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Native American Tribes Successfully Buy Back Stolen Sacred Land

Still waiting for US to honor their treaties, the Great Sioux Nation raises $9m to purchase sacred site in Black Hills, SD

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Though touted as a victory for tribes within the Oceti Sakowin, known as the Great Sioux Nation, many tribal members were opposed to the purchase of the stolen sacred lands, having to pay for something rightfully theirs. For them, the procurement of the Black Hills site is a melancholy reminder of the many US treaties that remain unfulfilled.

(Image: Honor the Treaties) With a deadline of November 30, the tribal nation—which includes Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people—was able to raise the $9 million necessary to purchase the 1,942-acre parcel, known as Pe’ Sla, from Leonard and Margaret Reynolds, who canceled a public auction of the property earlier this year after tribal members expressed outrage, AP reports. 

“I can tell you that Pe' Sla, the sacred land on behalf of the Oceti Sakowin, is secured," Rosebud Sioux Tribe Chairman Cyril “Whitey” Scott told the Indian Country Media Network, adding, "the $9 million was secured, Pe' Sla has been purchased.”

Many members of the Sioux tribes were opposed to paying for something that originally belonged to them. “It’s like someone stealing my car and I have to pay to get it back,” said Tom Poor Bear, the vice president of the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota.

Bryan Brewer, president-elect of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which did not contribute to any money to the land purchase, told AP that he had mixed feelings about the deal. "I'm still against buying something we own, but I'm thrilled the tribes are buying it," he said.

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.

After the purchase, Scott read an official statement by the Great Sioux Nation:

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.

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The cause of the Lakota tribe, particularly the issue of stolen lands, has found a recent champion in photographer Aaron Huey who, along with artists Shepard Fairy and Ernesto Yerena, is spearheading the campaign Honor the Treaties to bring education and awareness about the United States government's ongoing neglect of First Nations' rights.

A short documentary film about their work, also titled Honor the Treaties by filmmaker Eric Becker, recently won Best Short Documentary at the Red Nation Film Festival.

Honor the Treaties | The Film from eric becker on Vimeo.