Pe’Sla, heart of the heart: Sacred Black Hills site now in the hands of the Great Sioux Nation


It seems strange that an Indigenous Nation should be required to buy back a sacred site. But I have been told that we often honor the sacred with lip service while we live in the profane. So money rises above the sacred and the sacred becomes commodity.

The landholders of the sacred Black Hills site, Leonard and Margaret Reynolds, had planned a public auction to sell the 1,942 acre section of high-prairie land diced into 300 acre tracts but the Great Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin) quickly protested the sale.

This land plays a key role in creation and tribal members feared how new owners might develop the land which is called Pe’Sla, ‘the heart of the heart’ or ‘the heart of all that is’. The Black Hills (HeSapa) is the heart of Turtle Island (North America) and Pe’Sla is the heart of the heart. The Black Hills is the rolling range of mountains rising out of the badlands of western South Dakota. I have been told that we go to the heart with a hungry spirit and return filled.

As a result of the outcry the public auction was cancelled. The Reynolds invited private parties to bid on the property, including the Rosebud Sioux. Their bid of $9 million was accepted in late August of this year. They paid a deposit of $1.3 million which purchased a seat at the negotiating table.

The Great Sioux Nation once dominated an area that covered what would eventually become 14 states and three Canadian Provinces. But it was fragmented, scattered and exiled when they were pushed to reservations. However, they came from Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Canada to resolve this issue.

In fact, nine indigenous nations on Turtle Island banded together to raise the money to buy the high-elevation prairie located in the Black Hills. International support came from Russia, France, Egypt, Germany, Denmark and Japan as well. The purchase deadline was Friday, Nov. 30.

The land is now in the hands of the Great Sioux Nation. Contracts were signed in Rapid City, South Dakota, where the Rosebud Sioux, the Crow Creek Tribe and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe community gathered in a historic assembly of United Tribes.

I have been told ‘the people’ were created from the Black Hills and Pe’Sla is where the Morning Star in the form of a meteor fell to Earth, killing a great bird that had murdered seven women. The Morning Star placed the Seven Spirit Sisters in the sky. They are also known as the Pleiades constellation.

The meteor cut a wide open spot deep in the heart of the forested Black Hills. For millennia more than 60 indigenous nations have come to the high prairie to gather medicine and participate in sacred rituals.

The Reynold family held the site for 136 years but always allowed access for ceremony. That’s how I happened to be there in the summer of 1998 with a gathering of indigenous nations from around the globe. I’d traveled to the heart of the heart with Sami artist/activist/friend Gladys Koski Holmes.

One day we joined a small group of adventurers who had decided to climb Flag Mountain, which is one of the highest peaks in South Dakota. We stood on the remains of a Civilian Conservation Corp tower and looked down on Pe’Sla. Before the CCC tower was built the craggy site had been used for ceremony and a sense of the spiritual still lingered on those wind-swept heights.

I have been told that the hills were considered so sacred that no blood was shed there. Even hunters could not go there to kill game.

I found a small gray pearl button in the sacred soil of Pe’Sla, put it in my pocket and brought it home. It had laid in the earth for at least 100 years… probably more.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 guaranteed First Nations ownership of the Black Hills but gold was discovered in 1874. So in 1877 the federal government seized the hills illegally. In order to secure the area for exploitation the US government engaged in a war of starvation by destroying the Buffalo Nation. A federal court decision in 1979 declared the government’s seizure of the Black Hills one of the most dishonorable acts in American history.

In 1980 the US Supreme Court ruling awarded more than $105 million to the Great Sioux Nation for the Black Hills. I have been told the interest it has accrued is now in excess of $500 million. But the tribes have never accepted the money because some things are not for sale.

Anne M Dunn lives in northern Minnesota and has two earlier posts at Outside The Walls. You can read them here and here. For those of us not aware, Pe’Sla refers to a portion of what most call the Black Hills of South Dakota.