the site anymore. “That’s always been my fear,” he added.

For additional information about Pe Sla, visit Kramer’s website at www.borderlandsranch.org.

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at editor@nsweekly.com)

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