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Tribes Join Forces To Purchase Land At Bear Butte
by Rosemary Stephens, Editor-in-Chief Cheyenne And Arapaho Tribal Tribune

The irony of purchasing land located at Bear Butte just outside of Sturgis, South Dakota isn't lost on most Native Americans.

Bear Butte

Originally the land belonged to Native Americans. The land was taken and sold to an individual. Now, almost a century later, Native Americans band together to purchase land they once owned at Bear Butte. Specifically, 270 acres of land.

"Jim Jandreau who works for the state park at Bear Butte was notified by the auction company that 260 acres of land was coming up sale. He in turn contacted Albert Old Crow and Albert sent the request into the executive office and Max Bear at Culture and Heritage. Max, in turn, contacted Economic Development to come in and help with the process of maybe purchasing the land," Nathan Hart, economic development director said.

Bear Butte is known to be a sacred site for the Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne. For the Cheyenne Bear Butte is also known as the Sacred Mountain, with stories of Maheo (God) giving Sweet Medicine the four Sacred Arrows, which allowed them access to Maheo's power. The Cheyenne call this place Nowah'was, meaning 'The Hills Where the People are Taught.'

Sturgis, South Dakota isn't just home to Bear Butte, but is also the location for one of the largest yearly motorcycle rallies to be held in the U.S., and once home to a biker bar called Full Throttle Saloon. The self-proclaimed "world's largest biker bar." Co-owner, Michael Ballard sought to rebuild the bar closer to Bear Butte National Historic landmark, a protected area that is the center of prayer for more than 60 tribes after the original saloon was destroyed by fire.

"All that we were concerned with was preserving this land for cultural purposes. Those who wanted this land for commercial development, well we really don't care what their opinion is. We did what we needed to do to preserve the land," Hart said.

Hart said he started to look into possible financial resources looking outside the tribe for resources.

"I felt like it was up to the executive office to look into the tribes' financial resources so I approached some organizations that I knew was set up to help tribes buy land back. I made contact with them and we entered into some dialogue and it was really just about a week and a half before the auction date that this organization came back and said other tribes had contacted them too who were interested in going up there and bidding on it," Hart said. "They had been through a process before on other parcels of land, over 2,000 acres where tribes came together and jointly went in and purchased that property. They told me each tribe going at it alone might be able to pick up a few individual tracts but asked if the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes would be interested in coming in with other tribes and try and get it all as a unit because we all have the same goal … to preserve it as a cultural site, cultural preservation."

Knowing the importance of preserving the land around Bear Butte, Hart, acting on behalf of the tribes began to have a series of phone calls with other tribes and each of them began to take individual actions, be it in front of their council or in the case of the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes, in front of the legislature to obtain authorization to go bid on the land and set a dollar figure.

"When we first started to look at the figures and tried to project what the cost of purchasing the land was going to be we figured it could go as high as $1.2 million. Our internal funding source was the tribes' Tax Commission and that figure was perceived as being too high. So I went through a series of calculations of what the tracts could sell for. The land sold in six different tracts and we knew that several of those tracts were prime commercial development tracts and they were going to go higher. We finally came out with a number of $925,000 and the Tax Commission approved it," Hart said. "But when it finally came down to a vote from the legislature there was a lot of discussion and it was brought down to $400,000. The legislature approved that amount to be authorized to bid on the land."

Armed with a dollar figure, Hart, Bear and Parry RomanNose, Tax Commission, traveled to South Dakota, with Hart taking lead on the bidding. Hart said the auction was different than any other auction he had ever been to, going through round after round of bidding. In the end he said the Northern Cheyenne were bidding on one tract of land, the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes were bidding on another tract of land, and the other four tracts were being bid on for commercial development … exactly what the tribes wanted to avoid … commercial development.

"It was during the bidding that the Northern Cheyenne came to me and said 'we have to preserve this land as a whole. You have this amount of money as a commitment, to add to what you and the other tribes have put together, so try and get it all.'

So then I knew what dollar amount I had to work with and we were bumping right up against that maximum when that auction ended. I was already calculating out plan B. Plan B would be with the money I had allocated to bid on I was going to pick off as many of those individual tracts as I could, but I knew plan B wouldn't get the entire 270 acres. We would have came out with about 150 acres," Hart said. "It was really because all the tribes pulled together, literally at the 11th hour and making their commitments and giving me their commitments that allowed this to go through. The tribes plan is to preserve the land as a sacred site and that was, and is, all of the tribes' goals."

So in the end, by Tribal Nations coming together, standing and working together, all six tracts of land totaling 270 acres will remain as it has always been … a sacred site.

"We got it back, we all worked together and now that I have been back a couple of days and have talked to the other tribes, this was a big deal. Once in a lifetime experience to be a part of this. Everybody that was there described it as being very intense. I was asked ahead of time was I nervous or stressed about it and neither of those described it," Hart said. "The feeling was I understood there was a big responsibility that I had and I just stayed focused on that. We had a lot of spiritual help. A lot of people here knew we were going and there was a lot of sweats that went on, a lot of prayers. When we went there we made sure to give ourselves plenty of time to go up on the mountain and pray and as we were coming down we saw other people going up on the mountain to pray. Turned out it was the Northern Cheyenne going up the mountain to pray. That land is sacred and we should all be proud."


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