Sioux Nation Races to Buy Back Sacred Lands

The Sioux are trying to raise $9 million to buy back a sacred site in the Black Hills. (Bernie Hunhoff/South Dakota Magazine)

Sioux Nation Races to Buy Back Sacred Lands

Tribe trying to raise $9 million to buy sacred site in South Dakota's Black Hills

One hundred and fifty years after the federal government took over their sacred South Dakota land, the Sioux Nation is trying to buy it back.

This summer, a parcel of pristine prairie in South Dakota's Black Hills was put up for sale. The site, called Pe' Sla by members of the Great Sioux Nation, is sacred to the tribe and plays a key role in their creation story. The owners--whose family has controlled the property since 1876--have accepted a $9 million bid by tribal leaders, who are now racing to raise the money before the deadline next month.

The bid has sparked some controversy among tribal members who don't agree with having to pay for something that originally belonged to them. "It's like someone stealing my car and I have to pay to get it back," Tom Poor Bear, the vice president of the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota, told the New York Times.

In 1868, the Treaty of Fort Laramie guaranteed Sioux ownership of the Black Hills, the low-lying mountains that abut the Badlands in south western South Dakota. However, after the discovery of gold, the federal government took the land back. Over a century later, the Supreme court declared the exchange "one of the most dishonorable acts in American history," and ordered the government to compensate the tribe for the land. The Sioux have since refused to accept any money, saying that "doing so would have the effect of selling their mountains." Alternately, they've maintained that the Black Hills ought to be returned to tribal authority.

On Friday, the Great Sioux Nation's tribal leaders gathered in Rapid City, SD to in a showing of unity to discuss joint fundraising efforts. An online campaign has already raised almost $400,000.

The Times goes on to report that there are also some mixed feelings about the expense. The Sioux have an unemployment rate of 80%, extreme poverty and a "disproportionate levels of violence, alcoholism and preventable death."

"There are mixed feelings," said Vernon Schmidt, executive director of the Rosebud Sioux's land enterprise department. "Some tribal members are wholeheartedly in support, and other tribal members are not. It's hard to say, 'Tighten your belt,' but we're going to have to do it anyway. There's no dollar amount you can put on a sacred site."

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