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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe shuts down illegal mine

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

Leaders and members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe shut down the mine on October 29. Photo from Oyate, Oglala Youth And Tribal Entertainment Media Network / Facebook

OST shuts down illegal zeolite mine
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

MANDERSON –– The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been one of the fiercest opponents of environmentally hazardous natural resource extraction across the country. So when the tribe found out that a mine was in fact operating within the borders of its own reservation, community members and tribal government officials took direct action to shut it down.

“We have been fighting hard to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and uranium mining in the Black Hills so it came as a surprise to find out that there was in fact an illegal zeolite mine on the reservation,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer.

Zeolite has been found in many parts of the reservation and is concentrated in the sediment that makes up parts of the badlands. Although Zeolite had been popular as an active component in products like kitty litter, its value has sky rocketed recently as its true value may lie in its unique ability to help clean up nuclear waste and other hazardous waste resulting in an increase demand for the resource.

Although synthetic zeolite is being produced, natural zeolite extraction is still profitable and is usually done by conventional open pit mining techniques. Open pit mining occurs either by blasting or stripping through the use of tractors equipped with ripper blades or front-end loaders. This type of mining causes drastic changes to extraction sites.

Last Wednesday, Brewer, along with roughly 30 community members and several tribal council members went to the highway right away north of Manderson, to the entrance to the property where the mine is located and where trucks had been seen entering and exiting with large loads of earth, and removed the approach connecting the property to the highway. The action essentially halts traffic from entering or exiting the property safely from the highway. After the approach was removed the entrance from the highway in to the property was barricaded and security was set up to monitor the location.

Outgoing tribal council member, Wounded Knee Rep. Garfield Steele, said that early last week he and President Brewer met shortly after hearing of the mine to discuss the legal options the tribe had for shutting it down.

“President Brewer asked me what we could do and I told him that we own the right-away from the highway and that it was our right as a sovereign nation to act and remove them to protect our environment,” said Steele.

Steele would also say that he had a conversation with one of the part owners of the mine that would lead to an admission that zeolite was being removed from the pit. Initially the owner, who is a tribal member, stated that the mine was only being used for gravel extraction but would eventually admit to Steele that Zeolite was being taken from the site.

“There had been rumors about this place for a while and we know that there are armed guards protecting the site. It seemed suspicious when we heard that the only traffic coming in and out of there was occurring during the night.”

President Brewer also stated that the tribe had sent someone from their Natural Resources Dept. to the site to investigate but when he was stonewalled and removed it raised red flags for the tribe.

The land which is not owned by the tribe nor held in trust by the federal government lies in a jurisdictional grey zone in regards to who can enforce laws on it due to it being owned by someone other than the tribe or a tribal member. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in the past that by entering on to the reservation to conduct commercial activity an individual or business consents to the laws of the tribe once on the Reservation.

C.J. Clifford who is a candidate for the tribal council who participated in the removal of the entrance said that community members had heard that something was happening at the location for more than a year but nothing had been done about it until last Wednesday.

“We are going to protect or land and our environment even if it means that community members have to do it ourselves,” said Clifford.

Clifford added that the site was still under investigation by both the tribe and members of the Manderson community who are concerned about the damage that a zeolite mine could do to the pristine environment in this area of the reservation.

Both President Brewer Rep. Steele said that arguments made in favor of the mine stating that tribal law permitted this type of resource extraction do not hold merit.

“There is an ordinance that allows for tribal members to do some small scale things like get gravel for their roads or approaches but that does not include large scale resource extraction like what was suspected here,” said Brewer.

In a conversation Friday morning Brewer stated that he was attempting to convene a quorum of tribal council members in order to pass legislation that would allow for the tribe to immediately seize trucks exiting and entering the site but his attempt failed as many tribal council members were entering the final days of tough campaigns that would result in a large turnover of lawmakers on the Oglala Sioux Tribal council.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at staffwriter2@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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