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For Sale: The Sacred Center of the Sioux Universe

The site of Pe’ Sla has been privately owned since 1876, but indigenous people have always been free to worship there. All that could change on August 25, when the land is set to be auctioned off.

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Some Lakota may find this ironic, perhaps.

Sacred Places Are Part of the Commons

Is it possible that not everything should be privately owned? While other religions have sacred sites that are revered and protected, the Lakota continue to struggle to protect their most sacred places. At Mahto Paha, or Bear Butte, numerous challenges to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally have finally yielded some success. And at Grey Horned Butte, or Devils Tower, a legal battle led to limitations in rock-climbing access in order to protect the privacy of native people engaging in vision quests.

In this time of crashing ecosystems, it may be worth resisting the commodification of all that is revered. A 2005 editorial in the Rapid City Journal points out that protecting Lakota sacred sites is of interest to all:

Non-Indians have little to fear if familiar sites are designated as sacred; visitors are still allowed at Bear Butte, Devil’s Tower and Rainbow Bridge, even though they are being managed as Indian sacred sites. And in fact, expanding non-Indians’ knowledge and appreciation of the Indian lore surrounding such sites could lead to greater cultural understanding.

Meetings are being held in most of the Lakota nation this week, with organizers hoping to secure both a stop to the auction, and a plan to protect Pe’ Sla from the auction block and encroachment. Another group has organized a campaign to purchase as much of the land as possible during the auction.

It is 2012, and whether you measure time by the elections, by the Mayan calendar, or just by the movement of the Earth, it’s a good time to recognize and protect what is sacred. Today I return to Wind Cave, and have the wind blow on my face, hoping to greet the great mystery and, perhaps, to see something sacred preserved.

For more information about the Sioux campaign to raise funds and purchase Pe’ Sla, visit this  Indiegogo campaign.

Winona LaDuke adapted this article for  YES! Magazine , a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Winona is a contributing editor to YES!, and an author and activist who writes extensively on native and environmental issues. Her most recent book is  Recovering the Sacred . She is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations.  This article previously appeared at  Last Real Indians .