A Native American sacred site that has international supporters donating money to buy it drew nearly 250 people to voice their support at a rally Wednesday night.
Nine Native American tribes have banded together to raise money and buy the land they call Pe Sla, a 2,000 acre plot of high-elevation prairie deep in the Black Hills that local tribes say is the site of their creation story.
The drive to buy the land came when property owners Leonard and Margaret Reynolds recently announced that the land would sell at auction Aug. 25, setting off a firestorm of concern among the tribes.
"I cried. That's how much I was compassionate about it," Robin LeBeau, Cheyenne River tribal councilwoman, said of the moment she heard of the auction.
But days before the auction, the Reynolds canceled it. The land was expected to be sold for between $6 million and $10 million. Now, tribal leaders say they are negotiating a purchase agreement for the land but can't disclose an exact dollar figure. They hope to close on the deal by Nov. 30.
The tale of the auction, its cancellation and the attempt by the tribes to buy the land has spread rapidly, often through social media, stirring a passion in Native Americans young and old, said Chase Iron Eyes, an organizer and spokesman for the movement.
Supporters near and as far away as Russia, France, Egypt, Germany, Denmark and Japan have donated about $325,000 to the cause so far, according to Iron Eyes, an attorney.
"Nobody probably would have picked this story up and it wouldn't have gotten as far as it did if people didn't have compassion around the world," Iron Eyes said.
Iron Eyes was hoping for $1 million in donations. Most of the donations so far have been about $5, $10 or $20, he said. The donation period ends Saturday.
Iron Eyes said there was a Pe Sla demonstration in France, and one supporter was sending live-stream video to friends in Russia on Wednesday.
"I get emails from people in languages I don't understand," Iron Eyes said. "They identify with the Lakota, the willingness to fight for a sacred place."
People from across the globe are drawn to a movement that breathes life apart from commercialism, droning technology and celebrity superficiality. "People want more than a corporate, Western existence," Iron Eyes said.
The Rosebud Sioux tribe has taken the lead on the land sale and put down $1.3 million for the land. That money, while not closing the agreement, has given the tribes a voice.
"The battle wasn't won, they couldn't declare victory, but at least we purchased a seat at the negotiating table," Iron Eyes said.
Iron Eyes said he couldn't release an exact dollar figure on the sale, since tribal leaders are still in negotiations. Developments in the negotiations are evolving, he said.
On Wednesday, nearly 250 activists — Native Americans of all ages, with a smattering of non-Natives — marched from the Memorial Park band shell to Omaha Street, stepping to the beat of a drum and holding aloft posters reading "The Black Hills Are Not For Sale." At Omaha Street, they lined up along the street for several minutes before heading back to the band shell.
The poster was designed by Shepard Fairey, the same artist who created the iconic red and blue "Hope" poster for the 2008 campaign of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Several speakers at the rally called on supporters to bind together as one and spread the word of the land sale.
"We are one people with one mind and mother, and that's the Earth, and we have to protect it," said Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Poor Bear said the land rightfully belongs to Native Americans. The couple hundred people at Wednesday's rally make up only a small portion of the Native population, he said.
"We represent thousands. We represent many nations that want to help get this land back," he said.