Indianz.Com > News > ‘Fizzled out’: Appeals court puts end to fireworks dispute in sacred Black Hills
Black Hills Land Defenders
Land defenders protest the presence of then-president Donald Trump in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota in July 2020. Photo by Willi White, Courtesy of NDN Collective
Appeals court puts end to Fourth of July fireworks dispute in sacred Black Hills
Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Republican governor of South Dakota has once again been turned away in court over efforts to set off fireworks in the sacred Black Hills.

Last year, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) sued the Biden administration for rejecting her permit to host a Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore. In June 2021, a federal judge determined that she had no case, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as objections from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, whose leadership opposes fireworks on their treaty lands.

A federal appeals court has now weighed in — this time, with a unanimous decision against Noem. A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said the “controversy” is over, considering that the permit in dispute was for an event that would have happened more than a year ago.

“The bottom line is that we cannot change what happened last year, and South Dakota has not demonstrated that deciding this otherwise moot case will impact any future permitting decision,” Judge David Stras wrote for the court in the eight-page decision. [PDF]

“Any controversy has, in other words, fizzled out,” added Stras, who was nominated to the 8th Circuit by Republican former president Donald Trump.

Indianz.Com Audio: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals – Noem v. Haaland – January 12, 2022

It was Trump, in fact, who started the entire affair. In 2020, just months before the presidential election that he would eventually lose, he attended a Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore that drew strong protests from tribes and Native activists.

Up until Trump’s display, fireworks had been banned at Mount Rushmore for about a decade. In approving the permit, the National Park Service even warned that its action did “not mean an automatic renewal of the event in the future.”

Still, Noem persisted — this time making the issue about Democratic President Joe Biden and his administration. Her lawsuit named Deb Haaland, the first Native person to serve as Secretary of the Interior, as the defendant.

But when she lost the first round in court, Noem didn’t give up. She pursued an appeal in hopes of setting off fireworks at Mount Rushmore “next year and in the future”

Oral arguments in the appeal took place on January 12 — long after the fireworks display that Noem wanted to host in July 2021. An all-Republican group of attorneys general from 16 states submitted a brief in support of South Dakota in an attempt to make the case into one of national significance.

Noem could still ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. But her loss at the 8th Circuit won’t prevent her from asking the National Park Service, whose leader, Chuck Sams, is the first Native person to serve as director of the agency, for permits in the future.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Noem v. Haaland.

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