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Judge blocks construction at sacred Comanche site
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Filed Under: Environment | Law

A federal judge today sided with the Comanche Nation and ordered the U.S. Army to stop construction near a sacred site in Oklahoma.

In a 34-page decision, Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti said the tribe demonstrated that it will be harmed by a $7.3 million warehouse at the foot of Medicine Bluffs in Fort Sill. He said the U.S. Army failed to consider alternatives that would not obstruct ceremonies at the site, a place of immense healing and spiritual medicine for the Comanche people.

"The construction of a permanent structure on a site considered sacred by the Comanche people, and the substantial burden the presence of the structure would impose on their traditional religious practices as detailed ... would constitute irreparable harm," DeGiusti wrote.

The preliminary injunction, which can be appealed, will stay in place until the case is resolved. The tribe alleges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

DeGiusti said the tribe demonstrated a "substantial likelihood of success" on the merits of the case, so the injunction represents a big victory. Tribal leaders say they weren't properly consulted by the U.S. Army about the construction.

"As a Comanche man, Medicine Bluffs is the spiritual center of my religious beliefs and the heart of the current Comanche Nation," Jimmy Arterberry, a tribal member, said in a court declaration. "The Medicine Bluffs site is an extremely important sacred place to me as a Comanche man."

Arterberry told the court that the warehouse, if constructed, would prevent him from viewing Medicine Bluffs as he prays and conducts ceremonies. DeGiusti noted that the construction site is the last remaining place with an "unobstructed view" of Medicine Bluffs.

The U.S. Army calls the warehouse "essential" to the future at Fort Sill, which will be seeing an influx of activity in the coming years. Due to base closures across the nation, Fort Sill will be training more and more soldiers for military operations around the world.

"The United States is now at war," the Department of Justice said in court papers. "Training is the top priority of the Army. It is the cornerstone of combat readiness. Training is what Fort Sill does."

But DeGiusti said the record, so far, is "utterly devoid" of evidence that the U.S. Army considered a different location for the warehouse that would be less intrusive on the tribe. He noted that the timing of decisions affecting construction indicated the tribe's objections were never considered.

The 94,000-acre Fort Sill was built during the Indian wars of the late 1800s. It is a National Historic Landmark and Medicine Bluffs was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974

Relevant Documents:
Preliminary Injunction | Temporary Restraining Order

Related Stories:
'War' cited in need for work at Fort Sill sacred site (09/19)
Comanche Nation due in court over Fort Sill work (9/9)
Comanche Nation battles Army over sacred site (8/20)
Appeals court reverses course on sacred site (8/12)

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