This petroglyph is one of some 105 proposed for designation as part of the North Cave Hills Archaeological and Traditional Use District in South Dakota. Photo by Talli Nauman

Native Sun News Today: Forest Service plan aims to protect Lakota sacred sites

Ranger to talk on saving Lakota sacred sites in Cave Hills

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY -- At a meeting here on March 29, Custer Gallatin National Forest District Ranger Kurt A. Hansen is slated to talk with the public about protection of traditional cultural properties and uranium mine waste cleanup in the Cave Hills area of Lakota Territory.

Hansen’s presentation takes place in the context of his Sioux Ranger District’s participation in the elaboration of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Custer Gallatin National Forest Plan Revision.

The revision proposes a North Cave Hills Archaeological and Traditional Use District near Ludlow, because the area “is considered a sacred landscape to the tribes, and their use of the unit showed that it qualified as a traditional cultural landscape,” it says.

The proposed district contains 365 recorded archaeological sites of which 232 are either already listed or are considered contributing resources. Forty-three petroglyph sites are included in the Prehistoric Rock Art of South Dakota Multiple Listing Nomination.

Listed and contributing sites cover approximately 105 petroglyph sites, 64 stone habitation sites, 15 prehistoric campsites, three bison kill sites, one stone alignment, one eagle trapping feature, three vision quest sites, a burial and cairn complex, and two quarries.

More than 100 other catalogued sites are unevaluated and consist primarily of unexcavated artifact scatters. Ongoing traditional cultural use of Ludlow Cave, the petroglyph sites and the cairns have prompted the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office’s current review of the nomination.

“Within the traditional culture of the Lakota (Sioux) Indians, rock art is considered sacred; thus, rock art sites can be considered traditional cultural properties for many of the Native Americans now living in South Dakota,” notes an assessment of tribally important areas conducted with Lakota elders’ input for purposes of the revision.

“At least 15 tribes recognize the lands administered by the Custer Gallatin National Forest as part of their aboriginal or traditional use areas, and they still use these lands and resources for traditional, cultural and ceremonial activities,” the assessment states.


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Recognizing the Sioux Ranger District as part of unceded 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory, the assessment continues: “With over 100 years of forced removal, some physical connections between the tribes and the national forest have been lost, yet many still remain in stories and traditions tied to the landscape.”

Recalling late 19th Century “forced cession of native hunting and foraging, decimation of the bison herds, open travel, and religious or other cultural endeavors in and around now federal lands,” the assessment sets out that “tribal people were not allowed to legally use the resources outside of the reservation boundaries for more than a century.”

Many tribes now are “reconnecting to locations and sacred places known only through oral histories and stories,” it says.

It led to a recommendation to nominate Chalk Buttes and Medicine Rocks State Park as a traditional cultural property district significant to the maintenance of Sioux and Northern Cheyenne practices.

In addition to the local rock art’s importance for the tribes’ contemporary use, this resource reflects the reality of prehistoric human activity, affording students of past cultures “an unprecedented data base from which to further explore,” the assessment states.

Meanwhile, in the Sioux Ranger District, 12 large uranium mines from the 1950s and 1960s are an operating Superfund site, using taxpayer money to clean up in the wake of company bankruptcy. Additionally, more than 350 smaller uranium exploration pits span the district, according to the revision plan.

Forest Service staff contacted 16 tribes to gauge interest and issues for the plan, establishing an “Intergovernmental Working Group” for city, county, state, federal, and tribal representatives.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released for public comment in November.

To learn more, attend the March 29 presentation set to take place at the Outdoor Campus West at 6:30 p.m., as part of the Prairie Hills Audubon Society's monthly meeting.

Contact Talli Nauman at

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