Despite complaints from four Native Americans, South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant has asserted that all Jackson County residents have the same access to voter registration and absentee voting as every South Dakotan.
“We are 100 percent equal across the state,” Gant said Thursday. “Every South Dakota county has at least one location within their county borders where people can absentee vote face-to-face.”
Four Lakota residents of Wanblee, a Jackson County community on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the county is discriminating against Native Americans by not providing their community a satellite office for voter registration and absentee voting.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Vice President Thomas Poor Bear is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that the Jackson County Commission does not have a legitimate reason to refuse their request. It also states that the county has access to Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding to help offset the cost of the satellite office.
On Friday, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier to issue a preliminary injunction ordering Jackson County to open a satellite office in Wanblee for the remainder of the time leading up to the election.
As of 5 p.m. MST Friday, there was no court record of a decision by Schreier.
Jackson County Auditor Vicki Wilson would not comment on the details of the lawsuit, which is being handled by the county’s insurance company.
Wilson did say that before the state’s voter-registration laws changed, she had traveled to Wanblee to register voters when a notary’s signature was required.
During that time, Wilson said, she rarely had requests for absentee ballots.
Residents can now request a voter-registration form at the courthouse or go online and mail it to the county auditor’s office. Monday, Oct. 20, is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election.
Absentee ballots can be requested up to 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. Absentee ballot requests are available online, but they must be notarized before they are mailed to the auditor. Completed ballots can be returned by mail.
“That’s the same as it is in every other county that has a county seat,” Gant said.
The lawsuit claims that Native American residents in Jackson County are required to travel twice as far as white residents to register in person or vote absentee. Wanblee is about 27 miles, or 32 minutes by car, from the county seat at Kadoka, according to the plaintiffs. They say making the trip is also a financial hardship on Native Americans.
According to court documents, Jackson County commissioners were asked in May 2013 to establish a satellite office, but they denied the request because they did not know if their available HAVA funds would cover the cost. Under the HAVA program, counties can be reimbursed for election expenses, but only up to the amount allocated by the state to each county.
Jackson County has until Wednesday, Oct. 15, to reply to the plaintiffs’ complaint.
Participants in Voluntary Land Buy-Back Program Have 45 Days to Respond
Source: DOI Media Release
WASHINGTON – Building off of sustained momentum from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary Mike Connor today announced that purchase offers worth more than $63.5 million have been sent to nearly 2,800 landowners with fractional interests on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota (homeland of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate). Interested sellers will have until November 24, 2014, to return accepted offers.
The tribe will host an outreach event on Wednesday, October 15 at the Tribal Elderly Center in Agency Village, S.D. The all-day event will feature speakers from the Buy-Back Program and staff available to help landowners with questions about their offer packages. Landowners can contact the tribe’s staff at: 605-698-8296 or 605-698-8203.
As part of President Obama’s pledge to help strengthen Native American communities, the Buy-Back Program has successfully concluded transactions worth more than $146.4 million and has restored the equivalent of more than 280,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
“The Buy-Back Program is a unique opportunity and I am encouraged by the growing interest we are seeing in the Program across Indian Country as well as the partnerships we are developing with tribal governments as implementation moves to each location,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Payments through Program sales are already making a significant difference for individuals, families and their communities. We will continue to work closely with tribal representatives to ensure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity.”
The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within a 10-year period. Individuals who choose to sell their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. In addition to receiving fair market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land.
Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members. For example, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation recently announced that the tribe is embarking on a $9 million housing program, aided by the recent acquisition of land through the Buy-Back Program.
Sales of land interests will also result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This contribution is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests.
There are almost 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests, spanning 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often very small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.
Offers are currently pending at a number of additional locations with deadlines approaching soon, including the Northern Cheyenne (Oct. 17), Flathead (Oct. 24), Umatilla (Oct. 31) and Crow (Nov. 21) Indian Reservations.
Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.
Individual participation is voluntary. A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not impact a landowner’s eligibility to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group. Inquiries regarding Settlement payments should be directed to 800-961-6109.
By Andrea J. Cook, Rapid City Journal By the end of the month, attorneys representing Native American families and two tribes in a federal child welfare case will know more about what happened during hearings that gave the Department of Social Services temporary custody of children.The Oglala Sioux and Rosebud tribes took the lead for three parents in a class action lawsuit challenging the practices of the 7th Circuit Court, the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s office and the Department of Social Services during temporary custody hearings that must take place within 48 hours of removing a child from a home. The parents claim the Indian Child Welfare Act hearings are too brief, sometimes as short as two minutes, and violate parental rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.
In mid-March, U.S. Chief District Judge Jeffrey Viken granted the tribe’s request for transcripts of more than 100 of the hearings, which are referred to as 48-hour hearings. He gave the judges who presided over the hearings two weeks to order transcripts of the hearings.
Those confidential hearings are at the heart of the plantiffs’ case, which contends that children are frequently taken from their homes for 60 days after hearings that often last no more than two minutes.
Presiding 7th Circuit Judge Judge Jeff Davis ordered transcripts of his hearings. Judges Wally Eklund, Thomas Trimble, Craig Pfeifle and Robert Mandel did not order transcripts.
The judges claimed Viken’s order threatens the distribution of authority between state and federal courts.
Transcripts were also not forthcoming from hearings held in front of former Judge Mary Thorstenson.
Last week, Viken chose to circumvent the judges’ reluctance to order the transcripts by ordering the court reporters who recorded the hearings to produce the transcripts. They have until June 1 to produce the transcripts.
The plaintiffs will have to pay for the transcripts that will be treated as confidential.
“Production of the 48-hour ICWA hearing transcripts is critical to the resolution of the issues in this case,” Viken said in his order.
Offers Aim to Consolidate Fractionated Lands for Tribal Development; Will Be Valid for 45 Days as Part of $1.9 Billion Land Buy-Back Program
Office of Public Affairs – Indian Affairs
Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
WASHINGTON, DC – In another step to fulfill President Obama’s commitment to strengthen Indian communities, the U.S. Department of the Interior today announced that the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) has sent purchase offers to nearly 16,000 individual landowners with fractionated interests in parcels on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Totaling more than $100 million, these offers will provide landowners the opportunity to voluntarily sell their fractionated interests, which would be consolidated and held in trust for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“The success of the Buy-Back Program is vitally important to the future of Indian Country,” said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “Consolidating and returning these lands to tribes in trust will have enormous potential to unlock tribal community resources. While we know that it will be a challenge to reach all landowners, we are committed to exhausting all efforts to make sure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands.”
The goal of the Buy-Back Program is to strengthen self-determination and self-governance for federally-recognized tribes. The Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value. Individuals who choose to sell their interests will receive payments directly in their IIM accounts. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.
Land fractionation is a serious problem across Indian Country. As individually-owned lands are passed down through several generations, they gain more and more owners. Many of these tracts now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. For many of these owners with fractionated interests, the land has very little practical value. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus on the use of these lands, the parcels often lie idle and cannot be used for any beneficial purpose.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the most highly-fractionated land ownership locations in Indian Country. The vast majority of landowners with purchasable interests have received offers– and have been located in 46 states across the country.
Interior has worked cooperatively with the Oglala Sioux Tribe over the past several months to conduct outreach to educate landowners about this unique opportunity, answer questions and help individuals make a timely decision about their land. Many owners have already been paid in response to offers delivered in December 2013.
Early purchases from willing sellers at Pine Ridge have resulted in the consolidation of thousands of acres of land for the tribe and in payments to landowners exceeding $10 million. While the amounts offered to individuals have varied, some owners have received more than $100,000 for their interests. On average, payments to individuals have been made within seven days after Interior received a complete, accepted offer package.
Purchase offers are valid for 45 calendar days. Owners must accept and return current purchase offers for fractionated lands on Pine Ridge by May 2, 2014.
For information about outreach events at Pine Ridge where landowners can gather information in order to make informed decisions about their land, contact the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Buy-Back Program at 605-867-2610.
Landowners can contact their local Fiduciary Trust Officer or call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. More information is also available at:http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners.
Sellers receive fair market value for their land, in addition to a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land. All sales will also trigger contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. Up to $60 million will go to this fund to provide scholarships to Native American students. These funds are in addition to purchase amounts paid to individual sellers, so contributions will not reduce the amount paid to landowners for their interests. The Scholarship Fund will be governed by a board of trustees and administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colo., with 20% going to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust or restricted status for American Indians. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 93,500 – on nearly 150 reservations – contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Buy-Back Program. There are more than 245,000 landowners, holding more than 3 million fractionated interests in parcels, eligible to participate in the Program.
Individual participation is voluntary. A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not jeopardize a landowner’s ability to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group.
WASHINGTON — Faith Spotted Eagle figures that building a crude oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would bring little to Indian Country besides more crime and dirty water, but she doubts that Native Americans will ever get the U.S. government to block the $7 billion project.
“There is no way for Native people to say no – there never has been,” said Spotted Eagle, 65, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder from Lake Andes, S.D. “Our history has caused us not to be optimistic. . . . When you have capitalism, you have to have an underclass – and we’re the underclass.”
Opponents may be down after a State Department study found that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not contribute to global warming. But they haven’t abandoned their goal of killing what some call “the black snake.”
In South Dakota, home to some of the nation’s poorest American Indians, tribes are busy preparing for nonviolent battle with “resistance training” aimed at TransCanada, the company that wants to develop the 1,700-mile pipeline.
While organizers said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attended a two-day conference and training session in Rapid City last week sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.” He said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful. “We’re not going to damage anything or riot or anything like that,” he said.
Like much of the country, however, tribal members are divided over the pipeline. In South Dakota, the battle pits those who fear irreversible effects on the environment and public safety against those who trumpet the economic payoff and a chance to cash in on a kind of big development project that rarely comes along.
In Winner, S.D., where the population numbers fewer than 3,000, Mayor Jess Keesis is eager to welcome construction workers from a 600-member “man camp” that would open just 10 miles from town if President Barack Obama approves the pipeline.
“Out here on the prairie, you know, we’re a tough people,” said Keesis, who’s also a member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation in Kansas. “We deal with drought and eight-foot blizzards and all kinds of stuff all the time, so anytime we can get something like this to give us a shot, it’s a good thing.”
Opponents say the risks are too great.
Two weeks ago, an alliance of Native American groups approved a statement saying emphatically that no pipeline would be allowed in South Dakota and that tribes stand ready to protect their “sacred water” and other natural resources.
That includes Native women, who opponents of the pipeline say would become easy prey for thousands of temporary construction workers housed in work camps. According to the federal government, one of every three Indian women are either raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, with the majority of attacks done by non-Native men.
“If you like to drink water, if you like your children not being harmed, if you don’t want your women being harmed, then say no to the pipeline,” Grey Cloud said. “Because once it comes, it’s going to destruct everything.”
Opponents said they don’t want to have to follow through on their plans. They hope that they have the ultimate trump card with a president who just happens to be an adopted Indian. That would be Barack Black Eagle, who was formally adopted by Hartford and Mary Black Eagle of Montana’s Crow Indian Tribe in 2008, when he visited the tribal reservation during his first presidential run.
“They didn’t do that by accident – they saw something in him, and I hope he recognizes that within himself,” Spotted Eagle said.
Grey Cloud said Obama would be “going against his word” if he approves the pipeline: “His main promise was to not allow pollution in our area.”
Keesis said the project carries risks but ultimately would be a winner for the region. He said the city of Winner and surrounding Tripp County would get a windfall of roughly $900,000 a year from construction workers patronizing the town’s restaurants, bars and its recently upgraded digital theater. Even the city would make money, hauling liquid waste from the nearby construction camp to its municipal facilities.
After spending 20 years working in oilfields and boomtowns, he’s convinced that much has changed, with construction workers “under the gun to behave.”
“I’ve been in boomtowns all my life: Wyoming, Texas, California, Colorado, Alaska, everywhere,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be near as bad as what people have in their minds. The oilfield, as with any other occupation like this, has really mellowed over the last 20 years. It’s not the Wild West like it used to be. . . . But you’ve got to take a little bad with the good.”
Obama, who has not said when he’ll make a final decision, is under heavy pressure to approve the project. Just last week, all 45 Republican senators sent a letter to the president, saying thousands of jobs are at stake and reminding him that he had promised them to make a decision by the end of 2013.
Nationally, project backers appear to be riding the momentum, armed with a State Department report on Jan. 31 that minimized the climate change impact of building the pipeline. Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said the report shows Americans that there is “no reason, scientific or otherwise, to block this project any longer.”
While Obama has kept mum, his administration has been offering hope to tribal officials.
“If we’re developing an area that runs through Indian Country, it’s very important that we reach an agreement that makes sense to tribes,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told tribal officials during a visit to Oklahoma in November, according to a story published in the Native American Times. “If not, that might mean the pipeline or transmission line goes somewhere else.”
In South Dakota, the proposed line would not go through any of the state’s nine reservations, but opponents say its close proximity would still pose a hazard.
TransCanada officials say they’ve worked closely with the tribes, even halting work in northeast Texas last year as a team of archaeological contractors dug for Indian artifacts at a sacred site.
With the southern section of the pipeline already open, company spokesman Terry Cunha said TransCanada is now working with 17 tribes in South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska, where the company needs Obama’s approval to build. He said the company hopes to begin work in those states in 2015.
Cunha said the company expects the pipeline to have a “limited impact” on the environment and that its work camps will be provided with around-the-clock security.
“We see it as a positive benefit,” he said.
Besides the short-term construction work, Keesis said his city would gain another 30 to 40 permanent residents who would work on pipeline-related jobs. He said Winner needs a lift, noting that since the city shut down its strip clubs a few years back, fewer pheasant hunters are visiting, opting to stay in big hunting lodges nearby.
“When I moved here, during the first three weeks of pheasant season, you couldn’t find a parking space,” he said. “Now you can park anywhere.”
But the economic argument is a hard sell for many tribal members in South Dakota, where history is still raw. It’s the scene of the some of the bloodiest battles between Indians and the federal government, including the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee Creek by the U.S. 7th Cavalry that killed nearly 300 Sioux.
Spotted Eagle said she feels obligated to try to stop the pipeline, both to provide toxic-free land and water for her grandchildren and to protect women from attacks.
“This is a form of militarism, bringing in these man camps,” said Spotted Eagle. “For those of us who have the history, it smacks of repetitive economics, when they put us in forts and they wanted our land. . . . All we’re willing to do here is sell our soul, just for the economy. That’s the dark side.”
PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) – An Oglala Sioux tribal committee has started a process that could allow a public vote on whether to legalize marijuana use on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The tribal council’s business development committee approved the measure last week, and the full tribal council soon could approve a public vote, councilman Kevin Yellow Bird Steele told the Rapid City Journal.
Council members say they are considering marijuana’s medical uses, and some argued that it could ease the dependency of tribal members on powerful prescription painkillers.
“It’s not something the council wants to make a decision on by themselves,” Yellow Bird Steele said. “It will be up to the people across the reservation.”
Just last August, reservation members narrowly voted to end prohibition and sell alcohol on the tribal land.
The alcohol ban had been in place for most of the reservation’s 124-year history, with supporters arguing that legalization would only exacerbate the impoverished tribe’s problems with domestic abuse, suicide, infant mortality, unemployment and violent crime. But opponents noted that liquor stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a speck of a town along the reservation’s border, were selling millions of cans a beer a year.
Under the law, the tribe will own and operate stores on the reservation, and profits will be used for education and detoxification and treatment centers, for which there is currently little to no funding.
If the marijuana vote passes, the Pine Ridge reservation would join a number of states that have begun to turn the tide on pot use.
Tribal Councilman James Cross recalled the tribe’s reaction when South Dakota voters in 2010 rejected a proposal to legalize medicinal marijuana. The statewide vote failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But a majority of Shannon County voters, where part of the Pine Ridge reservation is located, supported it.
Cross, who said he smoked in 1990 to help ease pain in his lower back when prescription painkillers left him unable to function, emphasized the medicinal needs over recreational use.
“It was really looking at the medical part of it first,” Cross said. “We really didn’t discuss revenue.”
Robin Tapio, a tribal councilwoman representing the Pine Ridge district, said she hasn’t decided whether she supports the proposal.
Tapio used marijuana to recover from cancer treatments in the mid-1980s, but she also regularly smoked pot until she was 45 and now worries that it may be addictive or cause health problems.
PINE RIDGE, S.D., September 3, 2013—The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed a resolution announcing its formal support of Teach For America-South Dakota corps members and alumni in their efforts to advance Native student achievement in the state.
Teach For America recruits, trains, and develops recent graduates and professionals to teach in urban and rural public schools, including some that are tribally operated under grant or contract with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and some that are BIE-operated. During the 2012-13 school year, 510 Teach For America corps members taught in Nativecommunities in South Dakota, Hawaii, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council resolution states in part:
Oglala Sioux Tribal Council supports Teach For America corps members and alumni in their efforts to build a truly effective movement through building local partnerships with students, families, local educators and with other organizations to eliminate educational inequity thus bridging the opportunity gap.
The resolution cites rigorous research studies that demonstrate Teach For America corps members have a positive impact on student achievement. Additionally, it recognizes the organization’s effort to strengthen its culturally responsive teaching training to better fit the needs of Native students.
The resolution also encourages other tribal governments and school districts serving American Indian students to strengthen their partnership with Teach For America.
“We are proud to support Teach For America as an ally in the critical effort to help Native students realize their full potential through excellent educational opportunities,” said council representative Kevin Yellow Bird-Steel. “The students in Pine Ridge classrooms right now will be the future tribal, state, and national leaders.”
Teach For America−South Dakota has been partnering with schools on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations since 2004. This year, more than 40 new Teach For America teachers will be teaching in reservation schools on Pine Ridge, Rosebud and for the first time Standing Rock and Lower Brule.
“We want the work of our corps members to be directly aligned with the visions and goals of the tribes, communities and families with whom we partner,” said Jim Curran, Teach For America− South Dakota executive director. “It means a lot to have formal support from the Oglala Nation.”
In 2010, Teach For America launched its Native Alliance Initiative to provide an additional source of effective teachers in Native communities and advance student achievement in Native schools.
“Education in Native schools is about the community. Teach For America is incredibly grateful for this support from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Government,” said Robert Cook, managing director of the Native Alliance Initiative and enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “This partnership will allow our corps members and alumni to have a more meaningful impact with students. It is a symbol of the alliance needed to help all students reach their full potential.”
About Oglala Sioux Tribe
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is an Oglala Sioux Native American reservation located in South Dakota. Originally included within the territory of the Great Sioux Reservation, Pine Ridge was established in 1889 in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border. Today it consists of 3,468.86 sq mi (8,984.306 km2) of land area and is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
About Teach For America
Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding individuals of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. This fall, 11,000 corps members will teach in 48 urban and rural regions across the country, while 32,000 alumni will work across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
It started with a spark — an interest in green energy. This glimmer of curiosity led Lyle Wilson, an instructor at Oglala Lakota College in South Dakota and U.S. Army veteran, to start researching renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and geothermal. Now sparked by Lyle’s interest, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation are finding new possibilities in their clean energy capabilities.
As part of his work at Oglala Lakota College, Lyle works with students in the applied sciences department to construct houses for members of the tribe. He envisioned taking the work a step further by integrating solar panels into new homes to help reduce power bills. To make it happen, Lyle reached out to Solar Energy International (SEI), which helps coordinate solar training courses for the Energy Department’s Solar Instructor Training Network.
From there, a group of students and instructors at the college signed on for SEI’s Photovoltaic (PV) 101: Solar Design and Installation course, in which they set up their first grid-tied photovoltaic system. This introduction served as fuel for their solar fire. Next, about 20 people took part in SEI’s PV 203: Solar Electric Design (Battery-Based) class. This course allowed them to install two 250-watt solar panels on their construction trailer.
“Most kids don’t want to sit in class — they want to get out and do things,” said Lyle. “We did a short one-day lesson in the classroom then went down to the yard and designed, connected, and built the system over two days. Our students were actually sort of stunned to learn how easy it is to do something like this once they understand the fundamental concepts.”
The mobile solar energy system built through the PV 203 course now provides enough power to run electric tools at construction sites, supports community service projects and serves as an educational resource for school-aged children.
Lyle sees these accomplishments as just the start. With more knowledge, more possibilities come into focus. Up next, the students hope to take another SITN course on setting up their own power grid. This would offer potential savings for the tribe, provide a degree of energy independence and empower students by bringing new job skills into the community.
“We could install 40 panels as a test to see how much money we could save by getting power from the sun,” said Lyle. “Then we could pass that information on to the tribe.”
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer of South Dakota and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman had planned for weeks to get together Monday morning to try to address alcohol sales in Whiteclay and alcoholism on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
But the meeting ended after fewer than three minutes, and the governor’s office and Brewer later traded barbs over whose fault that was.
“I feel very bad that I came down here to talk with him for a couple minutes,” Brewer said. “He didn’t want to talk to me.”
The tribal leader said he walked out because Heineman was aggressive and said Brewer violated the governor’s request to meet without media involvement. He said the governor had asked him
to not speak to the media before their meeting.
However, both Brewer and Heineman spoke to reporters in the days and hours leading up to their meeting. Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Wang said Brewer was the one who originally had requested a closed meeting with no media present.
“The governor was happy to accommodate that,” she said.
Brewer said the governor was especially angry about a news release that appeared Sunday saying the governor had received $96,000 in contributions from the liquor industry and charged that illegal alcohol activity and bootlegging in Whiteclay have not been stopped because of financial contributions to him and other Nebraska politicians from Anheuser-Busch, distributors and alcohol trade associations.
A spokesman for Alcohol Justice — a California-based, self-described watchdog of the liquor industry — cited the National Institute on Money in State Politics as its source. The institute describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to reveal the influence of campaign money on politicians.
“He verbally attacked me,” Brewer said. “I didn’t write that article. I don’t know why he’s mad at me.”
Wang said the governor has not been influenced by any campaign contributions from liquor industry representatives.
“That’s absolutely false, and it’s completely inappropriate,” she said.
She said the governor had set aside an hour to spend with Brewer and had invited Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Col. David Sankey, Chief of Staff Larry Bare and the governor’s policy adviser to attend.
Wang said Brewer made it clear he didn’t plan to stay long and have a serious conversation about the problem of alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
At a news conference Monday morning before the meeting, Heineman said the state of Nebraska has no legal way to shut down beer stores in Whiteclay as long as those stores follow the law. And, he said, it is Brewer’s responsibility to address the underlying problem that has led to rampant alcohol sales there.
“As the leader of his tribe, he’s got to put a focus on treatment and education relative to alcohol abuse,” Heineman said.
Brewer refused to take responsibility for his people’s actions, Wang said.
“The governor remained at the table and was hopeful to have an open and honest conversation about some of the difficulties surrounding this issue,” Wang said. “I would just call it an unfortunate situation.”
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted last month to hold a reservation-wide referendum this fall on whether to legalize alcohol on the Pine Ridge. Asked whether he supports that, Heineman declined to offer an opinion.
“I think that’s up to them to decide,” he said.
Brewer said he doesn’t want to see his tribe legalize alcohol but that he would do his best to regulate alcohol sales if tribal members vote yes.
He said he met earlier Monday with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who offered to assist the Oglala Sioux Tribe address alcohol sales in Whiteclay.
Brewer said he had hoped to talk to Heineman about re-creating an alcohol-free buffer zone south of the reservation that existed for more than 20 years until 1904. He said he also hoped to discuss making Whiteclay a national historic place to honor a massive sun dance that occurred there decades ago. Such a designation could force the beer stores to close, he said.
“I will continue working with the state of Nebraska,” he said. “I’ll refuse to deal with (Heineman) in the future.”
Brewer said he would like to be able to offer more treatment services to tribal members, but the tribe lacks the funding to do so. It has one treatment center with only seven beds, he said.
“I have to come up with the money somehow,” he said. “Our people are dying up there.”
During a news conference outside the State Office Building by activists after the meeting between Heineman and Brewer, Winnebago activist Frank LaMere said the governor clearly failed to show Brewer the respect he deserved as the leader of a sovereign nation.
“President, I apologize for our Nebraska governor,” he said. “I apologize for the way you were treated today.
“That to me is shameful.”
Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.