Sunday, August 26, 2012

A little sacred space, please

Yes --- I know Tropical Storm Isaac is preparing to smite Republicans now gathering in Tampa. And, more importantly, that Britain's Prince Harry took off all is clothes last week and cavorted naked in front of a cell phone camera in Las Vegas.

But the story I've been following has been unfolding in the Black Hills, where the pending auction sale of Pe' Sla --- considered to be the sacred heart of everything by the Oceti Sakowin (People of the Seven Council Fires or the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota tribal components of what sometimes is called the Great Sioux Nation) --- was canceled Saturday.

That doesn't mean that sale of roughly 2,000 acres of rolling prairie in the heart of the Black Hills accumulated by the Reynolds family since 1876 won't take place, just that the family decided to cancel Saturday's motel-based auction, most likely because of the attention (including proposed demonstrations) that it had attracted.

Those are some photos of what also is known as Reynolds Prairie above, and the auctioneer/realtor --- Brock Auction Co., homebased in Le Mars, Iowa --- produced the following video. The photos give a better idea how the area looks. The video, despite the giddyap music and sweeping aerials, makes the place look a little like southern Iowa once the opening views have passed. And, really Col. Brock --- it wasn't especially diplomatic to feature prominently a portrait of George Armstrong Custer when you were dealing in sites sacred to indigenous people.

But once you move past the 300 years of collective villany demonstrated by the people and governments of the United States toward our native people, there really are no modern good guys and bad guys here. By all accounts, the Reynolds family has been a good steward of the site, allowing the Oceti Sakowin unrestricted access. Nor can you blame the family for deciding after nearly 140 years, to sell up --- or the auctioneer for accepting the commission.

The sale was a surprise, however, to those who consider it the site sacred (a little notice probably would have been appreciated). So there wasn't time to generate enough money to compete with prospective white bidders who, some estimated, would be willing to fork over as much as $4-10 million for the right to carve this expanse of open space in the heart of the Hills into ranchettes dotted with log McMansions.

Plus, the Lakota are poor --- having declined years ago to accept a court-ordered cash settlement for land taken from them that now, with interest, exceeds $1 billion. They want their land back, a problematic demand when what now is the heartland's biggest tourist attraction is involved. But in this case, they'd be willing to buy, providing funds could be raised, so we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.

Lord knows, we all need sacred spaces in these troublesome times --- native and non-native alike. For me, coming from a mostly secular place, that involves places where self-consciousness vanishes without much effort, the walls we build around ourselves drop and it becomes possible, just because of the power of a place, to experience the whole --- at least for a minute or two.

Churches generally don't do it. Once we passed the camp meeting and country church phase, us Christians --- cultural and otherwise --- started building brick and stone walls equipped with stained glass to shift the focus from mitigating reality to tattered myth. Now, we build windowless tin sheds or concrete-block bunkers.

This long, hot, dry summer of ours has kept me at least inside too much, too focused on walls. I'm going to start getting out more, looking again for liberating places and sacred spaces.

So far as Pe' Sla is concerned, the Oceti Sakowin and many other native people pray for all of creation, including us, when they gather in their sacred places. Maybe those prayers are all that's holding us together. If that's the case, we should be concerned about their sacred spaces, too.

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