Lakota People Voice Concerns Over Bear Butte Land Sale

By Warren Giago

Santa Fe, NM – One of the sacred sites to the Great Sioux Nation will be offered up for sale on November 30th. The site is Bear Butte, or Pe’Sla in Lakota, and it is situated in the Southwestern corner of the state of South Dakota in Black Hills National Forest. It is one of the most sacred locations to the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people.

According to the Lakota people, a long time ago a giant bear and a water monster battled for many days and nights. Because of the battle, valleys filled with blood. The bear was wounded by the water monster and the bear crawled away to die. The ground opened up, darkness covered the earth, and fire, ashes, water and mud went into the sky. After a while, the bear’s body turned into a hill which resembles a bear’s sleeping body, hence the name “Bear Butte.”

Ranchers Leonard and Margaret Reynolds are the owners of Bear Butte, and have agreed to sell 1,940 acres of their privately owned land to the Sioux Nation if the Nation can come up with nine million dollars. The Reynolds Prairie Ranch was homesteaded by their ancestor, Joseph Reynolds in 1876. This was the same time when General George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Regiment of Cavalry discovered gold in the Black Hills. The Sioux insist that this is one of the most important places to them because of its relationship to their creation stories. The Reynolds were unable to be reached for comment.

On June 30, 1980 the United States Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 majority to uphold the United States Court of Claims’ initial ruling, which awarded the Sioux nation $106 million, resulting in the largest sum of money ever given to an Indian tribe for illegally seized territory.   On July 9, 1980 in a unanimous decision, the Sioux tribal council refused to accept the $106 million dollar award because they believe the Black Hills are far too sacred to be sold. This amount has reached 900 million, and the Sioux have still not accepted any cash payment for the lands.

“Losing this land would hurt a great deal to our people.” said Oglala Lakota College Counselor, Tara Weston. “The Lakota people followed a spiritual calendar, we still do to this day. People gather at these sites to make offerings, to make prayers. It’s very important.”

Weston says the buffalo would travel to different sites during the year, based on the movement of constellations and their connection with the universe. In turn, the Lakota would follow the animals and rely on them for their survival. “When the sun goes across the sky, it goes right across a certain constellation,” she said. “The buffalo would gather at certain sites when that happened. Pe’ Sla was one of them. We have certain ceremonies that go with those sites. We go to Pe’ Sla in the middle of May, and we make our offerings there.”

What also worries the Lakota people is the development of land around the area. The Reynolds family has been courteous enough to allow for visitors to make prayers, and hold traditional Lakota ceremonies on their property, but the Sioux people fear that new owners may not be so considerate.

Concerns over development have prompted the Sioux people to focus their efforts on this issue. Oglala Lakota tribal member, Sara Jumping Eagle has helped raise over $388,000 in donations through her husband’s online writers blog, $7,500,000 has been raised thanks to the gathered efforts of many people, including celebrities like Bette Midler, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Mac Miller. “We hope we can receive over one million in donations,” says Jumping Eagle. “Whatever we bring in, we’ll contribute to the overall fundraising effort.”

Jumping Eagle says along with online fundraising, the tribes can come together and utilize trust fund settlements they have”¦

To people such as Lakota Medicine Man Asa Medicine Horse, it seems preposterous that tribal people should have to pay anything at all for something that was illegally taken from them in the 1800s. “It’s been hard for us to accept this concept of buying back our own land.” Medicine Horse said. “The question I have is: if according to the 1980 Supreme Court decision, the Black Hills was illegally taken, then what gives them the right to sell the land which is rightfully ours?”

With that said, he like others within the Great Sioux Nation are hoping for the best in the coming weeks.   “All we can do is pray,” says Medicine Horse. “As Lakota people, we believe that through prayer, nothing is too difficult. That’s what it’s going to take for us to get our land back. Prayers.”


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