Mining pollution threats recently earned Rapid Creek, or Mniluzahan in the Lakota language (Mni=water, luzahan=fast), a designation as one of America’s Most Threatened Rivers of 2020. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News Today

Native Sun News Today: New Rapid Creek Watershed Action to help tribes protect Black Hills

RAPID CITY -- Launching a Rapid Creek Watershed Action coalition June 16, members of the new local organization threw their weight behind tribal governments’ bids to rein in unfettered mining in the Black Hills.

The goal of Rapid Creek Watershed Action, or RCWA, is “to have the federally-controlled surface and subsurface lands within the Rapid Creek-Castle Creek Watershed upstream from Rapid City designated as a national recreation area and subject to a mineral claim withdrawal,” it announced.

The broad-based effort was initiated by a number of groups that invite others to join them by contacting them at their clearinghouse at

They are: Black Hills Clean Water Alliance; Black Hills Group, Sierra Club; Black Hills Paddlers; Clean Water Legacy; Dakota Rural Action; Black Hills Chapter Izaak Walton League; Rapid City Chapter NDN Collective; and Protect Pactola.

The Rapid Creek Watershed, or Mniluzahan Wakpa, is a significant native cultural resource at the headwaters of the Mississippi; it rises from the central Black Hills near the key Lakota sacred site of Pe’ Sla on tribal trust land.

The drainage is also important because it provides the water for South Dakota’s second-largest municipality of Rapid City, for the western state’s largest employer of Ellsworth Air Force Base, and for reservations, smaller communities, and agriculture along the creek that feeds into the Cheyenne and Missouri Rivers.

Upstream from Rapid City in the Black Hills National Forest, the Rapid Creek Basin is primarily used for recreation. Activities include hunting, fishing, bicycling, motorcycling, snowmobiling, boating, swimming, hiking, bird-watching, camping, equestrian activities, and ATV riding.

Outdoor recreation provided South Dakota residents 48,000 jobs with $1.9 billion in direct and indirect income in 2017. Direct spending on hunting alone in the Black Hills is about $89 million a year.

However, the sanctity, drinking water, irrigation source, recreational opportunities and income are under threat from​ proposed large-scale mining, the national non-profit American Rivers said in designating Rapid Creek one of America’s Most Threatened Rivers of 2020.

Further designating the Rapid Creek watershed as a “recreation area” will allow the existing land uses to continue “without disruption from hard rock minerals exploration or mining on public lands or claims,” RCWA says.

The national designation would make it so that mining claims not yet “proven” are subject to withdrawal from eligibility for exploration and mining.

The recreation area would assure that exploration and mining are off-limits where the surface or the subsurface of the land is federally-controlled, by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or Army Corps of Engineers.

In 2019, The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe demanded elimination of gold exploration and mining here, approving a resolution that called upon the U.S. Congress to exempt the Black Hills National Forest from the reach the 1872 Mining Act.

A Quarter of the Watershed

The 𝘙𝘢𝘱𝘪𝘥 𝘊𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘬 𝘸𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘥 west of Rapid City in the Black Hills is approximately 𝟏𝟗𝟖,𝟎𝟎𝟎 acres. And about 𝟒𝟕,𝟎𝟎𝟎 𝐚𝐜𝐫𝐞𝐬 of that watershed have been 𝐜𝐥𝐚𝐢𝐦𝐞𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐠𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐢𝐞𝐬. ⁣ ⁣ In other words, 𝐚𝐥𝐦𝐨𝐬𝐭 𝐚 𝐪𝐮𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐝 – 𝟽𝟹 𝘴𝘲𝘶𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘦𝘴 😲– has the potential to be involved in further gold exploration and mining operations. ⁣ ⁣ Please help us make it a 𝘥𝘦𝘴𝘪𝘨𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 area to avoid this.

Posted by Rapid Creek Watershed Action on Monday, June 29, 2020

That act forces federal agencies to allow private mineral extraction on public lands, regulators claim. It also waives federal severance tax and compensation for losses incurred by landholders in miners’ accessing of target resources.

The resolution was a response to the Canadian Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd. prospecting and slated gold mining along the headwaters of the Mniluzahan in Lawrence and Pennington County west of Rapid City.


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