Education | National

Native Sun News: Churches played role in sale of Indian school

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

This Google Earth map shows the existing developments on the land that was sold for profit by six churches. They were sold Rapid City Indian School lands at what some say are below market value.

Sioux San land sold dirt cheap
Churches snap up land and flip it
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News/Staff Writer

RAPID CITY — The Rapid City churches played an integral role in the passage of the 1948 legislation authorizing the federal government to “gift” the Indian school lands to the city, school district, and State National Guard. The original version of the legislation (H.R. 5651) authorized grants of Indian school lands to churches. The final version of the Act of May 20, 1948 (the “Act”) allowed purchase of Indian school lands for their “reasonable value,” by “church organizations for religious purposes.”

The day after Congress passed this act, but before it was formally signed into law, an article was published in the then Rapid City Daily Journal (May 11, 1948) title, “Sioux Indian School Land Grants to City Approved-National Guard, Schools, City, Catholic Church, other Religious Groups to Benefit.”

Sales of the Indian school lands to churches started almost immediately after the passage of the Act with the Catholic Church getting the first allocation directly across the street from Canyon Lake. Less than 10 years later, approximately 13 land sales had been made to nine different churches for a total of 183 acres of Indian school land sold for approximately $30,500.

The Canyon Lake Methodist Church, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and the Catholic Church have each kept their allocated Indian school land. The remaining six of the nine churches each sold all or part of their land allocation for development.

The Rapid City Indian Community has consistently expressed concern about the Indian school lands being sold to churches at below market value and then being resold for profit.

By 1954 the questions about these sales to local churches caused the U.S. Department of Interior Solicitor’s Office to issue an opinion letter. In the Solicitor’s Letter of November 29, 1954, it was clarified that these sales cannot be “donations” or be for a “nominal value,” but that the federal government needed to ensure the sales were made at “fair market value.”

“[If] such lands be sold to church organizations…the price…should be not less than that which competent appraisers would be of the opinion such lands would bring if sold in a voluntary transaction at arm’s length by private person.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church resold all of its Indian school lands, which now comprises the Cedar Hills Subdivision #1 housing and the Cedar Ridge Townhouses south of Stevens High School.

The Dakota Conference of Wesleyan Methodists received an allocation right next to the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s as well as an additional 60 acres. They kept the 60 acres of the Indian school land for its Cedar Canyon summer camp, but sold the other allocation which now comprises the Hillview #2 housing subdivision south of Stevens High School.

The Wesleyan Methodist Church of Sturgis received an allocation between these two churches and the Canyon Lake Methodist Church allocation. They also resold all of their allocation and that area is now known as the Beckham housing subdivision. (Refer to map on page one)

The Black Hills Bible School resold all of its allocation, one of the largest of any of the church plots at over 34 acres, which now comprises the entire Western Heights housing subdivision and the Pointe West Apartments by Stevens High School.

The American Indian Mission resold its two Indian school land allocations, one of which is now the Canyon Lake Senior Center. The other is now the housing off of Hillsview Drive south of Stevens High School.

At press time, Native Sun News has been unable to substantiate the actual existence and purpose of the American Indian Mission beyond the suggestion that it was an individual who created the “mission” to distribute bibles to the Native community.

The Presbyterian Church kept a plot for the current Westminster Presbyterian Church north of Sioux San, but sold off the plots surrounding it for housing, offices, and the Episcopal Church.

In 1982 Evan Nichols, a Rapid City Native American community leader, wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs again expressing the community’s concern that the churches that purchased the Indian school lands had “immediately s[old] such parcels of land and set up a realty business to make money for their churches.”

It is difficult to trace how much each church sold each parcel of Indian school land for and each of the dates of sales as the six church’s parcels has since been broken up into over one hundred smaller parcels. As such, it is difficult to provide an exact estimate of the value of those lands today.

However, the nine churches in total purchased about 183 undeveloped acres of land from 1949 -1958 for approximately $30,000. 1950’s dollar value of $30,000 translates into $300,000 in 2014’s currency value.

In reviewing Pennington County’s tax assessment of just the land, excluding the value of any existing buildings, of the plots resold by the six churches the county estimates the land value in 2-14 at well over $6 million.

Native Sun News is committed to following the developments of this story as interest within the City of Rapid City and Pennington County rises.

(After the Native Sun News third installment on the Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands, a great deal of interest was expressed concerning additional information about the lands previously used by the school that had been purchased by various churches. This is the fourth installment in this series)

(Karin Eagle can be reached at With contributions from Heather Dawn Thompson, Esq.)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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