Black Hills Auction: Saving Pe’ Sla By Ruth Hopkins
August 15, 2012
On August 25, 1,942.66 acres divided into five tracts of land located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is slated to go up for auction. In 2012, such an event isn’t extraordinary; except in this case the land scheduled to be sold to the highest bidder is sacred to the Oceti Sakowin, The People of the Seven Council Fires—the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people. We are also referred to in mainstream circles as The Great Sioux Nation.
To the Oceti Sakowin, Pe’ Sla is The Heart of Everything. Not only does this sacred site play a key role in our creation story, it is said to be the place where The Morning Star plunged to earth, and saved the People from seven creatures who had killed seven women. The Lakota hero then placed those women in the night sky as ‘The Seven Sisters,” called ‘The Pleiades’ by western astronomers.
Pe’ Sla, also called “Old Baldy,” is vital to Oceti Sakowin star knowledge and provides evidence of our historical ties to the Black Hills as well. The Black Hills are a terrestrial mirror of the heavens above. Pe’ Sla, an open, rather bare expanse of land compared to its surroundings, corresponds to the Crab Nebula, a gaseous cloud remnant of a supernova explosion that happened in 1054 AD. It is no longer visible with the naked eye- but my people remember it.
Like many other Indigenous groups, our ceremonies are tied directly to the Universe and the natural cycles of Ina Maka (Mother Earth). Therefore, it only serves that Pe’ Sla, a location in the heart of the Black Hills that serves as a basis for our star maps, is also a sacred site where ceremonies must be observed each year. According to our beliefs, these rituals must be performed to keep the Universe in harmony and preserve the well being of all, Native and non-Native alike. You see, to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, Pe’ Sla is not merely prairie. Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray.
The danger of the Oceti Sakowin losing Pe’ Sla is real, and imminent. Should Pe’ Sla pass into the hands of someone other than us, it’s highly likely that it will be developed. The State of South Dakota has expressed that it wants to use eminent domain to build a road right through the heart of Pe’ Sla. Development of Pe’ Sla would effectively cut off our access to it, and spell its destruction as a sacred site. Worse yet, we only have 9 days left before auction day.
After analyzing our legal options, it was understood that due to time constraints and the fact that Pe’ Sla is currently owned by a private party (the Reynolds family), our only viable option to ensure Pe’ Sla remains a sacred site for future generations of Oceti Sakowin, as well as other Tribes like the Cheyenne and Kiowa who hold similar beliefs and ceremonies, was to buy it. The cost for Pe’ Sla at auction, also called “Reynold’s Prairie,” is estimated to run anywhere from $6 to $10 million.
Chase Iron Eyes, founder of Lastrealindians.com, Inc., spearheaded the effort to save Pe’ Sla. Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, took the initiative to bring his concerns about Pe’ Sla to the Rosebud council, who voted to act as a conduit to unite all Oceti Sakowin Tribes. Within days, the collaborative effort to save Pe’ Sla spread far and wide across the Dakotas, and now, the nation. Grassroots efforts have mobilized Oceti Sakowin Tribal members who are working hard to find solutions, and raise awareness. Right now, in council chambers across The Sioux Empire of old, Tribal leaders are working, against all odds, to raise enough money to buy back land that was stolen from them by the U.S. government. Remember, the Sioux never accepted the Black Hills Settlement as proposed by the United States Supreme Court- who held that the Black Hills were wrongfully taken from us. This effort, by the united Oceti Sakowin to save one of our sacred sites, is unprecedented.
Unlike stereotypical portrayals, the majority of Sioux Tribes still struggle financially. Unemployment is high, and many Tribal members live in poverty. Yet there are traditional Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota who are prepared to give till it hurts to save Pe’ Sla. Pe’ Sla is rightfully ours. It was passed down to us from our ancestors, who were here many millennia before European invaders arrived. Now we implore you; stand with us.
We need your help. Pray for us and our efforts to save Pe’ Sla. Share this story. Contact your congressman and voice your concerns for Pe’ Sla, the Oceti Sakowin sacred site that’s on the auction block. Contribute to our cause to buy back Pe’ Sla. Donations may be made online with LastRealIndians here or through the Rosebud Sioux Tribe/Pe Sla, 11 Legion Ave., P.O. Box 430, Rosebud, SD 57570. All donations to the Tribe are tax-deductible and will only be used toward the purchase of Pe Sla.
We’ve drawn a line in the sand. This effort may take all we’ve got, but we won’t lose Pe’ Sla without a fight. We are doing it for our children, and yours.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton/Mdewakanton/Hunkpapa) is a writer, speaker,former science professor and tribal attorney. She is a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network and LastRealIndians.com.