Ten years after the Oglala Lakota set up an encampment to stop treasure-hunters from looting their ancestors bones - as well as a US-government planned fossil dig on sacred ancestral grounds - it appears that an agreement has finally been reached to transfer management of part of Badlands National Park to Tribal authorities.
The South Unit of the national park – which entirely overlaps lands that are part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - came one step closer to becoming the nation’s first tribal national park after Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele signed a Management Agreement between the Park Service and the Tribe on Saturday. It is expected to be signed next by Mike Reynolds, regional director of the National Park Service. That signature will conclude a decade-long process to confirm the South Unit’s General Management Plan. The plan is a document that outlines a working relationship between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the National Park Service to oversee the unit.
In 2002, this blogger had the honor of spending several weeks among the Oglala Lakota at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. At the time, the Tokala Oyate (or “Kit Fox Society,” which serve as contemporary tribal warriors) had physically occupied a section of Badlands National Park that ‘overlaps’ the Pine Ridge Reservation. The occupation occurred after the National Park Service proved unable to prevent the looting of bones from Lakota graves on a landform called the Stronghold Table. Adding insult to injury, the Park Service itself had planned a major archaeological dig in a search for fossils.
With sharp reactions, traditional elders and young people, told Park Service officials that the memorandum of agreement, allowing them to operate the park here on Oglala tribal land, was null and void.
At the time, Park Service officials, however, did little more than snicker. But 10 years later, Park Management is on the verge of being transferred to the Tribe.
“We are camped on top of the Stronghold to protest what the National Park Service is planning to do and come what may we will protect the bones of our relatives, the Lakotas and our friends and allies, the Cheyenne and Arapaho.”
Supporters of the encampment, including your blogger, brought vanloads of supplies to the remote, off-road location. Then Lakota youth rode horseback late into the night, bringing supplies to those who patrolled and watched with binoculars, for the unexplained helicopters, late into the night.
Since the late 1880s, the South Dakota School of Mines and U.S. government have taken millions of dollars worth of fossils off of the Reservation with no kind of benefit going to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which maintains a ‘third world’ standard of living within the United States, with one of the highest poverty and lowest life expectancy rates in the nation.
Today, “we are one step closer,” said Gerard Baker, interim executive director of the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority. “We are at the final leg to make this a true tribal national park.”