Tribes win federal trust status for Pe Sla property in Black Hills

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NEAR DEERFIELD LAKE, BLACK HILLS, S.D. (KOTA TV) - A five-year effort to put a tract of tribal land in the Black Hills into federal trust is over.

And now that the fight to keep the tract permanently in the hands of Native Americans for cultural and religious use is won, the tribes can focus on restoring the property -- even while they hammer out the final details of a law enforcement agreement with Pennington County.

“This is where all the stars and everything align at the center of the universe,” said Joe Buck as he stood atop Flag Mountain looking down over the sacred tribal land known as Pe Sla.

Four Sioux tribes purchased the 2,300-acre parcel in 2012 for about $9 million. Buck says he's honored to have his job as he works to restore the land .

“We want to preserve this area in its natural state and bring back to Buffalo and the spirituality in our youth through camps and keep it as natural as possible,” he said.

When the tribes first purchased the former Reynolds Ranch there was concern about commercial development – particularly concern over placement of a casino.

“That's been said by many people,” Buck said with a chuckle. “I don't know why just because they hear Native Americans they got to mention the casino immediately. There will be no casino here.”

And there were concerns from law enforcement.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom balked at the first deal worked out with the tribes.

“I did not agree to the original law enforcement agreement,” said Thom. “I just want something that's workable for tribal officers that are responding or BIA officers or one of our deputies or other law enforcement. We need to be clear on matters of jurisdiction, of liability, workers comp, all those sorts of things.”

Gov. Dennis Daugaard agreed with Thom.

The governor appealed the Interior Department's first ruling to put the land in federal trust. In December, Interior rejected the state's appeal.

Now Thom and the tribes are working together to bridge their divide.

“We agreed to some general framework and the lawyers are working on a draft,” he said. “I think we're moving in the right direction.”

That means Buck can focus on building the herd from four today to the more than a hundred that are planned.

And work on being a good neighbor.

“We want our neighbors to be comfortable with us as well as us to be comfortable with our neighbors,” he said. “Keep an open mind and an open heart and keep moving forward. If anyone ever wants to come out and see what we're doing out here, you're more than welcome to come see what kind of project we have going."