Tribal national park plan head for a referendum vote

I thought the tribes were supposed to be “sovereign nations.” But now the NPS just burrows its way in and takes over. The FedGov can’t (or won’t) leave anybody alone. — jtl, 419

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In an unexpected move, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has decided its members should have a voice in the creation of a tribal national park on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The decision came at a tribal council meeting on Monday, Oct. 6, a few hours after the council tabled a draft of proposed federal legislation that would be necessary to authorize the tribal national park on what is now called the South Unit of Badlands National Park.

At the same meeting, the council also rescinded a controversial 2013 resolution that evicted ranchers from grazing land in and around the South Unit.

Tribal President Bryan Brewer said Friday that a referendum vote will be held in 90 days to give tribal members a chance to decide on the creation of the park.

“All the people will decide that,” Brewer said.

Until Monday’s action, the tribe was pursuing the creation of the tribal national park. The referendum could determine whether the tribe continues negotiating with the National Park Service to create the  park.

A spokesperson for the National Park Service said in a Friday email that NPS is trying to sort out the actions the council took on Monday.

“We’ve been working with OST for some time on the concept for a tribal national park,” wrote Sandra Washington, the assistant regional director for the Midwest Region.

A 2012 record of the decision on the general management plan for the South Unit stated NPS’s intention to work with the tribe on “a statutory framework for a tribal national park,” Washington said.

She added, “We are still working.”

Brewer plans to hold two public hearings before the referendum “so that the people can hear everything on it.”

The South Unit rests entirely within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but is presently managed by the National Park Service.

The plan to convert the area into a tribal national park sparked heated debates on the reservation after the resolution/ordinance, identified as 13-21, was passed in May 2013. That ordinance revoked grazing leases held by tribal members on grasslands in and surrounding the South Unit. The revocations would have been effective at the end of the 2015 grazing season. Many of those leases provided income for people for whom the land is held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The council adopted 13-21 after a study commissioned by the tribe reported that the grasslands were necessary to reintroduce bison to the proposed park.

The ordinance also asserted the tribe’s right to use condemnation to claim property allotted to tribal members.

The ranchers and owners of the allotted lands have sued in tribal court to stop the enforcement of 13-21. The case has met with several delays, but another hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30 in Pine Ridge.

“We wanted to get rid of (the ordinance). We should have gotten rid of it a long time ago,” Brewer said.

Councilman Garfield Steele made the motion to rescind the ordinance last Monday. Once the proposed legislation was tabled, the timing was right, he said.

“No one was more surprised than me that it passed,” Steele told the Journal.

Steele is one of two council members from the Wounded Knee District. His people are opposed to the park because the area encompasses a sacred area known as the Stronghold, where one of the last known Ghost Dances was held.

“I think we won the battle,” Steele said, “but I’m still nervous.”

Vice President Thomas Poor Bear was also pleased that 13-21 was rescinded.

“I oppose the South Unit,” he said.

Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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