SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- It's advertised as a one-of-a-kind deal: Nearly 2,000 acres of prime real estate nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota for sale to the highest bidder. But the offer to sell the land near Mount Rushmore and historic Deadwood has distressed American Indian tribes who consider it a sacred site.
Although the land has been privately owned, members of the Great Sioux Nation -- known as Lakota, Dakota and Nakota -- have been allowed to gather there each year to perform ceremonial rituals they believe are necessary for harmony, health and well-being.
Members now fear that if the property they call Pe' Sla is sold, it will be developed and they will lose access. The South Dakota Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are studying the possibility of paving one of the main roads that divides the land, a fact mentioned in the advertisement touting its development potential.
The tribes have banded together to raise money to buy back as much of the land as they can. But with a week to go until Saturday's auction, they have only about $110,000 committed for property they believe will sell for $6 million to $10 million.
"A lot of our people who practice our way of life go there to pray and there are a lot of us that go up there," said Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which is leading the effort.
The area is the only sacred site currently on private land outside Sioux control. The tribes believe the Sioux were created from the Black Hills, and part of their tradition says Pe' Sla is where the Morning Star fell to earth, killing seven beings that killed seven women. The Morning Star placed the souls of the women into the night sky as "The Seven Sisters," also known as the Pleiades constellation.
The land -- 1,942 acres of pristine prairie grass -- is owned by Leonard and Margaret Reynolds, who declined to comment. Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said they should be commended for how well they have preserved the land and for giving the tribes access. Iron Eyes founded Last Real Indians, a website that promotes indigenous writers and is working with the tribes to spread the word about the sale via social media.
Raising money to buy the land is a monumental and controversial undertaking for the Sioux tribes. An 1868 treaty set aside the Black Hills and other land for the Sioux, but Congress passed a law in 1877 seizing the land following the discovery of gold in western South Dakota.
A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling awarded more than $100 million to Sioux tribes for the Black Hills, but the tribes have refused to accept the money, saying the land has never been for sale. There are Sioux tribes in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and Canada.
"There are a lot of our people that absolutely 100 percent do not agree with paying any money for land that we consider still ours, but the reality is we sometimes are forced to fight with the rules of the United States," Iron Eyes said.
Online donations totaled about $59,000 as of Friday. The Rosebud Sioux have allocated at least $50,000 to the cause, and other Sioux tribes are discussing how much to donate, Iron Eyes said.