Environment | National

Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe responds to park critics

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Cutline: Birgil Kills Straight is one of 15 core team members who have worked on the planning of the Tribal National Park. His mother was one of several original landowners in the south unit.

Park planners respond to critics
New park could bring 200 jobs
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

PINE RIDGE — The hot topic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the proposed Tribal National Park, and rumors have flooded social and print media leaving many outraged and others wondering just what is going on.

The tentatively named Crazy Horse Tribal National Park will be the first tribally operated national park in the United States. The park that is slated to be located in the South Unit of the Badlands National Park, is located on tribal lands.

Currently the South Unit is co-managed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the National Park Service. The Memorandum of Agreement that created the co-management plan was signed by the two entities in 1976. Currently the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation department is responsible for the day to day operations of the South Unit. The park will also include up to 1,000 head of Buffalo owned by the tribe.

From 2006-2012 the Oglala Sioux Tribe worked with a core team of tribal representatives and the National Park Service on the development of a General Management plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the South Unit. This core team was assembled by OSPRA.

According to information released by the current core team, 18 public meetings were held seeking public input in to the planning which was then taken in to consideration along with written submissions from the public. Several alternatives plans were included in to the General Management plan, with each including a plan to reintroduce Buffalo in to the South Unit. The GMP was then signed by the National Parks Service and OST president John Steele in 2012.

After the GMP was signed, a new core team was created by the OST tribal council in February of 2013 through tribal resolution. The team selected was chosen based on participation in the GMP creation or as representatives of special interest groups who may be impacted by the creation of the park.

According to representatives of the core team meetings had taken place regularly throughout 2013 and have been open to the public. The intent of the core team was to create legislation that will first go to the tribal council, and then to Congress in 2014 according to estimates for the creation of the Country’s first Tribal National Park.

Several hurdles still need to be passed prior to the land being designated as a National Park by the Federal government including an act of congress, however according to planners there is major support for the project at multiple levels of government.

“There is support for this project from the BIA, the Department of Interior, and members of congress for this project. How are we ever going to tell our stories how are we going to get our stronghold back and how are we going to get our archives back? I want economic development,” said Ruth Brown an Oglala Sioux Tribal council person and a member of the core team of planners.

Those who have worked on the core team and who have been part of the process say that the Tribal National Park would provide a significant boost to the reservation’s economy. According to Birgil Kills Straight, another member of the core team, the project could potentially provide up to 200 jobs for tribal members working in multiple aspects of the park including staffing a cultural center. The cultural center will be designed in a way that will allow for tribal members, tourists, and others to learn about the tribe.

“The amount of money that was recommended that would go in to the park initially was $21.5 million a year and that will grow. Then the Lakota language heritage center will be constructed after that and that will eventually employee between 72-80 people,” said Kills Straight. “Of course this is all in the planning stage but eventually this will be a major employer of tribal members and that is one of the major reasons this project was created.”

Kills Straight would also address one concern that was brought up by community members in Red Shirt Table who highlighted a section of the park that was marked as being set aside for research. According to Kills Straight the research center would be set aside to catalogue artifacts and archaeological items.

“Right now there are people coming on to the reservation and even tribal members who are taking items out of the area and selling them for profit. Those types of items are not owned by any one person, they belong to the people and that is what this is set up for. To protect those types of things,” he said.

There has been push back from some members of the community however who have feared that this was just another land grab and from ranchers who have had leases in the South Unit who are being forced to end their leases to make room for the new buffalo herd. However Ruth Brown along with others on the core team has said there will be no private land seized by the tribe and that those with leases were given appropriate time to prepare for their lease to be cancelled.

“They know that this land does not belong to them and they were notified a year ago that these lands would be set aside for economic development and they knew it was coming at a certain time. They had the opportunity to come in and listen and voice their opinion and they didn’t,” said Brown.

According to planning documents viewed by Native Sun News, a total of 11 range units were sent letters notifying the leaser of the tribe’s decision to end the leasing agreement in September of this year. They were told that they would need to relocate their range units by October 31, 2015. In addition to being notified of the leases being ended there has been a mechanism set up that will pay the final year grazing permit for those affected.

There had been others concerned with language included in the tribal council ordinance authorizing the creation of the park that included the term ‘Condemnation.’ However planners say that language steps are being made to remove that language from the tribal ordinance.

“We are looking to do an addendum to modify that language. And we will end up taking that language out. We got threatened that they are going to cut our fence down and they are going to kill our buffalo and they protected us in the past and that is wrong,” said Brown.

Her sentiments were echoed by Chuck Jacobs another planner of the park who said that laws in place protect private landowners.

“There are decades of Federal Indian law that protects tribal landowners from having their property seized. The creation of a document by a planning team cannot undermine this legal precedence,” said Jacobs. He said that many of the rumors that are out there surrounding the park have come from people who have either had the wrong documents or have pulled language from them that has been misconstrued.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of misinterpretation it is very important for people to know that no one is looking to take their land,” he said.

In one portion of the planning documents there is language included that nicknamed part of the plan, “Highway to highway” however the description is neither literal nor legally binding according to planners. They said that no deeded or private lands would be affected by the park.

“We want to be able to tell our story, manage our lands, and create real economic development. Other tribes are watching how we are doing this and have asked us to show them how it will be done. The world is watching and the Oglala have taken the lead,” said Ruth Brown.

According to tribal officials the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma are looking to develop their own Tribal National Park based of the model created by the OST.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at staffwriter2@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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