in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
A 1942-acre slice of land sacred to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota (Sioux) people goes on the auction block Friday. It's Pe' Sla, known to some as "Old Baldy" and "peace at the bare spot" to others. It is one of five sacred sites that make up Lakota pilgrimage and ceremony, and it is closely linked to the constellations, an earthly reflection of the cosmos. It is the only one of the five sacred sites held in private hands—the rest being under federal or state control—and remains relatively pristine, acreage having been used only for grazing cattle over the past 130 years. But developments are closing in on Pe' Sla from other nearby private land.
Pe' Sla is also called Wowakcawala Okislata, which means "purity of peace and harmony," according to Leonard Little Finger (Oglala-Miniconjou). One tribeswoman has compared it to the Holy Sepulchre, to Mecca, to the Western (Wailing) Wall. Like other sites sacred to the Lakota, Pe' Sla is in the Black Hills, the Páha Sápa or He Sápa. In Lakota, they are wahmunka oganunka inchante, "the heart of." Pe' Sla is at the center of Páha Sápa, the "center of the heart of" everything that is.
Nobody knows for certain what the buyers will do with each of the five parcels carved out of the land of 7,000-foot-high Pe' Sla. But development of some sort is dead certain when investors purchase a property estimated by the auction house to draw up to $10 million in bids. The state of South Dakota has said it may build a road through the heart of the center of the heart.
It was only a few weeks ago that it was discovered that the property would be offered for sale. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Oyate Lakota) is frantically working to raise funds so that it can make its own bid. To achieve this, it has put out a call to all the Oceti Sakowin, the people of the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation.
So far, $126,000 of the $1 million goal has been raised at a site dedicated to the Pe' Sla purchase here. Rosebud has pledged another $50,000, and other Sioux tribes are pondering how much they will contribute to the cause.
Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) presents the case for keeping the site as it is:
Brock Auctions makes its case to potential buyers:
The core of Pe' Sla, of the Reynolds Prairie, was homesteaded in 1876, the same year that George A. Custer saw his final action a few hundred miles west in Medicine Tail Coulee. That homestead by Joseph Reynolds was illegal since the land had been granted to the Lakota by the Treaty of 1868. But after word "leaked out" that gold had been found by Custer's expedition in 1874 into the Black Hills, the flood of settlers and fortune-seekers became unstoppable. Among them Joseph Reynolds whose great-grandson is Leonard Reynolds. He and his wife Margaret own the land now and have put it up for sale.
It's good land. The fact that this site and two others in the Black Hills are the only open prairie land, without trees, seems to mean Pe' Sla was once grazed hard by the buffalo who once roamed here. Those animals were long ago replaced by cattle. The land is fertile despite the hard winters, according to an article in South Dakota Magazine. It takes 10 acres there to raise a cow as opposed to 20 acres just a bit farther west.
Iron Eyes commended the couple for what good stewards they have been for that land and for granting Indians access. But the auction could mean the end of both.
In 1877, as part of the ferocious response to the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Congress unilaterally took the Black Hills. In a 1980 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they definitely had been taken illegally against the provisions of the 1868 treaty. "Stolen" wasn't a word the justices used, but it would have been accurate. The court awarded $100 million to the tribes as compensation.
But, year after year for three decades, they have refused to accept the money, now grown in a government trust fund to more than $1 billion through compound interest. Those dollars could go a long way toward improving the lives of the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, some of whom are among the most impoverished people in America. But they continue to say "the Black Hills are not for sale." Ironically, Pe' Sla, a piece that clearly is for sale, could be purchased for one percent of what's in the Black Hills settlement trust.
Raising the money needed to make a reasonable bid on Friday for Pe' Sla is, to put it mildly, an uphill struggle. Hopkins pointed out that today's stereotypes of Indians making money in great gobs from casinos only applies to a few tribes. Most of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota live in poverty. Raising millions of dollars to hang onto a piece of holy prairie turf is no easy matter for them. Nor is asking non-Indians to help them out. Yet, so important is the site to them, that they are doing so.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton/Mdewakanton/Hunkpapa), who, together with Iron Eyes and a dozen others, writes at the Last Real Indians website, has laid out some of the spiritual meaning and temporal history of Pe' Sla:
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.If you wish to help, please note that all donations to the tribe are tax-deductible and will only be used toward the purchase of Pe' Sla. You can contribute here.
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.