Members of the Sioux Nation are attempting to raise $1 million dollars to buy back a section of South Dakota land known in their culture as "the Center and heart of everything that is."
About 2,000 acres of land in the state's Black Hills is scheduled to go up for auction next week, including what's known to the Sioux as Pe' Sla. A local auction company posted that 1,942 acres of the land, known as Reynolds Prairie, after the family who owns it, is slated to go up for bid on Aug. 25.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has teamed up with the Native American blog Last Real Indians for an online fundraising campaign that began Monday, with an Aug. 23 deadline. As of Friday afternoon, the campaign had accrued just over $59,000.
"It's not like a resistance movement or a militant thing," Last Real Indians' Chase Iron Eyes told Raw Story. "We have to protect these things. That's what we're on this Earth for."
The land is central to the Sioux way of life, Iron Eyes said. Not only is it the site where, elders say, the Morning Star slew a creature that had killed seven women and took their spirits to create the Seven Sisters constellation, but it's still used for religious ceremonies to this day. However, he added, the tribe bears no ill will toward the current owners.
"I only wish that he would do what's morally right and work out a deal to sell this property to its rightful owners," said Iron Eyes, who filmed a YouTube video explaining the tribes' case for buying back the land. "We shouldn't have to buy back something that's already ours. But, we're adaptable."
The tribes' primary concern is the threat of development along an 11-mile stretch of a gravel road connecting the towns of Rochford and Deerfield in Pennington County. Earlier this year, the various tribes - Sioux, Cheyenne and others - in the area were invited to consult on the project, said Waste'Win Young historic preservation officer of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota, whose tribe has gone on record opposing any development in the Black Hills.
At a June meeting proposing an environmental survey of the area in the fall, Young said, four options were presented: an expansion of the existing gravel road; a road that would go around Pe 'Sla; a road going east of it, and the option to not build at all.
According to Terry Keller, environmental manager for the state of South Dakota's office of project development, the road is a county project that, if it moves forward, would come under the auspices of the Federal Highway Administration. But first, tribes will continue to be consulted on the potential impact to their culture. Keller also said that the option not to build on the land will be on the table at all times. At a community meeting in Bedrock City earlier this year, he said, resident opinion was split.
"There's a thought among the opposition that if you put a good solid pavement and encourage people to use that route in the hills that eventually further development, that would adversely affect the ambiance associated with Pe 'Sla," Keller said.
Meanwhile, Keller said, proponents of new development in the area cite concerns with accessing it during the winter because of weather issues, and with the heavy dust the road's gravel kicks up during the summer months.
With just over a week to go until the auction, Young said she had a feeling of "impending doom" about the issue, because of the threat to an area that has meant something to her community and family for generations.
"It's the very heart of everything that our people went through and have gone through," Young said. "But I'm optimistic because our people have survived so much."