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Pennington County OKs Federal Trust Status for Pe’ Sla

See that open spot in the middle of the Black Hills? That's Pe' Sla.
See that open spot in the middle of the Black Hills? That’s Pe’ Sla.

The Pennington County Commission voted 3–2 on Tuesday to not oppose the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s effort to put the Pe’ Sla prairie oasis in the middle of the Black Hills into federal trust. Moving that land from private ownership to trust status will remove it from the tax rolls. One would think that Black Hills property would add big bucks to Pennington County’s coffers, but when I checked in 2012, the county appeared to be getting $1.50 an acre on some parcels of Pe’ Sla, suggesting that removing the roughly 2,000 acres from the rolls nicks the $86.3-million budget by a few thousand dollars. That seems a small price to pay for restoring tribal sovereignty to a tiny, protected enclave in the Paha Sapa.

Conservative county commissioner George Ferebee nonetheless opposes the trust move:

Ferebee said Pe’ Sla should be allowed an exemption from taxes for religious reasons but kept in private ownership.

“I’m a private-property rights person. That land doesn’t belong to the government, it belongs to (the tribes),” he said, “and that’s the way it should remain” [John Lee McLaughlin, “Pennington County Commission Will Support Putting Pe’ Sla into Federal Trust,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.08.19].

Ferebee here plays Conserva-Twister, positing that private property includes his ability as a government official to prevent Indians from disposing of their private property as they see fit.

As he revealed at a May commission meeting, Ferebee doesn’t understand that he can’t imperialize his Indian neighbors with his concept of private property:

Ferebee said he cannot understand why the tribes insist on placing the land in trust rather than leaving it under the tribes’ own private ownership.

The short answer is that tribal jurisdiction and full Native American land status would not apply if the land is not held in trust. Kurt BlueDog, a lawyer representing the tribes, expanded on that explanation by saying tribal history does not include the concept of land ownership. The tribes participated in a land transaction to secure access to Pe’ Sla, he said, but they do not feel comfortable with the concept of owning land they consider sacred. Rather, they view themselves as benefiting from land gifted by the Creator.

“It needs to have a distinction away from other land,” BlueDog said [Seth Tupper, “County O.K.’s Law Enforcement Pact for Pe’ Sla,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.05.06].

For the Rosebud Sioux, acquiring Pe’ Sla was all about rescuing the prairie island from private development and preserving it for the tribe’s ceremonial uses. Federal trust status is the surest way to protect that land from the temptations of Western capitalism and maintain it as a public good for the tribe’s future generations.



  1. mike from iowa 2015-08-21 09:01

    Educate an ignorant iowan-me. Is that picture the totality of the Black Hills from space and do they really appear black to the (cover your eyes, wingnuts) naked eye? Never seen them,prolly never will.

  2. Rorschach 2015-08-21 10:32

    The Black Hills look dark on the horizon when approaching from endless the prairie. I suspect that’s where they got their name, but I don’t know. Looking down from space the Martians call them, “fertile territory.”

  3. Rorschach 2015-08-21 10:38

    The previous comment is dedicated to Josh Duggar, and to his like-minded rapture-believing friends in the west river woodlands.

  4. jerry 2015-08-21 10:53

    No kidding. In Rapid City itself, there are those that challenge the “greenway” for development to this day. Not so long ago, there was an effort to begin a large supermarket development near an area that was under water during the flood that was defeated. Recently, there was a development by a high ranking politico that got a development for a tourist cabin area just above Canyon Lake in an area that was under water as well. When this was first proposed, Rapid City had aldermen that had survived the flood and knew about the dangers of locating there. When new folks come on board anything, they do not remember history on why things were done in the first place.

    Bravo for the tribe’s tenacity to put the land in trust as it will stay protected from the future. Bravo for the Pennington County commissioners for their positive vote.

  5. Bill Fleming 2015-08-21 12:34

    Mike from Iowa, check out this online Lakota dictionary. If you type in “Paha” you see that it means “hill or mound or pile.” “Spa” means “black, or muddy” or even sometimes “cloudy.” So the answer is that it’s a translation into English of the words American Indians used to describe the landform (Paha Sapa). Beyond that, I’ll defer to Roger and our other Lakota posters to tell us what the indigenous connotative meaning of the phrase is.

  6. Paul Seamans 2015-08-21 13:39

    Thank you to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Oyate) for saving this land from development.

  7. mike from iowa 2015-08-21 14:21

    Thanks Bill Fleming.

  8. mike from iowa 2015-08-21 16:25

    Found an interesting article about Paha Sapa written by Russell Means and another from a site called Hanksville. How do Dakotans view Mr Means?

  9. Roger Cornelius 2015-08-21 17:47

    Bill, your interpretations are spot on and the only thing I can add is that when I was pretty young the elders had various other names for the Black Hills, I can’t recall them, but I think they applied to specific sites in the hills.

    How that old lunatic Ferebee was ever elected to the Pennington County Commission is amazing, he used to attend meetings just to interrupt them and I believe he once was banned from speaking because of his childish behavior.

    And Cory is correct the surest way to protect Indian lands is to put them in trust, what I don’t understand is why the Rosebud Sioux Tribe even bothered with the Pennington County Commission, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has the final word on land and trust issues.

  10. Bill Fleming 2015-08-21 18:47

    Good to hear, Roger. I used the same dictionary to look up pe’ sla, and from what I can tell, it pretty much means ‘bald head.’ Or ‘bald spot,’ is that right? If so, pretty funny, considering. That’s exactly how I thought of it when I first saw the satellite picture of it. Looks like a big bald spot.

  11. leslie 2015-08-21 20:10

    Looks like an extremely sacred natural feature related in location to hinhan kaga (harney peak) nearby, and is just as striking, which portrays the connections between the constellations the Lakota cherished and relied upon in their annual journeys from winter camps near the sand hills, Grand River, Powder River and other regions, to such actual geographic and sacred features (in the “black hills, badlands and lakes (C)KOTA” :) of SD and Wyo.

    custer himself photographed tall, tall stacks of elk antlers at Pe Sla’ in 1874, carted them off back to Ft. Lincoln, and similarly took items as collectibles from burial grounds, tipis and scaffolds in Montana shortly before he met his fate at the greasy grass battle.

  12. grudznick 2015-08-21 20:23

    Everything, interestingly enough, is sacred, Ms. Leslie.

    My good friend Mr. C could not be more right about Mr. Ferebee. He is insaner than most, a Howite of Gordantic proportions. A bumbling fool beyond his years, he has clear onset of some sort of mental diseases or a level of being demented that rivals most. Unstable and fleeting of mental stability is what always comes to mind when I chat with him, and the fellow even eschews gravy on his breakfast taters. How Mr. Verchio’s district came to elect a fellow like that is beyond me. He even thinks there are pigs by the creek and, you can’t make this up, was banned from writing letters to the editor in his local paper.

    Insaner than most, indeed.

  13. grudznick 2015-08-21 20:31

    Mr. C, I bet the tribe just thought it couldn’t hurt to have the county in which the land in Reynold’s Prairie is located to be on board and supportive when they take their case to the BIA. I If they have a letter or something that says “Pennington County, the local government entity responsible for providing fire, ambulance and police support to this tract of land, is in support of putting this in trust” or something of that nature it can only help the fellows from Rosebud.

    PennCo ain’t trying to decide.
    They’re just on the Rosebud side.

    Mr. Ferebee notwithstanding.

  14. Rorschach 2015-08-21 20:44

    Yes, Mr. Ferebee is a litigious fellow, both Hatfield and McCoy to his neighbors, the sheriff and the court system. He was Trump before Trump was Trump, minus about $2.5 billion. Even after losing the votes of the people who know him personally, insaner than most plays well with voters in his area.

  15. grudznick 2015-08-21 20:47

    Mr. Rorschach, did you know he insisted that there were wild pigs by his creek in the Black Hills and got banned from writing letters to the editor about the subject every single week for a few months in a row?

  16. Rorschach 2015-08-21 21:38

    I didn’t know that Ferebee won’t take gravy with his breakfast taters, but it doesn’t surprise me. And now you say he doesn’t like bacon?

  17. leslie 2015-08-22 07:51

    kudos penn cty comm!

    perhaps it is a cheap gimmie to the tribes in light of the upcoming repercussions of the trace o’connel case, and the highly questionable and probably racist stances taken by custer county comm. and followed by penn cty comm on the recent defeat of the Harney Peak name-change.

  18. barry freed 2015-08-24 09:10

    No big deal as land worth 10 to 20 million dollars was under-assessed and only taxed $3K per year. More “wealth privilege” as the rich former owner who paid a small fraction on value sells to another rich entity who will pay zero in taxes. But yes, we need to opt out to raise teacher pay. How many other such properties are under-assessed in Penn. County?

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