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Pine Ridge Landowners Rediscover their Lands

HenryI wanted to try to provide some kind of answer for these people … so that these oyate [people] can survive, so that they can understand that they are an important part of their own tiospaye [family group].

–Calvin White Butterfly, Community Volunteer

Through an innovative project funded in part by ILTF, Pine Ridge landowners are learning more about the lands they own and about how they can use these lands to benefit themselves and their communities.

The Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota lost over one-third of its land base as a result of the Allotment Act, when Indian ownership on the reservation went from 2.7 million acres to 1.7 million acres of land. Ownership of the remaining lands is now highly fractionated, making it almost impossible for landowners to gain the majority consent necessary to use the land for homesites, development or agriculture.

In 2007 and 2008, ILTF awarded grants to Village Earth, a nonprofit focused on sustainable community development, to address the problem of fractionation on Pine Ridge. Working with Village Earth, Pine Ridge tribal members have volunteered to lead an effort that encourages landowners to take control of their own lands. The project seeks to build the capacity of traditional Lakota tiospayes (family groups) to recover, restore and manage the remaining land base.

Project Resources

To facilitate land use decision-making, Village Earth developed the Pine Ridge Reservation Allottee Land-Planning Map Book, which includes basic information about land use planning, as well as GIS maps of the entire reservation that tribal members can use to locate the lands they own. Community meetings and workshops were held throughout the reservation to inform tribal members about the project and encourage them to learn more about their rights and options as landowners.

Watch the video Village Earth produced, which provides an excellent  historical account of land loss on the reservation and includes interviews with many of the project participants.

In 2012, Village Earth developed an online mapping system, the Pine Ridge Land Information System, a free tool that allows users to view and map allotments and other boundaries throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation. In addition, a middle- and high-school lesson plan was created to teach Pine Ridge students how to use the online tool in the classroom.

Learn how you can support projects like this.