November 30th concluded Native American History Month with some excellent news for the Native American community ;particularly for the Great Sioux Nation. Since September, tribal leaders have been struggling to raise $9 million for the purchase of Pe’Sla (pronounced pay-slah) and the surrounding area in the Black Hills of South Dakota. On November 30th, they announced that they had succeeded and officially purchased back the land from the Reynolds family.
The history of Pe’Sla and its significance to the Great Sioux Nation is a story that is rarely taught in public schools. In 1868 the U.S. government signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, giving the Black Hills legally to the Lakota Sioux and closing the land to white settlement. Less than 6 years later, George Armstrong Custer’s expedition discovered gold, and white miners rushed into the land, sparking another war. By 1877, the U.S. government had taken control of the land again and removed the Lakota to reservations outside of their legal territory. Homesteaders and miners moved into the territory and claimed it as their own. In 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the land had been taken illegally and that the government had to pay the initial offering price plus interest – close to $106 million. The Lakota refused the money, stating that they had never sold the Black Hills, never would, and that the land should be returned to them. The money remains in an interest-bearing account, now worth over $750 million. It has not been touched.
Pe’Sla itself is integral to the Sioux creation story and way of life. Together the Sioux are made up of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes, and are spread out between South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Canada. Pe’Sla is considered the Center of the Heart of Everything and its location is reflected in the constellations above the area. There are a number of stories and beliefs connected to the area as well as prayers and ceremonies that need to be carried out on the land itself. The Sioux do this yearly for the benefit of humankind.
The near 2,000 acre stretch of Pe’Sla has been in the Reynolds family since 1876. During that time they left it mostly undeveloped, and allowed various bands of Native Americans to come onto the property for prayer and ceremonies that are integral to their way of life. The announcement of auction came in mid-July, proposing that the land be auctioned off in 300 acre parcels, most likely for ranchettes. After outcry from the public, the Reynolds family came to an agreement with the Rosebud Sioux tribe to let them buy back the land for $9 million, provided that it be paid by the end of November. Over the course of three months, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe came together with Crow Creek Tribe, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe, and countless individuals to raise millions.
Over time the effort received press from abroad, and endorsements by celebrities like P. Diddy and Bette Midler. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” star Ezra Miller travelled with music producer Sol Guy and Chase Iron Eyes from Last Real Indians to produce a video and raise awareness of the issue. Last Real Indians ultimately raised $900,000 for the purchase. Many of the donations came from some of the poorest communities in the United States. With many of the reservations sitting at poverty rates around 40%, these donations did not come easily. However, the importance and significance of buying back the land was not lost.
To be sure, the irony of having to buy back land that was legally declared theirs is not lost on many of the Lakota. Oglala Sioux president-elect Bryan Brewer said, “I’m still against buying something we own, but I’m thrilled the tribes are buying it.” The three tribes that did allocate official funds released the following statement Friday:
“The historic requisition of Pe’ Sla started today in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Tribe, and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe community gathered in a historic assembly of the United Tribes.
Pe’ Sla is sacred because it is related to the Lakota creation and it is the site for annual ceremonies. It has historically hosted many village gatherings. Black Elk, the Lakota visionary sought his visions at Pe’ Sla. It is the high mountain on a prairie in the heart of the Black Hills.
The land of Pe’ Sla was once protected by the 1868 and 1851 Sioux nation treaties. The United States violated those treaties and took the Black Hills in violation of the fifth amendment of the Constitution. Today the requisition is a historic event for the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. The tribes will work together to form the Oceti Sakowin Sacred Land Protection Commission to protect Pe’ Sla. We will preserve the sacred site for traditional and cultural ceremonies and keep it in a pristine state for our future generations.
We are grateful to stand together before the creator and to help our people in reclaiming one of our most sacred sites. We are not waiting for the United States to deal with this justly on the Black Hills rights and we ask that now that we are exercising our inherent sovereign authority to protect this most sacred site. We must perpetuate our way of life for future generations.
We thank the members of the public who donated to this cause to create justice for all people and now we are more determined than ever that the United States must provide justice for our people. We thank the Reynolds family for working with us in our requisition of Pe’ Sla as a sacred site for Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people.”