Four tribes—the Shakopee Mdewankanton, Crow Creek, Rosebud, and Standing Rock—worked for three years to purchase Pe’ Sla, the sacred grassland in the middle of the Black Hills. Playing by colonialist rules, our Indian neighbors bought that which is not for sale. They now want to place their land in federal trust so that it will not be sold again and so that “all tribal members access to it, particularly for ceremonial and prayer purposes.”
Despite some strange conservative opposition to American Indians exercising their property rights, the Pennington County Commission voted last August not to oppose the tribes’ efforts to place the land in trust. The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced its approval of federal Indian trust status for Pe’ Sla on March 10, allowing the tribes to work together to exercise their sovereignty over their land.
That sovereignty is too much for Governor Dennis Daugaard. He announced last week that the State of South Dakota is appealing the BIA’s Pe’ Sla trust decision. Federal trust status may cost local governments a measly $80,000 in property taxes. The state has a legal argument that the four tribes working together aren’t a tribe but an “organization” for which the BIA can’t take land into trust and essentially create a reservation in the middle of the Black Hills. The state also has concerns about jurisdictional issues
At a Rosebud Sioux Tribe council meeting on April 21, Governor Daugaard said he can support putting land into federal Indian trust status that is contiguous with existing tribal land in order to clean up jurisdiction issues but can’t stand creating islands of trust land that “creates checkerboarding.” But then Governor Daugaard expressed this stunningly paternalistic argument against trust status for Pe’ Sla:
“I also oppose the Pe` Sla land into trust for this reason,” explains Daugaard. “ You have many tribal members who have needs here on the reservation. And if Grandma needs housing. Or if Grandma’ needs food. Or if Grandma needs transportation…Grandma doesn’t need you to spend tribal resources on a park land setting 200 miles away for religious use or for buffalo agricultural use. Grandma needs housing. Grandma needs food. And so…that’s your decision to make…not mine. That’s yours to make. But I don’t support it…for that reason. And that’s the reason I don’t support it” [Jim Kent, “Governor Opposes Pe` Sla Land Trust Status Due to Reservation Tribal Members’ Needs,” SDPB Radio, 2016.04.25].
Let me save the Governor’s staff some time—there is no provision in federal law giving state governors veto power over tribal budget decisions, any more than tribal chairmen can walk into the Capitol and veto the state budget because of the state’s use of GEAR UP money to pay Rick Melmer and friends six-figure salaries instead of paying for college for American Indian kids.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal President Dave Archambault accurately says Governor Daugaard’s opposition to trust status for Pe’ Sla “is perplexing, disheartening, and reveals a lack of understanding and respect for our beliefs, values, and the origins of our people.”
Jurisdiction may be complicated, but the tribes and all local parties involved in providing law enforcement and emergency services have agreed they can make it work. When the Great White Father in Pierre says Pe’ Sla trust status shouldn’t move forward because the Indians aren’t spending their money properly, he is only prolonging the colonialist attitude that Indians aren’t smart enough to manage their own affairs.