Site in South Dakota's Black Hills considered sacred to Sioux takes step toward federal trust



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RAPID CITY, South Dakota — The Pennington County Commission has decided to support the placement of a South Dakota site that's sacred to the Great Sioux Nation into a federal trust.

In 2012, Sioux tribes raised $9 million with the help of celebrities, including Sean "Diddy" Combs and Bette Midler, to buy a 3-square-mile tract in the Black Hills known as Pe' Sla from private landowners. The tribes want to put the land in trust with the federal government to be held on behalf of tribal members.

On Tuesday, county commissioners voted 3-2 to release the land from the county's tax roll and to send a letter of support to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The tribes have been working to secure service agreements for law enforcement, fire protection, paramedics, road maintenance and pest control for the land since it would stop generating tax revenue if place into trust. The Rapid City Fire and Ambulance Service will lead the land's emergency teams and will be reimbursed through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, said Mark Van Norman, a Maryland-based attorney representing the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Crow Creek, Rosebud and Standing Rock Sioux tribes.

All of the parties involved have approved the services, but the agreements only are valid if the land is granted trust status, said Chief Deputy State's Attorney Jay Alderman.

Pennington County Commissioner Deb Hadcock believes the commission's support of the land trust will be a positive step for the county.

"It is scared land, and if you work with the native people, you know sacred land means the same as church land, in a sense, for the native people," she said. "They use it for ceremonies and different things to do with their culture."

All of Pe' Sla has sacred value because of the land's role in tribal creation, Van Norman said. In addition to using the land for ceremonies, the tribes also plan to reintroduce bison to Pe' Sla.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is expected to make a decision after a public comment period closes around Sept. 20, Van Norman said.

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