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South Dakota governor sees criticism for remarks on sacred site

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) discussed Indian health and Medicaid expansion plans during his State of the State address on January 12, 2016. Photo from South Dakota State News

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) is standing by remarks that questioned why a sacred Black Hills site needs to be placed in trust.

During a council meeting last month, Daugaard lectured leaders and members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, telling them that they have better things to focus on than protecting Pe’ Sla, a site that plays a central role in Lakota history, culture and cosmology. He's not denying the remarks -- they were preserved on video -- but his office is offering a curious explanation for them.

The remarks were "his personal opinion" and are separate from the state's opposition to the land-into-trust application for Pe' Sla, a spokesperson for the governor told the Associated Press.

Tribal members, however, say Daugaard failed to understand the importance of Pe' Sla. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community paid $9 million for the land in order to protect it for future generations.

"We paid a high price for it because we wanted to protect our burial sites, our cultural sites, our ceremonial sites," Russell Eagle Bear, the historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, told the AP.

During the council meeting, Daugaard said the state opposes an "island of tribal trust jurisdiction" away from the existing reservations. His comment glossed over the fact that the Black Hills were promised to the tribes by treaty.

When the Black Hills land claim made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, then-Justice Harry Blackmun noted that the federal government never disputed that the land was taken by "unfair and dishonorable dealing," a conclusion that had been reached by the Indian Claims Commission.

"We may not be attacked by U.S. Cavalry anymore, but now people are using the law to attack us," Wizipan Little Elk, a former Obama administration official who works for the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, a tribal entity, told the AP.

Regardless of Daugaard's "personal opinion," the state is indeed trying to prevent the Bureau of Indian Affairs from placing Pe' Sla in trust. When The Lakota Country Times asked for more information, the Native-owned newspaper was referred to a document written by Attorney General Marty Jackley that raised some of the same concerns the governor cited during the council meeting last month.

Get the Story:
Sioux tribes push to protect sacred Black Hills site Pe' Sla (AP 5/12)

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