spiritual retreat center education

A Call to Protect and Preserve the Pe Sla also known as
Reynolds Prairie in the Heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota (read more below)

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Standing on top of Flag Mountain (7000 ft.) in the Heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota on the west side of the Prairie historically and presently known to the Lakota nation as the Pe Sla (Albert White Hat translates this as “bald”; and says it is a place to prepare for spring as a time and place to conduct a wiping of the tears ceremony with all creation), one looks across to the majestic Peak known as Hinhan Kaga Paha (literal translation is “you’re making something like an owl – Albert White Hat) or Harney Peak (7200 ft. on present day maps).  The rolling meadows, many of them original unplowed turf, surrounded by the black forest have called people here for thousands of years for prayers of peace and healing.  The Pe Sla is one of the five primary sacred sites in the Black Hills to the Lakota nation because of its position on their annual pilgrimage/journey of prayers and ceremonies.  It is also the only one held mostly in private hands as others are within state or federal property.  This prairie has only known cattle grazing by a handful of ranchers since the Homestead Act.  Now subdivisions are encroaching upon this one pristine open space left in the Black Hills. 

This portion of the Black Hills’ expansive, rolling prairie and hills, wildlife including antelope, elk, deer, wild turkey, coyotes and mountain lions, wildflowers, herbs and medicinal plants offers South Dakotans, and, indeed, our nation, a gift that calls for preservation now.  This initiative is being shared with people of all cultures in South Dakota and with interested persons outside of South Dakota including those in fields of agriculture, academia, state and national government, recreation, law, religion, and business to raise awareness of the dangers of losing this gift and to garner support for preserving this gift for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and future generations.  We need to ask the question if we would want our grandchildren asking us, “you mean you just let this prairie be developed and didn’t do anything to preserve it when you could?” 

Our nation’s children are increasingly victimized by a lack of exposure to nature and wild places and the experience of feeling safe in the out of doors environment.  During the past fifteen years, research has shown that our young people are increasingly alienated from the environment, from nature.  By not getting outdoors science is demonstrating that kids are missing out on the enormously positive impact of direct nature experiences on their cognitive development, creativity, and physical and emotional health.  Diminishing access to natural areas leads the list of reasons why.  (Last Child in the Woods by Louv)  More time indoors away from nature is leading to health risks including diabetes and obesity.  Adults, also, need places to put the rest of the world, with all of its conflicts, stresses, violence and tensions, into a perspective that nurtures their lives.  Places like Reynolds Prairie, where one can look all around and see nothing but nature, are vital to the health of everyone, especially our children.  We need to make some good decisions about this wonderful place so that we and the prairie gives something back to our world, remembering that sometimes contributing to our world means leaving it just as it is.

The three ranches whose buildings exist on Reynolds Prairie belong to the homestead era of our nation’s history.  These have important geographical, architectural and social connotations that should be documented and preserved as a legacy – a living history museum - for our grandchildren to learn about and to learn from.  The only fairly new construction is the home on Alexander’s ranch, which replaced the homestead house when it burned approximately 30 years ago; and additions to the original log house at the Kramer ranch at about that same time.  Structures that exist include stacked stone structures built into the hillside, 100+ year old barns, log cabins and the area one room schoolhouse.  Borderlands Education and Spiritual Center leases from the Kramer ranch and, as a not for profit organization, has as its mission “personal, cultural and environmental reconciliation as well as preservation of the prairie known as Reynolds Prairie.”

The USFS has already preserved a log cabin along a hiking trail near Deerfield Lake (reservoir) as a remembrance to the Ranching History of this area.  Deerfield Lake is a jewel that would benefit from the prairie surrounding it being preserved – it’s hiking trails, camping and picnic sites, the dam, fishing and water sport opportunities and just being surrounded by nature, the antelope, deer and elk that run through the prairie and the grazing of cattle and horses, are tremendous gifts to our community, our state and nation.  Long before this prairie was named Reynolds Prairie, it was and still is known as the Pe Sla – meaning peace at the bare spot - to the Lakota nation, a sacred place of prayer for peace and healing.  Sacred ceremonies are ongoing in areas of the prairie as prayers are still offered for peace and reconciliation in this time of unrest, war and worldly turbulence

The following information regarding this sacred site is obtained from the book, Lakota Star Knowledge, by Ronald Goodman published by Sinte Gleska University in Rosebud, South Dakota, in 1992.  Because of the probable difficulty of obtaining this book readily by readers of this paper, the book is quoted heavily throughout.  This is being written in the spirit of the goal of the book found on page 2, “Our purpose in gathering this knowledge is to create curriculum materials for Lakota students (at all levels).  Nevertheless, there is a willingness to share this knowledge with non-Indians, so that they, through learning how the Lakota experience the earth’s sacredness, will be inspired to seek out and recover their own traditional ways of knowing the earth – not as dead matter spinning in empty space, but rather as our very mother, a living and a holy being.”

Goodman uses present knowledge of constellations along with Lakota oral tradition “to suggest that the earliest spring journeys of the Lakota might have occurred 2000 – 3000 years ago….  Goodman’s work describes how the ceremony of the Spring Journey was tied to “following the sun” through a specific set of constellations that had earthly counterparts in the landscape.”  (p. III Preface)  “Each spring, a small group composed of especially devoted members from several Lakota bands journeyed through the Black Hills, synchronizing their movements to the motions of the sun along the ecliptic.  As the sun moved into a particular Lakota constellation, they traveled to the site correlated with that constellation and held ceremonies there. Finally they arrived at Devil’s Tower at midsummer for the Sun Dance where they were joined by many western Lakota bands.”  (p. 2)  “We are, of course, discussing a period of time long before the Lakota had horses.  Bands or very spiritual members of those bands who were near enough to walk to Harney Peak and the Pe Sla went there at the times indicated by the sun on the ecliptic.  At the Pe Sla in mid-May, the spring had actually begun and a ceremony was performed which welcomed back those life forms which had been prayed for at the equinox.  The ceremony was called, “Peace at a bare spot,” Okislataya Wowahwala.  This welcoming ceremony included: feeding the plants by pouring water in the earth; scattering seeds for the birds; and an offering of tongues for the meat eaters.  Also at this time, people began to ready themselves for Sun Dance by fasting, silence and purifications.  After completing ceremonies at the Pe Sla, the People collected stones at Inyan Kaga in the Wyoming Black Hills and carried them to Devil’s Tower to be used in the purification lodge during the time of the Sun Dance.”  (p.12-13)

Red Cloud indicated in his last speech to the People in 1903, “we told them (government officials) that the supernatural powers had given to the Lakota the buffalo for food and clothing.  We told them that where the buffalo ranged, that was our country.  We told them that the country of the buffalo was the country of the Lakota.  We told them that the buffalo must have their country and the Lakota must have their buffalo.”  Goodman emphasizes, “The repeated use of the word “must” in his speech is the sign that what Red Cloud is referring to is religious duty and not merely economic necessity or political control.  He is referring to the need for religious freedom.”  The annual spring journey and ceremonies help clarify the complex nature of this duty.

In Peter Nabakov’s, Where The Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places, (Viking Penguin Press, 2006) rock art specialist and the “reigning expert on the archaeology of the Black Hills”, Linea Sundstrom, (p. 208) says “many rock art sites illustrating recognizably religious themes dating back thousands of years, suggests that the Black Hills area has had considerable religious significance for much, if not all, of its human history.”

Many Lakota people will assert, “the Black Hills is the home of our heart, and the heart of our home.”  As human beings, as spiritual beings, preserving a major sacred place from development in the Black Hills is a way of seeking justice for a people.  It is a way of preserving a basic tenet of our United States Constitution, which affords all people religious freedom including protection of sacred places.

When the Forest Service was asked about a cabin being renovated as a memorial to the ranching history on the Pe Sla, the questioners reminded them that there was a much longer history of this site among the Lakota.  The Forest Service representative told us that the Lakota elders with whom they consult told them no one wanted that information known.  A few months later when an official from the county government was standing on Rochford Road that runs through the middle of the Pe Sla or Reynolds Prairie, he exclaimed with great satisfaction that “soon this road will be a black ribbon (paved with asphalt) and this prairie will be a sea of houses”.  Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time that further abuse and possible desecration will take place so that we must tell the story of this sacred site.  Action must be taken to preserve this prairie for future generations. 

  • Please pray for its preservation and for the awareness of its spiritual significance to all people. 
  • Please tell the story to all whom you know. 
  • Please show your support by seeking ways to protect this place.  Some of those possibilities are outlined below.

Only the briefest portions of the Lakota Star Knowledge book are shared here as a way of presenting the significance of the Pe Sla on the simplest of levels.  The writer does not pretend to understand everything about this complex cosmological system and apologizes for any errors, for any misunderstandings and for any offense inadvertently caused.  This is written because if what is happening on the Pe Sla, Reynolds Prairie, isn’t known widely, it will be a “sea of houses” soon.  I write this humbly in memory of and with the inspiration of my hunka father, Noah Brokenleg, and of my friend and encourager, Grady Collins, and in anticipation of the future for my grandchildren – and yours.

The Pe Sla, Reynolds Prairie, offers a tranquil and peaceful gift to a troubled world.  This prairie needs to be allowed to offer its gift to the world in a protected, respectful and good way.

This initiative advocates the following:

  • formation of a Reynolds Prairie Landowners and/or Neighbors Coalition to deal with issues of preservation (of both pre-homestead act and ranching history) and protection of the prairie from development.  As of this writing this group has met together twice and has listened to persons from the Bear Butte Alliance who are concerned with land in Meade County around the sacred site of Bear Butte. 
  • preservation from development of the prairie only– it does not address the forested portion of this area, indeed, encourages any necessary building to be done within the forested portion of the land or within a “to be determined” number of feet from already existing structures.
  • preservation for the long term in areas of conservation easements, water protection, land trusts, partnership with educational institutions and/or Forest Service/State Park System/National Monument, whatever it takes to get to the goal of protection and preservation.
  • seeking private, foundation or public funds to purchase any land that is vulnerable to development in order to place it in protective trust.

Friends of Borderlands have recently purchased the most critical parcel of 120 acres in the middle of the prairie for sale by a developer. They will hold the land while money is raised by Borderlands for its purchase.  This land along with the 133 acres currently housing Borderlands Education and Spiritual Center is to be protected from development and kept as a sacred site, a nature preserve housing buffalo one day, and a center from which to learn how to live in harmony and balance with the land.  This goal includes installing a wind turbine, solar panels, an outdoor wood furnace, and growing our own food.

“Know the power that is peace.” – Black Elk

© Copyright 2012    Linda J. Kramer – Icimahniwin – Pilgrimage Woman



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