Big Fire Law and Policy Group
Advertise:   ads@blueearthmarketing.com   712.224.5420

Environment
Plans for shooting range near sacred site scrapped


Lakota activists in South Dakota celebrated over the weekend after learning that plans for a shooting range near sacred Bear Butte have been dropped.

Charmaine White Face, coordinator for the Defenders of the Black Hills, said prayers and good work led the developers to abandon the controversial proposal. Her group led the fight against the shooting range, which would have been built just a few miles from a place where tribal members have gone for thousands of years to practice their religion.

"Thank you to all of you for your prayers, support, and encouragement," White Face said in a statement. "This could not have been accomplished without all of us together."

On Friday, Sturgis Industrial Expansion Corp. (SIEC) and the city of Sturgis filed papers in federal court announcing their decision to withdraw. They said the loss of federal funds for the project "made it impractical and unfeasible to proceed with the development and construction of the shooting range" near Bear Butte.

The actual decision came on Wednesday at a special meeting of the SIEC board. Members voted unanimously to "abandon any further development" on the site in question, according to documents filed with the court.

The move comes nearly a year after Lakota activists first learned of the proposed range. They believed that noise, traffic, pollution and increased visitors would disrupt pilgrimages to Bear Butte, where Lakota and other Plains people go for spiritual guidance.

Defenders of the Black Hills joined with five tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to stop the range. They sued the developers and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which pledged $825,000 in federal funds for the project.

It was these funds that would eventually break the deal. Acting on the complaints made by the Indian plaintiffs and the plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit, HUD investigators found that South Dakota officials submitted misleading information in order to obtain money from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

Upon learning of the lapse, Gov. Mike Rounds (R) returned the money to HUD. That left the developers, they said, with no means to move forward.

The idea for the range actually came from former Gov. Bill Janklow (R), who is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of second-degree felony manslaughter for a traffic accident that killed a motorcyclist. He took credit for the idea and it was during his administration that the faulty data was provided to HUD. His administration also was responsible for doling out the CDBG grant to the Sturgis coalition.

Bear Butte is just one of hundreds of sites throughout the U.S. that are threatened by development. Indian leaders said existing laws, regulations and executive orders aren't enough to protect sacred places, and have called for tougher laws.

White Face testified at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on sacred sites. She described Bear Butte as "one of the most sacred places on the Earth." "The spiritual effects of this place can be felt by almost everyone," she said, adding that the view from the top of the small mountain "is unexplainable in human language."

Court Filings:
Motion to Dismiss | Affidavit | SIED Board Minutes

Relevant Links:
Defenders of the Black Hills - http://www.defendblackhills.org/defenders