Makȟá (The Land)
On Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, pine forests and massive upheaved rock formations of the Pahá Sápa (Black Hills) give way to Nature’s spectacular maze called the Makȟóšiča (Badlands), the Great Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie) and rolling Chasmú Pahá (Sand Hills). Even people from other cultures are quick to understand the Lakota Nation’s strong bond with Unci Maka (Mother Earth) once they see they the unique and amazing features of the landscape in this Sacred area.
In the 2 billion year old Pahá Sápa (Black Hills), a tertiary mountain-building episode is responsible for breathtaking array of Inyan (rock) sculptures that the pine trees now congregate around. Along with this uplifting of the Earth’s crust, volcanic activity was also shaping the northern Black Hills. The southern Black Hills are characterized by Precambrian granite, pegmatite, and metamorphic rocks that comprise the core of the entire Black Hills uplift. This core is rimmed by Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic sedimentary rocks. The Lakota origin story states that “Before anything, there was Inyan (Rock)”.
The clay-rich soil in the Makȟóšiča (Badlands) have been cut into canyons, ravines, gullies, through extensive wind and water erosion. The Badland canyon walls have a spectacular color display that alternates from dark black/blue coal strata to bright clays to red scoria. Some of the most famous fossil beds are found in the Badlands, where the forces of erosion have exposed the sedimentary layers and the lack of vegetation cover makes surveying relatively easy. In modern times we are able to appreciate the beauty and magnitude of this outstanding work of geology, but one can easily imagine it being a “bad” section of “land” to wander through with no map or GPS.
The Great Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie) of this area is the result of weather and fire combining to form this vast table of rich Tatanka (Bison) food. Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie) receive variable amounts of precipitation, and moisture amounts are lower than in forest ecosystems and may have several years of drought, or below average precipitation. In the tallgrass Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie), one out of every ten years has precipitation that is less than 75 percent of the average. Three out of every ten years are 75 percent below average for the mixed grass Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie), while the shortgrass Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie) has a drought five out of every ten years. This variable and minimal moisture limits tree growth to protected areas and land near streams and rivers. This may make the landscape appear somewhat stark at first, but upon closer inspection you’ll see that the Thíŋmakȟočhe (Prairie) is full of life and a thriving diverse ecosystem all it’s own. Since Tatanka (Bison) are attracted to the more nutritious young grass that re-sprouts from burned areas, the Lakota and other Plains Nations often used fire to influence the movement of the bison herds they hunted.
Another unique geologic feature on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are the Chasmú Pahá (Sand Hills). These grass covered dunes sit atop the massive Ogallala Aquifer, and both temporary and permanent shallow lakes are common in low-lying valleys between dunes. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) designated the Sandhills as an ecoregion, distinct from other grasslands of the Great Plains. According to their assessment, as much as 85% of the ecoregion is intact natural habitat, the highest level in the Great Plains. The Wakpamni Lake Cultural Area is located in the Chasmú Pahá (Sand Hills).