Environment | National

Native Sun News: Auction of sacred Black Hills site put on hold

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

First reported by Native Sun News a month and a half ago, nearly 2,000 acres of the 4,000-acre Pe’ Sla – a sacred Lakota site situated in the heart of Paha Sapa, or the Black Hills – was slated to be auctioned off Aug. 25. Two days in advance of the scheduled sale, however, the land’s owners abruptly canceled with no explanation. Though most of Pe’ Sla currently lies on private land, a study of the environmental and cultural impacts of a federally funded road improvement project cutting through its heart is currently under way and is expected to be completed by late summer 2014. In early April, NSN also first reported this story. PHOTO COURTESY/INTERESTED-PARTY.BLOGSPOT.COM

John Yellow Bird Steele, President of Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Pe’ Sla auction stalls
Oglala Sioux ask feds to intervene
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY — An Aug. 25 public sale of land at the Pe’ Sla Native American prayer site in the Black Hills of South Dakota was canceled after the top Oglala Lakota traditional and elected officials requested federal intervention. Brock Auction Co. Inc. announced the cancellation at the direction of the owners’ representative the day after the intervention request and just two days before the scheduled offering of Reynolds Prairie, or Pe’ Sla, advertised as “1,942 Acres of Prime Beautiful Black Hills Ranchland.”

In signing the written request on Aug. 22, Chief Oliver Red Cloud and Oglala Sioux Tribal Council President John Yellow Bird Steele said, “Due to the extremely short timeframe we have in addressing the auction of Pe’ Sla, we are under duress and have no alternative but to make this special request of you.”

Addressing a letter to Donald “Del” Laverdure, acting assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., through Robert Ecoffey, superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Pine Ridge Agency, the Lakota leaders stated: “We are writing to you, as trustee of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and protector of the tribe’s rights under its treaties, Article 8 of the 1877 Act and under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We need you to intervene in the auction of Pe’ Sla, that is scheduled for Aug. 25, 2012, by providing funds to the Oglala and other Sioux tribes to purchase the 1,900 acres of land that make up Pe’ Sla.”

Like all areas of the Black Hills, Pe’ Sla is very important to the Sioux Nations, the Oglala Sioux tribal president’s office noted in a public statement Aug. 26, explaining the request to the federal government.

“It is a ceremonial site for all seven bands of the Great Sioux Nation. It is located in the heart of the sacred Black Hills within the aboriginal territory of the Teton Sioux. Since time immemorial, the seven Teton Sioux bands, including the Oglala Sioux, have jointly used and occupied the 60-million-acre territory described in Article 5 of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty (11 Stat. 749), and including what is now known as the Black Hills of South Dakota,” the statement explains.

Sectioned into five 400-acre tracts for auction, the land takes its sale name from titleholders Leonard and Margaret Reynolds, whose address is in Hill City. Their predecessor, Joseph Reynolds, claimed the land under the Homestead Act of 1876 and passed it along through the Reynolds family, according to the tribe’s research.

However, the statement from the tribal president’s office stresses that the Great Sioux Nation has never ceded the Black Hills and maintains its claim on the area, based on treaty rights interpretation.

While signing the Aug. 22 letter, Steele noted: “The United States is a signatory of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights and bound to the provisions of that declaration. Not only that, they are bound to the Constitution of the United States, which states that treaties are the law of the land.

“The burial grounds of our forefathers are in those hills, and even if their remains are not visible, their spirits linger there. Our traditional headmen signed the treaties in good faith and it is our responsibility to stand behind their convictions. In my testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs this past June, I told them to give back the sacred Black Hills, the land that was stolen from us.”

For his part, Red Cloud, upon hearing the wording of the sales brochure for Reynolds Prairie ranches, said, “Who authorized this auction of Lakota land? I want to meet the people who did this. They violated the 1851 Treaty and the 1868 Treaty!”

Red Cloud is a traditional headman and the chairman of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council. His father was among the treaty negotiators.

The brochure further states: “Quite probably never before and quite possibly never again in our lifetime will there be such a historically important piece of the Black Hills up for Public Auction.”

Dubbing the place “heaven on earth” and “a South Dakota legend,” the auctioneers’ publicity makes no mention of Native American heritage and claims:
“This story begins in 1876, just two short years after General George Armstrong Custer led his historic expedition through the then almost unknown Black Hills in the Dakota Territory and what is today known as Reynolds Prairie.

“In 1876 Joseph Reynolds filed his first claim and homesteaded in what would become one of the Black Hills’ Crown Jewels, ‘Reynolds Prairie!’ He was followed by three more generations led by his son Fred who established a homestead in 1907 and built upon by Ivan Reynolds and his son Leonard and his wife Margaret.

“For 136 years, brave, strong, pioneering ranch families with names like Frazer, Shick, Erickson, Prickett, and of course the prairie’s namesake, the Reynolds, have forged the prairie into what it is today, one of the most beautiful, unspoiled sanctuaries in the entire Black Hills.”
The land has been estimated to have an approximate value of $10 million. It is about two miles north of Deerfield Lake and six miles south of Rochford, putting it 15 miles northwest of Hill City, or some 45 miles west of Rapid City by vehicle.

Withdrawal of the public sale offer has caused uncertainty among people who have spent months praying to defend the land from development and organizing to raise money for a tribal purchase of the property.

“There’s a lot of confusion right now and unknowns,” said Linda Kramer, an Episcopal priest who founded and directs Borderlands Ranch interfaith spiritual retreat adjacent to Reynolds Prairie.

“If it gives time for the tribes to pull together and make an offer that is good enough to get the land, then that’s a good thing,” she told Native Sun News. “If it just serves for other private buyers to do destructive things to the prairie, then it’s not a good thing. Because we don’t know that, it’s all speculation at this point.”

Kramer, a hunka adoptee of the Sicangu (Burnt Thigh) Lakota, or Rosebud Sioux, established Borderlands Education Spiritual Center as a component of the 135-acre Borderlands Ranch to assist the Lakota in protecting and preserving Pe’ Sla.

Following the auction’s cancellation, Pe’ Sla defenders continued vigils for protection of the site, many of which began with the announcement of the auction.

The Reynolds could not be reached for comment. They have used the land for ranching and do not allow people on it for spiritual ceremonies, according to neighbors. In contemporary history, Sun Dances and other ceremonies have been held at Borderlands and on U.S. Forest Service public lands near Deerfield Lake, which make up part of the estimated 4,000 acres of Pe’ Sla.

Attorney Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and co-founder of the Last Real Indians website, warned that the Reynolds Prairie lands are still considered to be up for private sale, even though the public offer has been withdrawn.

Iron Eyes, who is a fellow of the Bush Foundation in the Native Nations Rebuilders project, has guided the custom-content website to act as the recipient of donations in order “to help all the Sioux tribes” purchase Pe’ Sla. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has designated $50,000 for the purpose.

Oglala Lakota activist Karen Jumping Eagle, beseeching interested parties to sign an online petition to officials, said, “The auction was cancelled. However, we must secure and protect Pe’ Sla, sacred land in the Black Hills.”

At press time, the petition had more than 47,000 signatures, having garnered several thousand new names over the weekend. It states: “We call upon U.S. President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and the State of South Dakota to save this sacred Sioux land by designating it as a historical landmark or nature preserve. Please help return this sacred land to the Lakota Sioux people and to all tribal nations which hold Pe’ Sla sacred!”

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council slated a session Aug. 26 on the matter, but no quorum was reached.

During an Aug. 27 “historic conference call,” Cheyenne River Sioux activist Kyanne Dillabaugh urged people to call their elected representatives and convince tribal chairmen to take part in the Pe’Sla discussion.

Another Lakota activist, Larry Monterey, announced a “global prayer call to save Pe’ Sla, asking all human beings to join as one voice to call your Creator” at noon on Aug. 31. “Call out ‘Mitakuye Oyasin’ and then your prayer,” he said in an Internet social network post.

Related and equally disturbing to the Oglala and other community leadership is Pennington County’s initiative to pave the South Rochford Road that runs between Rochford and Deerfield Lake, through Pe’ Sla.

The Aug. 26 Oglala tribal president’s public statement cites a news article claiming the federal government earmarked $9 million for road improvement there in 2005.

“This ‘improvement’ was made without the knowledge of the Oglala Sioux and, more importantly, without the consultation required by Executive Order 13175,” the statement says.

“The Oglala Sioux Tribe is very much aware of their legal right to consultation under Executive Order 13175, as well as its predecessor executive order signed into law by former U.S. President William Clinton. Both require consultation with an affected tribe prior to any development within the lands of the Great Sioux Nation.

“In this instance, the Oglala Sioux denies the claim made by the FHA (Federal Highway Administration) that tribal consultations were held,” it continues. “In the very near future, the Oglala Sioux Tribe fully intends to contact the FHA, because even at this late date it is hoped that Pe’ Sla can be saved from further desecration.

“They need to have true, meaningful consultation with us,” Steele said in signing the federal intervention request.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation, Pennington County and the Federal Highway Administration are preparing a South Rochford Road Project environmental impact statement, which requires public consultation.

Noting that the project is conceived to improve access, the agencies have announced their interest in taking public comment on its potential impact on cultural resources: “Any information offered regarding archeological sites, historic sites and structures, places of religious and cultural importance, or locations that may be important in history or prehistory” should be directed to info@southrochfordroad.com.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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