Nearly 2,000 acres of prime real estate nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the heart of the Great Sioux Nation land, are up for sale to the highest bidder on August 25.
But the offer to sell the land near Mount Rushmore and historic Deadwood has distressed Native American tribes who consider it a sacred site and the center of the universe. Although the land has been privately owned, members of the Great Sioux Nation, known as Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, have been allowed to gather there each year to perform ceremonial rituals they believe are necessary for harmony, health and well-being. This is their home.
Being one with the land is a difficult thing for many of us to understand. It’s not just a cool thing to say. It means you are born of it; it is recognition that you are made from and given life by the air you breathe, which gives you oxygen from the land. It means the earth that nourishes the plants and animals that feed you is a part of you; that the blood in your veins is moistened by the water of the land, and that you will return to that earth some day to continue that cycle.
It means that your ancestors are part of that land, and a part of you. It is a connection that cannot be broken without consequence. It is far more than words. It is being a part of a place, and the place being a part of you. It is knowing who you are, and what you are.
Sacred Site Or Paved Highway Leading To Saltwater Taffy Stand?
Instead Pe’ Sla, as it is known, is under threat of turning into a saltwater taffy stand, or condos, or a golf course, or some other tourist trap, like the hundreds of others already proliferating in the Black Hills.
If the property is sold, members fear that it will be developed and they will lose access. The South Dakota Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are studying the possibility of paving one of the main roads that divides the land, a fact mentioned in the advertisement touting its development potential.
That’s why the native people want to buy it back, but they don’t have very much time to raise several million dollars to do so.
The tribes have banded together to try to raise money to buy back as much of the land as they can. But with less than a week to go until the auction, they have only about $110,000 committed for property they believe will sell for $6 million to $10 million.
Sioux Seek To Buy Back Land That Is Rightfully Theirs
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 “granted” the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation, and prohibited white settlement of the land. At first, in his exploratory expedition in July 1874, General Custer deemed the Black Hills worthless – maybe good for agriculture but “infested with Indians”.
That assessment changed, just weeks later, when gold was discovered in the hills, in August of 1874.
The Sioux peoples’ treaty rights were constantly violated by gold prospectors, who kept crossing the reservation border. When they were attacked by the Sioux defending their land, the United States government illegally seized the Black Hills, in 1877. This occurred just one year after Custer and the 7th Cavalry were defeated at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
The battle for the Black Hills has been going on ever since. But it wasn’t until June 1980, in the case United States v Sioux Nation of Indians, that the United States Supreme Court upheld an award of $15.5m for the market value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years worth of interest at 5%, for an additional $105m in damages. Today, that sum is over $1bn.
Now the Sioux Nation is raising money to buy back what they see as their birthright.
The Land Belongs To Everyone
I suppose that some might argue that these lands were ‘stolen’ over 120 years ago, the victims of this crime are long dead, and the Black Hills of South Dakota are a state park and belong to everyone.
But it’s more complicated than that because the Native American nations had no concept of land ownership in the first place. The land was there to be shared; it did not “belong” to anyone. It was the Americans (following British law) who insisted lines must be drawn up and that land belonged to different people.
Under Indian “law” the land does not belong to the Sioux or anyone else, but under the White man’s Law, imposed on the Sioux, it did belong to the Sioux and nobody else. Then along came Custer and company to break their own laws and steal it from the Sioux.
A terrible crime and miscarriage of justice and law took place, and the federal government has the chance to correct their mistake now.
If you agree, please sign our petition asking the government to give the Black Hills back to the Sioux.
Photo Credit: fritzmb