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.

Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

(15) comments

dmcrow
dmcrow

AND ONE MORE QUESTION ... WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ALL THE " GOLDEN COWS" OUR TRIBE PURCHASED? THEY SEEM TO BE MISSING AND THEY ARE NEVER MENTIONED ANY MORE.... EVERYONE IS LAUGHING.... First they come up with the buying of " Golden Cows" and now they wont say what happened to them or anything and now they want to do Buffalo. What happened to all the missing Buffalo? Hmmmmmmm

nonewsew
nonewsew

As a land OWNER not a LEASER I agree with dmcrow. @nativethoughts you are describing the tribe. We sued the government for the mess with our IIM accounts & left the tribe unaccountable for their part in it. The tribe has a buffalo herd that they can't maintain and lost over 150 head.

dmcrow
dmcrow

And who in Their right mind wants to put a bunch of buffalo near the Badlands..... Their is nothing there... Where are they even going to get water from? And Yeah... you can make as much negative comments as you want but they { The Ranchers} Pay their leases like everyone else. Until certain people quit playing Politics with our Land base and manipulating the Land Committee because their friend needs lands... The Land Office will always be in chaos. I have been a victim of this manipulation first hand... So lets get REAL Here.. Its who you know that gets you a lease whether it displaces people or not. SEEMS to me when the lease income is needed you all dont complain when the Ranchers pay their leases...

Native Thoughts101
Native Thoughts101

Crazy these ranchers have been making money off reservation lands for many years. Have not given back to the people of the reservation nor have they done anything for the land but graze it bare. First off just because the leased the land does not make you the owner of that said piece of land. They treat the land as if it were passed down to them from their ancestors, which in all reality was never so. They basically found a legal way of stealing the land for themselves marrying into native families for the sole purpose of leasing land to graze their no brain animals that cause the many diseases that plague or nation now. I say up with the Buffalo down with the cattle. I believe all you people who believe these people own the land better pick up the tribal constitution and read a bit. I promise reading will not hurt you, maybe your brain because as it soaks up knowledge it will be grow to be to big for your skull....

trustno1
trustno1

People marry members of the OST just so they can lease land on which to graze their cattle?

Regular Joe
Regular Joe

Native Thoughts 101, the ranchers have been making money off Reservation lands for years--true enough but they do give back to the Reservation and the Tribe. They hire locals and spend their money at Tribal businesses They are members of the community. Their kids go to school on the Reservation and have Tribal jobs They are not absentee land leasers with no interest in the community. Plus they have paid a lot of money in lease fees over the years. In many cases the leases have been in the same family for years and they may not be the owners of the lands but they have become the stewards. They know that if they do not take care of the land it will not take care of them--owned or not.

dmcrow
dmcrow

Just SAD... All because of certain Individuals in Office, They think they can keep running over the people with their decisions. Expecting the people... Whether it is a hardship or not to DEAL WITH IT. We as LANDOWNERS Stand behind the People of RED SHIRT and those being EVICTED.,,,,, We are the Lakota Nation... What ever became of our Virtues we were all taught and raised with? RESPECT has gone out the door. If they can take their Legally leased and Legally owned Land for ONE Certain Individual NOT from Red Shirt Table ..... Then they are basically sending a message to all that THEY... The Tribal Council can take other peoples land here on the Reservation. NATIVE LAND OWNERS pay attention to this move they are trying to do. Legal WHITE RANCHERS who Lease... Pay Attention... They may do this too you next.

Stormoak
Stormoak

This is sad. Why not have both? Let the private and the preserve Bison be tagged and share the land, perhaps fence in the greater area and make it all common use. Alternatives should be able to be worked out.

Adam
Adam

Sandra Buffington should not have to give up her 80 acre homestead, but if historical artifact data can show that Buffalo did not graze this land, then no buffalo or cattle should be permitted to graze this land at all. Cattle are not native to S.D. and should not graze any area here due to the climate now allowing them to sustain life without human intervention. Buffalo are native to the west, and have the ability to survive without human intervention.

dmcrow
dmcrow

As Native Landowners.. We stand with you all Sandy and Red Shirt Table...

West River
West River

Amazing thinking. Some call it pretzel thinking.

Regular Joe
Regular Joe

Adam, Cattle may not be native to S.D. but then again neither is the NPS or any non-Native.

Jonnnnn
Jonnnnn

Horsefeathers! A "lease" is among the weakest of property rights. Go lease a car and see how far your "rights" go. In many circles a grazing privilege doesn't arise to a "lease"; rather it's a mere potentially renewable allotment - subject to termination. These cattle grazers had years to figure out whether to or how to expand their operations to fee lands or long-term rented lands. They have no one to blame for the changes in allotment stipulations than themselves.This is public land under the stewardship of the OST and from time-to-time the OST's needs and requirements change. If the grazers wanted near permanent conditions they should have pursued fee lands. Bring on the bison.

BeenThere2
BeenThere2

These ranchers have been OBAMA'd!! Throw out income-generating, job-making, taxable operations to open a park while people are living in poverty and starving all around it.

Shorty
Shorty

BT2, Obama had nothing to do with this, temp is close to 20 below this morning, going to blame Obama for that too? Good grief.

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