By KRISTI EATON, Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- After months of high-profile fundraising that drew celebrities' attention and dollars, a group of Native American tribes has raised $9 million to buy a piece of land in South Dakota's Black Hills that they consider sacred, an official with an Indian land foundation said Friday.
The Indian Land Tenure Foundation president Cris Stainbrook told The Associated Press that the tribes raised enough money to purchase the land from its current owners. The foundation was one of several groups and organizations leading the effort to buy the land.
The deal was finalized Friday, which was the deadline for the tribes to raise the money.
The land, known as Pe' Sla, went up for sale after being privately owned. Members of the Great Sioux Nation have been allowed to gather there every year to perform rituals. The site plays a key role in the tribes' creation story, and members fear new owners would develop it.
Tribal leaders from three Sioux tribes -- Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Chairman Charlie Vig and Crow Creek Chairman Brandon Sazue -- released a joint statement Friday, saying they are happy to be able to reclaim one of their sacred sites.
Those three tribes were the only ones to contribute to the purchase, Scott said. Tribal leaders would not say how much each tribe contributed to the purchase.
The three leaders said they exercised their tribal sovereign authority.
"It's a great day for Indian Country," Scott said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. Scott also said that all Sioux tribal members are invited to the land and that tribal leaders plan to form a commission to preserve the land.
More than $900,000 was raised through online contributions, said Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Chase Iron Eyes. His company, Last Real Indians, led the online effort.
Earlier this year, landowners Leonard and Margaret Reynolds canceled a public auction of the property after tribal members expressed outrage. The Reynolds' then accepted the tribes' bid to purchase the land for $9 million.
The couple has repeatedly said they will not speak publicly about the land sale and did not return a message from The AP on Friday seeking comment.
The fundraising effort drew support from several celebrities. P. Diddy tweeted about it as did Bette Midler, who also donated. Midler said she was "happy and proud" to have helped out with the purchase.
"I've been talking about it to my friends, tweeting to the world and donating through my foundation because I think it's important for the soul of our nation," she said in a statement Friday.
Actor Ezra Miller, who appeared in the recently released film "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," and music producer Sol Guy flew to South Dakota last month to film a nine-minute documentary-style video about the land that was used as part of an online campaign to raise funds.
The fundraising effort has been a monumental and controversial undertaking for the Sioux tribes. An 1868 treaty set aside the Black Hills and other land for the Sioux, but Congress passed a law in 1877 seizing the land following the discovery of gold in western South Dakota.
A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling awarded more than $100 million to the Sioux tribes for the Black Hills, but the tribes have refused to accept the money, saying the land has never been for sale. There are Sioux tribes in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and Canada.
Some members of the Sioux tribes didn't agree with trying to purchase the land. Bryan Brewer, president-elect of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said his tribe did not allocate any money to the land purchase.
"I'm still against buying something we own, but I'm thrilled the tribes' are buying it. I'm very happy about it," he said.
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