Sandra Buffington has spent her life working to carve a home and ranching business out of the sparse grasslands around the South Unit of Badlands National Park.
But she and other Lakota ranchers face the possibility of losing their grazing rights to make way for a huge bison reserve planned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Buffington, who is in her late 60s, runs her cattle year-round on 11,000 acres of leased land. It's land that her father once leased. She also owns 80 acres where her home sits.
Many of the ranchers in the path of the planned reserve for a herd of 1,000 bison own small sections of land close to or adjacent to the land they lease.
The letter revoking Buffington's permission to continue grazing also reminded her that the tribe also has the power to condemn her own land, land that has been in her family for many years.
"The land I'm leasing is what my father leased," Buffington said.
Without the leased land, she would have to sell her cattle. A grandson's dream of some day operating the ranch would be lost, she said.
Ranchers who rely on the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Oglala Sioux Tribe grazing permits were recently notified that their leases will expire in October 2015.
Buffington said she was offered a chance to relocate in the southwest corner of the reservation along the Nebraska border, but at her age starting over is a daunting prospect.
The plan would reintroduce buffalo into the South Unit by carving the Stronghold Buffalo Grazing Unit out of private land and leased lands within the South Unit of Badlands National Park. It was approved in June by the tribal council.
But residents of Red Shirt on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation plan to fight the plan anyway.
"They have gone too far," said Ben Good Buffalo, who lives at Red Shirt Table.
"We want the buffalo but in a different way; not in the South Unit," said Susan Two Bulls, secretary for the Red Shirt community.
And some tribal members call it a land grab, a third taking of their land. The first was by the U.S. government by treaty, the second in the 1940s when families were forced off the land to create a bombing range for the military.
Ranchers threatened by the proposal have joined the Red Shirt community in organizing a meeting at 2 p.m. Friday at the Prairie Wind Casino to rally tribal members and hopefully persuade the tribal council to reconsider its action.
Red Shirt residents approved a resolution on Nov. 25 asking the tribal council to rescind the ordinance that orders the evictions and claims condemnation authority.
The tribe is currently working with the National Park Service to create the nation's first tribal national park that would encompass the 133,000-acre South Unit. The plan includes the return of bison to the park and the end of cattle grazing.
Tribal officials could not be reached for comment because their offices were closed due to the cold weather on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. Tribal Council member Ruth Brown could not be reached on Wednesday.
Although there is no current legislation to create and fund a tribal national park, the National Park Service has completed a general management plan and environmental impact statement on the South Unit that includes four management alternatives.
"The National Park Service and the tribe are working to resolve issues that will result in legislation that could be introduced," Perry Plumart, Sen. Tim Johnson's press secretary, told the Journal on Wednesday. Plumart said the senator is impressed by their cooperation.
The Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority and its advisory team are also working with the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations on the plan, according to Bufffington and Two Bulls.
Buffington noted the plan for the buffalo range excludes farmland on Cuny Table along the southern boundary of the South Unit that generates lucrative lease payments for the tribe.
The general management plan does include the reintroduction of bison to the property, but the area residents said they were not informed during the planning process that they would be displaced.
Buffington does not believe the 59,601 acres of grasslands within the Stronghold Unit can support a proposed herd of more than 1,000 bison, nor do Good Buffalo and Two Bulls.
A study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund found the land will support that many bison, but said the land was never natural bison habitat, Buffington said. It's too hot during the summer and water will always be hard to find.
And it will require 72 miles of buffalo fencing that will be nearly impossible to maintain, according to one local rancher.
More important to Good Buffalo and Two Bulls is what they call a precedent-setting action by the tribal council to take privately owned land within the reservation.
"It's the only thing we have left," Two Bulls said.
Two Bulls' home sits on property just across Highway 40 from the South Unit. She's afraid that if the tribe succeeds in ousting landowners who own small acreages within the South Unit, nothing will stop them from expanding the park and displacing others.
This is a different time than when the land was taken from the Lakota in the past, Two Bulls said. Her people today are educated and have access to technology. They are prepared to fight to keep their homes, she said.
"We intend to stand fast and stand hard," Two Bulls said.