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The Auction of the Sacred

8/16/2012 4:08:34 PM

Tags: Winona LaDuke, Pe'Sla, Lakota, development

 Lakota road sign 

Winona LaDukeWinona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) is an internationally acclaimed author, orator & activist. A graduate of Harvard & Antioch with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands & lifeways of Native communities. Her most recent book is Recovering the Sacred: the Power of Naming and Claiming (South End Press). LaDuke was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 2001. Keep up with her at Honor the Earth.  

Editor's note: This post was originally published by Last Real Indians.


As the wind breathes out of Wind Cave in my face, I am reminded of the creation of humans and my own small place in this magnificent world.  Wind Cave National Park is named for the Cave itself, called Washun Niya, or the Breathing Hole of Mother Earth,  by the Lakota People.  In this creation story, it is from here that they emerged to this world.

It is a complex cave system, according to scientists,  we may only have a sense of 5% of the cave’s volume and breadth, and likely even less of its power.  In the vernacular of some, this might be known as the “ known unknown.”  To most Indigenous peoples, there is an understanding of the Great Mystery.

So it is that in 2012, the time of change and transformation in an American election year, and also according to the Mayan Calendar, we find that the smallness and the greatness of humans in a world around us, comes face to face with us in the Black Hills.  A most sacred place- Pe’Sla, in the center of the Lakota Universe is up for sale, and values and questions clash.

As Lakota scholar Chase Iron Eyes explains, “… Pe’Sla, to the Lakota, is the place where Morning Star, manifested as a meteor, fell to earth to help the Lakota by killing a great bird which had taken the lives of seven women; Morning Star’s descent having created the wide open uncharacteristic bald-spot in the middle of the forested Black Hills.  (On American maps, this is called, Old Baldy) …The Morning Star placed the spirits of those seven women in the sky as the constellation “Pleiades” or “The Seven Sisters.”  

This is, the “Center of the Heart of Everything that is… one of a small number of highly revered and geographically-cosmologically integral places on the entire planet….”  Sacred places, recognized under federal judicial review, Presidential Executive Order ( l996) and international law are to be protected.

On August 25, the Center of the Heart of Everything that is, will come up on the auction block at Rapid City’s Ramkota Inn, destined to be diced into a set of 300 acre tracts, proposed for ranchettes, and a possible road through the heart, (and more divisions)  of what has been, until now, a relatively un-desecrated sacred site.  “We didn’t even know it was going to be sold,” Debra White Plume from Manderson tells me.  “We heard nothing about it until we saw the auction announcement.” 

In mid-July, the Brock Auction Company of Iowa and South Dakota announced, offering the Reynolds Ranch, “this story begins in 1876 just 2 short years after General George Armstrong Custer led his historic expedition through the then almost unknown Black Hills in the Dakota Territory….In 1876 Joseph Reynolds filed his first claim & homesteaded …”Reynolds Prairie!” He was followed by 3 more generations …”  Brock promotes the property noting, in some solace for potential buyers, “… As you sit in quiet solitude, with only the whispering of the wind gently easing through the pines, let your mind wander back in time and imagine the Native Americans, the Homesteaders and Pioneers, who passed across this land that is now a part of yours and your families legacy forever!…”  Some Lakota find this it ironic, perhaps.

Is it possible that not everything should be owned privately?  While other religions have sacred sites, which are revered and protected, the Lakota continue to struggle to protect their most sacred of places.  The Lakota sacred sites include Mahto Paha, Bear Butte, where numerous challenges to the annual Sturgis Motor Cycle rally have met with some success, and protections of vision quests at Grey Horned Butte (Devils Tower) from recreational rock climbers.

In the time of the sacred sites and the crashing of ecosystems and worlds, it may be worth not making a commodity out of all that is revered.  A 2005 editorial in the Rapid City Journal points out that protecting Lakota sacred sites is of interest to all. “…Non-Indians have little to fear if familiar sites are designated as sacred; visitors are still allowed at Bear Butte, Devil’s Tower and Rainbow Bridge, even though they are being managed as Indian sacred sites. And in fact, expanding non-Indians’ knowledge and appreciation of the Indian lore surrounding such sites could lead to greater cultural understanding….”

Meetings are being held in most of the Lakota nation this week, with organizers hoping to secure both a stop to the auction, and a plan to protect Pe’Sla from the auction block and encroachment. 

It is 2012, and it is a good time, in any calendar- election year, Mayan, or upon this earth, to recognize and protect what is sacred.   Today I return to Wind Cave, and have the wind blow on my face, hoping to greet the Great Mystery and, perhaps, hoping to see something sacred preserved.

For more information or to help visit  

Image: A road sign for Lakota, North Dakota, by afiler. Licensed under Creative Commons. 

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8/22/2012 10:44:06 PM
I readed your article and it upset me very much! I think all tribal chiefs of all the different tribes should band together and stop these types of auctions. If there any way possible the tribes should band together and reclaim all their lands through these types of sales. By doing so reclaim some of their hertiage for their tribes and all tribes. As a people we have lost so much through time and history! I personally have lost mine through my ancestors trying to hiding in plain sight. Without certain papers I can never reclaim what my family truely lost. All I have is the stories I was told by my beloved ancestors of how they tried to protect themselves and their love ones. But also what it personally cost them of their hertiage and tribe's connection. So act now tribal chiefs and save your tribe's hertiage before it too is lost as my family's was. I would never wish this pain on any future generation children. They need you to grow up strong and believing in their tribe's strength, customs, and beliefs to force them that they can stand tall in both worlds. One foot planted deeply in the past and the other foot planted deeply in the world around them!

Mara Cohen
8/19/2012 6:03:23 AM
Please, if you have ever had a care for Earth-Get the word out on this auction, and please-go to and connect to contribute to the effort to buy this sacred place back, and in the custody of the Tribes.

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