The Jesuit order of Catholic priests is returning more than 525 acres of land to the Lakota Sioux nation living at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The transaction is due to be complete by the end of May. The land was granted to the Jesuits by the United States government in 1880 for the purpose of installing churches and cemeteries. In a video, Fr. John Hatcher S.J., who presides over the St. Francis mission parish, said, "At the beginning of the mission, we had 23 missionary stations - recalls Fr. Hatcher. Over the years, he said, people moved away and unused churches were close.
Hatcher said, "It is time to return all those plots of land, that were handed over to the Church for religious purposes, to the tribe." He emphasized that the transfer represents an opportunity for the Lakota nation, including those at the Rosebud reservation. "We will never again put churches on those little parcels of land. But it's an opportunity to return land that rightly belongs to the Lakota people," of which the Rosebud Sioux are a part.
Harold Compton, deputy executive director of Tribal Land Enterprises, which manages land for the Rosebud Sioux, said that the land can be used for “agricultural purposes like it is now, for grazing. It might be used for community development. It might continue to be used for religious purposes." Because the plots are so scattered, their eventual use will be determined locally.
Currently, there are 25,000 registered Rosebud Sioux, of whom 15,000 live on the reserve.
The property is scattered throughout 900,000 acres on the Rosebud reservation in the south-central portion of the South Dakota, bordering both the state of Nebraska and the Missouri River.
The Jesuits began the process of transferring the land to the tribe about five years ago. The project stalled because of bureaucratic roadblocks. When the right office at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the issue could be resolved. While Compton admitted that there is a symbolic value in returning the land, he also noted that land in the area sells for $1,000, $2,000 or more an acre.