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Lakota Country Times: Governor lectures tribe about sacred lands

An aerial view of Pe' Sla in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo courtesy Rosebud Sioux Tribal Land Enterprise

More important things than Pe’ Sla: Governor lectures RST
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

PIERRE – When is “reservation land” reservation land? That’s the question the state of South Dakota is asking as it appeals the Bureau of Indian Affairs' recent decision to place Black Hills property owned by four Native American tribes into federal trust status.

The South Dakota Governor’s office has announced it will appeal the transfer of Pe` Sla – or “The Heart of All That Is” -- a 2,000-acre site at the center of the Black Hills considered sacred by Native Americans into federal trust status. The property was purchased in 2012 by the Rosebud, Crow Creek, Standing Rock and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux tribes after the individual who owned the property announced it would be sold at public auction.

Last month the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced that the tribes’ request to place the land into federal trust status had been approved. That decision would have helped the tribes regain sacred site status for the land according to Ann Wilson Frederick, director of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Land Enterprise. It would also have permitted the tribes to decide what to do with the land.

But those plans are now on hold, said Kurt Blue Dog, an attorney for the tribes that own Pe Sla.

“This will entail an administrative process where the Department of the Interior will set out a briefing schedule where the state would submit commentary,” explained Blue Dog. “In fact, a legal brief indicating why they oppose the government taking this land into trust for the four tribes. And then the tribes get an opportunity to respond.”

Rosebud Sioux Tribe on YouTube: Regular Tribal Council Meeting April 21, 2016

Questions to the South Dakota Attorney General’s office regarding the state’s appeal of the land trust approval were answered with documentation from September 2015 offering an overview of the state’s position on the trust status request.

The document questions the Interior Department’s authority to take land into trust for multiple tribal entities and compares the four tribes that own Pe` Sla as equivalent to “an organization”. The Interior Department cannot take land into trust status for an organization according to the state’s documentation.

The state’s position further notes that making Pe` Sla “trust land” would be equivalent to making it “reservation land” and would, therefore, create a new tribe consisting of members of the four tribes that own Pe` Sla.

Kurt Blue Dog anticipated that the Pe` Sla appeal process could take at least several months.

As that appeal process began, Governor Dennis Daugaard stopped by the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council’s April 21 meeting to discuss a number of issues including his appeal of Pe` Sla’s trust status designation.

The governor began his presentation by noting how little he knew about tribal politics, history and land issues when he first came into office in 2011, but explained that he had learned about these topics over the past five years from South Dakota Tribal Relations Secretaries.

Duagaard didn’t mention either of the reasons for appeal noted in the September 2015 document from the S.D. Attorney General’s office while discussing the land transfer before the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council.

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He did speak extensively about his support for land within any reservation’s boundaries being transferred into trust status and his concern for jurisdictional issues that result due to the “checker-boarding” of tribal, non-tribal, trust and non-trust lands.

After stating that he viewed the Pe` Sla being placed into trust status as the start of a “checker-boarding” issue in the Black Hills, Governor Duagaard noted the following.

“I also oppose the Pe` Sla land into trust for this reason,” he said. “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 park land setting 200 miles away for religious use or for buffalo agricultural use. Grandma needs housing. Grandma needs food. And so…that’s your decision to make…not mine. That’s yours to make. But I don’t support it…for that reason. And that’s the reason I don’t support it.”

Rosebud Sioux tribal member Wayne Fredrick acknowledged that there are material needs among the people on Rosebud and other reservations. But he added that its “religion” that makes the Lakota whole.

“There are sacred sites that we have documented over time,” Frederick explained. “These are things that we need and we will continue to try to regain…even if it means not asking to give them back for free. But it’s at least a religious right that we have to start to regain those so we can quit being this scattered tribe.”

The Governor acknowledged Frederick's comments and moved on to other issues on the tribal council agenda.

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Related Stories:
Lakota Country Times: State shows cards in fight over sacred site (5/2)
Lakota Country Times: Sacred site in limbo due to state appeal (4/26)

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