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As part of its efforts to promote cultural awareness and to reflect on the region’s rich history, SURF is assembling Cangleska Wakan, or the Sacred Circle Garden, in a hilltop meadow on the property.


The Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) is nestled in the Black Hills, a region known as Paha Sapa or He Sapa to the Lakota people. To many regional indigenous peoples, Paha Sapa is a sacred place, and home to numerous areas of spiritual and cultural significance. As part of its efforts to promote cultural awareness and to reflect on the region’s rich history, SURF is assembling Cangleska Wakan, or the Sacred Circle Garden, in a hilltop meadow on the property.

In the Lakota tradition, a Cangleska Wakan represents the continued process of growth and development that connects everything in the environment, including human beings. Cangleska Wakan is a symbol used by the Lakota to represent spiritual knowledge and a connection to everything in the universe. It is a symbol of unity, good health, well-being, honor and recognition. Building the Garden is an extension of SURF’s commitment to community and includes a strong desire to protect, respect and understand the environment, human connections and indigenous cultures of Paha Sapa.

Cangleska Wakan is our way to demonstrate our commitment to the tribes and Native Peoples. It is a way to demonstrate at all times, our respect of the culture, traditions and sacred lands,” said Casey Peterson, chairperson of the SDSTA Board of Directors. 

“The garden offers all people the opportunity to learn about the diverse traditions and culture of the Lakota and to enjoy the space in their own way,” Peterson continued. “As an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, I am so proud that we are creating this space, and I am hopeful that all peoples will come to this space with an open mind and a desire to learn about and understand our human connections.”

To make the Garden a reality, the SURF Foundation recently began a fundraising campaign. As of June, the Foundation has raised more than half the funds needed to build the Garden. Construction on the project is slated to begin this summer and be completed by the fall of 2023. 

“From the start, the SDSTA has worked hard to treat this land with respect. We’ve partnered with the American Indian tribes on several initiatives, including K-12 STEM education for our children,” said Mike Headley, executive director of the SDSTA and lab director of SURF.

“The Sacred Circle Garden represents an expansion of our work with the tribes and with our community to create a space where everyone who comes to SURF can learn about this sacred land and its culture and understand that we are all connected in so many ways,” Headley added.

The design of Cangleska Wakan points to four significant landmarks of Paha Sapa: Mato Paha (Bear Butte), Mato Tipila (Bear Lodge), Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk Peak) and Mako Sica (the Badlands)—all of which are considered sacred to Indigenous peoples of the region.

Staci Miller, director of the SURF Foundation, said she is excited about the progress of the fundraising campaign and SURF’s commitment to the project.

Cangleska Wakan will offer a place to learn about the vibrant history of the Black Hills and the connections we all share,” said Staci Miller, director of the SURF Foundation.  “It is inspiring to see our community, friends, SURF staff and local businesses come together to support the Sacred Circle Garden campaign and bring it to a reality.” 

To help make the Sacred Circle Garden a reality, contact Staci Miller at or visit us at

Sanford Lab is operated by the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) with funding from the Department of Energy. Our mission is to advance world class science and inspire learning across generations. Established in 2019, the SURF Foundation supports that mission by building upon strong relationships within the community and opening doors for public contributions. Visit Sanford Lab at

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Constance Walter
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