“We Will Never Sell (Our Sacred Black Hills)”

And yet, the poorest of people in all of America refuse to accept one single penny of the award.


“All of our origin stories go back to this place. We have a spiritual connection to the Black Hills that can’t be sold. I don’t think I could face the Creator with an open heart if I ever took money for it.”

The Black Hills have long been and are sacred to many Plains Tribes (emphasis mine).

Suzan Shown Harjo:

Bear Butte in present-day South Dakota was a spiritually important locale to perhaps all of 60 historical Plains tribes. At Bear Butte, warriors laid their weapons on the ground, setting aside anything that did not have to do with the purpose at hand. Harjo said the message was worth remembering in a setting where many people have done different work in the realm of Native language.


The Native Americans of the region – the seven sub-tribes of the Teton Sioux – considered their Paha Sapa to be sacred. Therefore the region was entirely uninhabited until gold was discovered in the summer of 1874 by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Of course, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) had promised the Great Sioux Reservation to the Indians for “as long as the grass shall grow and the water flow” – which in this case was about nine years.  The presence of vast riches were too much for the non-Indians from the states to resist and the treaty was abrogated by Congress in 1877. As it turns out, Congress had no authority to do so,
and the ownership of the Black Hills was contested in the U.S. Courts for sixty years in the twentieth century, eventually awarding the Sioux tribes a monetary sum in 1979 for their loss. 

To this day, the money remains unclaimed.  Tribal leaders are interested only in the return of their sacred Paha Sapa – and there the matter rests.

The scroll at the end of the movie (HBO’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”) indicated that the award now stood at $600 million and the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota refused to accept it. Well, that figure was wrong and should have been updated. As of today the amount of the awards are $757,465,288.74 for the Black Hills and $105,821,479.16 for the land taken east of the Black Hills. That brings the total owed to the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to $863,286,767.90.


The settlement is fast approaching one billion dollars and the tribal leaders better take the issue out of the basement and start some serious conversations about it before the decision is taken out of their hands by the United States government. Before a new bill can be introduced the leaders of every tribe involved must come to an agreement and help to define the contents of the bill.
Thousands of Lakota have died while waiting for their leaders to find closure to the Black Hills issue and at the present rate; thousands more will die while their leaders sit on their hands.

And as the money remains unclaimed, there’s still encroachment –

Bear Butte to see another biker bar
Another biker bar will live in the shadow of the sacred Bear Butte in the Northern Black Hills.

More encroachment,

South Dakota Public Radio forum: Cave Hills uranium mines

From South Dakota Public Radio: “Today’s Forum examines the potential health impact of Uranium mines in South Dakota. Guests include Charmane Whiteface with the Defenders of the Black Hills – a group that has been actively calling for the restoration of un-reclaimed uranium mines across the state; Harold One Feather, a former Environmental consultant for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and Walt Stevens – both men believe the mines have caused higher cancer rates in the area; and finally Lori Walters-Clark with the Custer National Forest – Walters-Clark has been involved in the current effort to reclaim some of the major mines.”

and yet more encroachment.

Black Hills uranium exploration to continue

RAPID CITY, S.D. – A South Dakota judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order against a Canadian company that is drilling test holes in known uranium fields in the southern Black Hills.

An appeal hearing will be held June 4.

The company, Powertech, began drilling test holes before a hearing could be held, but attorneys for the company said it was within the company’s right to begin drilling.

First it was for gold, now it’s for biker bars and uranium.

All human progress has been made by ignoring precedents.” — Viscount Philip Snowden

Or – for money, for alcohol, for pollution, and for nuclear weapons.

I can’t speak for any tribe, and there are several reasons why the Black hills are sacred to me; consequently, sharing this personal and general information is only to help others comprehend why the Black Hills are so sacred to the tribes mentioned. First of all, I believe the Black Hills are the home of the Wakinyans, or Thunderbeings.

A good source about the Wakinyans is here. “In summary, the West Wind is disorderly, capable of creating order out of chaos,” it states.

Also, the Black Hills are where Grandpa Fools Crow received his vision and power –


Kola (friends). I am Frank Fools Crow, Chief of the Lakota and I am here today with Frank Kills Enemy, one of the most respected headmen and also an expert on Indian treaty rights. Before we begin, I would like to ask you why when we speak you do not listen, and when you listen, you do not hear, and when you hear us, you do not choose to understand what we say. This is one time that I ask you to listen carefully and understand what we have to say.

The people unanimously reaffirmed our long-standing position that the Black Hills are not for sale under any circumstances. We are therefore standing behind the resolution we passed at Ft. Yates in February of this year. That resolution, my friends, reads:

The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota people. Both the sacred pipe and the Black Hills go hand and hand in our religion. The Black Hills is our church, the place where we worship. The Black Hills is our burial grounds. The Bones of our grandfathers lie buried in those hills. How can you expect us to sell our church and our cemeteries for a few token whiteman dollars. We will never sell.

It (specifically, Bear Butte) is also where His Crazy Horse received his vision of the Tree Of Life.

Interview with He Dog, lifelong friend of Crazy Horse

After the great wars there came a time of new hope where the people tried to keep away from crazy water and were wearing better clothes and living in better houses. Yet there were still walls between his people and most of the white people. Suddenly all the people’s faces disappeared into the darkness. From the east there came a light from a star with nine points and he knew this represented the nine circles, including the two new ones yet to come. Then a sacred herb grew into a great Sacred Tree of his people. The light continued to come from the east which was the world of the spirit, he saw people still in darkness and some were reaching their hands toward the light, some seeing it and some not seeing it. Some people were asking others if they saw the light. Some people were dancing in the spirit world under the sacred tree, but their faces were different and he realized the tree was too big for just his people alone and contained all races of men. They formed one circle of one people, united though different in a strange and sacred way.

What are the modern implications of religious freedom from the experiences of Fools Crow and His Crazy Horse along with the geographic location of the Black Hills? For one, it is an extremely powerful place to do a vision quest, or Hamblecia.


Native communities are more concerned than ever that increased noise, pollution, traffic and crowds will bring the disruption to intolerable levels: Just a few miles away from the teems of partying bikers, hundreds will seek solitude and meditation through an intense period of prayer, known as the “Vision Quest.” As part of South Dakota’s Black Hills – a legendary expanse that natives say was illegally taken from them over a century ago – Bear Butte has traditionally belonged to the Plains Indians, who know the site as Mato Paha in Lakota and Nowahwus in Cheyenne. It has been recognized as a worship ground by dozens of native peoples across North America, according to indigenous-rights activists.

Just a few miles away from the teems of partying bikers, hundreds will seek solitude and meditation through an intense period of prayer, known as the “Vision Quest.”

Let us compare the preparation and emotional commitment of preparing for going on the hill to preparing for a small, simple wedding with only close family and friends. It’s serious business, there’s a lot that goes into it, and the one who goes on the Hamblecia, or vision quest, will be a changed person after the ceremony.

First of all, you have to “pop the question” and ask someone to put you up on the hill, and they need to be the right person for you. Both women and men “pop the question” with a pipe loaded with tobacco. Generally in my experience, it’s something greatly anticipated. What comes next when the answer is yes and a date is then set?  Preparations for the ceremony are next.

Preparing for a vision quest is lengthy, and some people may prepare for an entire year. Although the friends and family will be called by phone for our small and simple wedding, they will still need to be sent formal wedding invitations. Let us say that 25 people will need wedding invitations for the wedding. How are calling friends and family and sending out the wedding invitations comparable to an aspect of the Hamblecia, or vision quest? I see it in two aspects.

The first aspect is that people are invited to come and support the one going on the Hamblecia (some vision quests may involve just the one going on the hill and the intercessor, or medicine man/woman – holy person. Some go alone after acquiring the experience of doing it a few times with an intercessor and/or others). The time and date are discussed along with the length of the vision quest, which is generally two to four days.

The second aspect with the wedding invitations is the 400 plus prayer ties, or small pieces of colored cloth that are tied to a string, that are made. Think of them as invitations to Taku Wakan. Only the good Wakan are called in a Hamblecia.

Lakota Celestial Imagery: Spirit and Sky by Dr. Mark Hollabaugh

Long ago, the Lakotas believed that there were marvelous beings whose existence, powers or doings they could not understand.  These beings they called Wakan Kin (The Wakan).  There were many of the Wakan, some good and some bad.  Of the Wakan who were good, some were greater than others.  The greater were called Wakan Wankantu (Superior Wakan).  The others were called Taku Wakan (Wakan Relatives).  They were not relatives the same as a father or a brother but like the Lakota are all relatives to each [other].  The bad Wakan were not relative either to the good or to each other…

Since this isn’t a dissertation on the Hamblecia, and sharing this general information is for helping others to comprehend why the Black Hills are so sacred to the tribes mentioned, let us go to the point in time when the one seeking a vision is going to the sacred location that’s been designated as the place for the Hamblecia, while continuing the comparison.

A location for both the Hamblecia and the wedding are selected, and an alter is made for them both as well (if the wedding is of a religious nature). Before the ceremony, one is without the vision, or single. After both ceremonies, one will be changed. One will obtain a vision after the Hamblecia (traditionally, it’s regarded as suspicious if one does not have a vision); one will have a spouse after the wedding ceremony. The vision is in essence, married to, and can only be “divorced” from through ceremony.

To finish this analogy and make it relevant to the issue at hand, imagine the loud noise of motorcycles during the small, intimate wedding. Imagine the noise disturbing the vows and the first kiss as husband and wife; furthermore, imagine that all that disruption occurres after having selected the place for the wedding around uranium mines and the pollution that results therefrom. Maybe there are traditionally designated locations for vision quests at the Black Hills, but you couldn’t have had your vision quest where the uranium mines are now, even if you wanted to.

I’ll restate Fools Crows’ powerful words.

The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota people. Both the sacred pipe and the Black Hills go hand and hand in our religion. The Black Hills is our church, the place where we worship. The Black Hills is our burial grounds. The Bones of our grandfathers lie buried in those hills. How can you expect us to sell our church and our cemeteries for a few token whiteman dollars. We will never sell.

To conclude this, I woke up the last day of a vision quest to the beautiful sound of a red cardinal singing.

Then, I heard the ugliest sound I ever heard in my life. I heard what I assumed was an eighteen wheeler about ½ mile away. It would’ve sounded much uglier and disruptive, had it been a motorcycle – which is much louder if it is not muffled (I heard a relatively quiet motorcycle very recently).

I think that one of the most powerful requests is to simply say, “Help.”

Report on State Tribal Relations Committee Meeting

Ms. White Face also stated that she thinks the reason for the lack of public awareness of this problem has been due to the current and planned oil wells in Harding County, and that the state receives money from those wells. She also stated that research needs to be done on the amount of state land in this area. She then explained the impact from the large number of abandoned uranium mines in the surrounding states.


Now, therefore, be it resolved, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty-first Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature supports the development of nuclear energy production facilities within the State of South Dakota.

Well, help.


WHEREAS, nuclear power has proved to be a reliable and low-cost source of energy; and

WHEREAS, use of nuclear power will decrease our dependence on foreign oil. Nuclear energy in the United States has displaced more than 4.6 billion barrels of oil and saved more than $145 billion in oil payments since the 1973 Arab oil embargo; and

WHEREAS, nuclear power promotes economic development through the creation of jobs and tax revenues and the availability of a stable and reliable source of energy; and

Please, don’t let the Lakota Nation be swindled out of the Black Hills.


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  1. went away shortly after I posted this the first time a couple months ago. Don’t know why. I’ll try to refind it…


    I’ll re-update.

    • Diane G on October 15, 2007 at 23:49
  3. of the wedding and the vision quest.  It helped me understand the vision quest in a new way, as a social dynamic.  It is spiritual, experienced by one person, but it is also a shared experience between people, within a community. 

    It made me see how the random sounds of motorcycles, etc. would be disturbing. 

    • Temmoku on October 16, 2007 at 04:37

    Needs to be said. All I can add is that the times I have visited and camped in the Black Hills were spectacular…If ever gods dwelled in any place, it would be there. There seems to be something intangible and divine in the Hills. The area is a unique treasure that should be preserved…already there is too much development.
    A place of natural wonders and singular beauty. Simply breathtaking.

    • Tigana on October 16, 2007 at 05:47

    To understand why this is so important, look at what is happening to the ancestral lands of the Cherokee –
    Their interactive view utility is amazing, and heartbreaking.
    So Winter Rabbit, what’s the plan?

  4. and infuriating. People can be so callous and cruel, and the depths of human depravity never ceases to amaze me.

    I love your analogy of the black hills as a church. So basically what’s happening is putting a biker bar next to a church. 

    Nuclear energy? OK, so the state of South Dakota is officially crazy. Of course, I suppose they’re planning on storing all that nuclear waste on some reservation, too.

    I need to go somewhere and scream now.

    Your description of the vision quest and the wedding were beautiful and really helped me feel the sacred/profane contrast that’s going out there. By the time I got to the end of this essay, I was thinking “of course, since when are churches for sale!” I wonder when the last time anybody’s offered the Pope some dough for the Vatican? Hmmm, what would he say?

    This essay was a wonderful cultural and political education. I hope you’ll keep on gracing us with them.


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