From a rocky hilltop near here, Russell Loud Hawk can see the majestic Black Hills 70 miles to the west.
The 7.3 million-acre mountain area covered with dark pines has been sacred to Loud Hawk and other Sioux Indians for more than 200 years.
"There's two mountains they always talked about," Loud Hawk said of his ancestors, "the Little Big Horn and the Black Hills. As long as I can remember, they've always said they were sacred and we would never part with them."
The Sioux were guaranteed ownership of both areas in a 1868 treaty with the U.S. government, but the discovery of gold in the Black Hills brought Gen. George Armstrong Custer's 7th Calvary and illegal gold prospectors in 1874 to what the Sioux called Pa Sapa or Paha Sapa.
The resultant shirmishes ended June 25, 1876, with Custer's "last stand" and defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana.
A year later, Congress took the Black Hills from the tribe without the required approval of three-fourths of the adult Sioux males.
A 57-year court fight by eight Sioux tribes to regain the area may have ended last June when the U.S. Court of Claims ruled that the Indians are entitled to $17.5 million plus 5 percent interest over 102 years -- about $105 million.
But Loud Hawk, an Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, wants no part of the settlement. "Personally, I am against it," he said. "I talked to the old-timers and they say, 'no sale.'"
Loud Hawk appears to speak for most of the estimated 60,000 persons who would receive money under the court award.
No Indian here is publicly advocating that the Sioux accept the money. Many refuse even to consider it. They fear that acceptance of the $105 million will leave them with no claim to the Black Hills and their sacred Pa Sapa will be lost forever.
Elijah Whirlwind Horse, chairman of the Oglala Sioux, is adamant that "the Black Hills are not for sale. If we accept the settlement, we will have traded the future of our people for a few rusty old cars and a few good drunks," he told a meeting of the eight Sioux tribes last August.
Whirlwind Horse and the other seven tribal leaders voted in September to appeal the court settlement for the Black Hills along with a $44 million settlement for other land taken from the Sioux in the 19th century.
They point to the vast mineral wealth of the area, which has been exploited for millions of dollars since the land was taken over 100 years ago. Homestake Mining Co., owners of the largest gold mine in the western hemisphere at Lead, S.D., had earnings of $5.4 million last year, and the Sioux are acutely aware of the soaring value of gold.
The disputed area, which has an estimated population of 195,000 persons, also contains the bulk of South Dakota's known oil, gas and uranium reserves. The Tennessee Valley Authority and several private firms are combing the Black Hills for uranium and plan several mines in the near future.
The Black Hills, which include Mount Rushmore, are also the focal point of the local tourist industry, at $44 million a year the state's second largest, behind agriculture.
The tribe's three Washington, D.C., attorneys have told the Sioux they will never regain title to the Black Hills and they should accept the settlement. If the Indians accept the money, it would be divided among the various tribes for distribution to tribal programs and individual members.
The eight tribes have different criteria for membership, but most demand that at least one parent of a potential member have been a past member.
"You're going to have Sioux in Alaska and everywhere else crawling out of the woodwork to get in on this settlement," American Indian Movement leader Russell Means predicted.
Some Sioux leaders privately acknowledge that the attorneys are right: The Indians will never again own the Black Hills. However, these leaders also believe the pursuit of regaining title to the area serves to unify the Sioux, a benefit that they believe far outweighs the cash settlement.
For Isadore White Hat, a full-blooded Brule Sioux who has lived his entire life quietly on the Rosebud Reservation in south-central South Dakota, the decision is an agonizing one.
"Right now it's hard to decide," he said. "A lot of people might think that we're happy that we're getting the settlement, but we're scared. If we accept, our Black Hills is gone. After the Black Hills, are the reservations next? We have to think of our kids. If we sell them out, where will they go?Our culture, our tradition, our customs will just evaporate. We're hanging tough to hold onto that land."
For Means, who brought demands of Indians' rights to the forefront in 1973 when he led the takeover of the village of Wounded Knee, S.D., the settlement question is not a matter of debate. "The Paha Sapa is where our ancestors are buried. It's our birthplace, our graveyard and our church."
A Sioux named Little Bear, in a meeting between the Indians and the government in 1975, explained to federal agents the spiritual value of the area in terms he thought the whites could understand.
"Pa Sapa is the House of Gold for our Indians," he said. "We watch it to get rich."