New Resource for Lakota Land Owners

Today, Village Earth’s Lakota Lands Recovery Project is proud to announce the launch of a new resource for Lakota lands owners on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Pine Ridge Land Information System (PRLIS), is online mapping tool that allows members of the Tribe to locate their allotted lands and view other data about land use and management. The resource was developed by Village Earth with support from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Village Earth also developed a companion website to house the tool an other related information at www.lakotalands.net.

The Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses 2,788,047 acres including all of Shannon, Jackson and Bennett Counties in South Dakota and a portion of Sheridan County, NE. This land is divided into 20,507 different parcels, 44% of which are owned in-part or in-whole by individual Tribal Members, a total of 1,067,877 acres. These are lands that were allotted to individual tribal members as a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Severalty Act) and have been passed down to each subsequent generation. Most of these lands however, are not being managed by the land owners. Rather, a century of discriminatory policies enacted by the Federal Government have functioned to alienate the original allottees and their heirs from their lands to make them available for lease by non-tribal members for a fraction of their fair market value. Few people realize that on Pine Ridge and on Reservations across the country, these policies have meant that the Indian land owners have been separated from their allotted lands, in many cases, for generations. In fact, many Tribal land owners know very little about their lands; where they’re located, how they’re being used, who they share ownership with, etc. This has had devastating impacts on the ability of land owners to benefit from their land-based resources – economically or culturally. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture for American Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers. Despite the widespread leasing, over 70% families on Pine Ridge would like to live on and utilize their lands. This is according to survey data collected by Colorado State University.

Short Video about the PRLIS

Village Earth’s Lakota Lands Recovery Project was started out of this expressed desire from the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Since 2003, the Lakota Lands Recovery Project has worked alongside tribal members moving in this direction. Our approach has been to provide direct support to Lakota families who are utilizing Reservation lands, providing fiscal sponsorship, small grants, loans, and releasing over 100 head of buffalo onto Lakota family ranchers. Our other complimentary approach has been to provide advocacy, information and tools to those who would like to begin to move in that direction. In 2008, with support from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation we developed the Pine Ridge Strategic Land Planning Map Book and distributed it through Strategic Land Planning Workshops held in each of the Nine Districts on the Reservation. The map book, addressed a particular challenge expressed by tribal members, accessing information about their lands and the options available to them. This is a common problem across Indian Country and is a serious obstacle for Native American’s wanting to utilize their lands. According the Indian Land Working Group:

Over the past 100 years, the government has implemented their “highest and best use” management policy by leasing Indian Land to non-Indians. This continues today, as is evidenced by the fact that of the 9 million acres of trust land classified as agricultural, 6 million is lased to non-Indians. A leasing cartel has been created because Indian landowners have had limited access to information and resources necessary to use and manage allotted trust lands.

To begin to address this need, Village Earth’s Stategic Land Planning Map Book provide full color aerial photos with parcel information for the entire reservation, sample forms and step-by-step procedures for doing land exchanges, partitions, gift deeds, and other tools that Tribal land owners can use to gain greater control over their lands. It was very well received across the Reservation but it was costly to print and distribute. Furthermore, land owners could only get a limited view of their lands. This new tool supports both of these strategic directions while making it more accessible and dynamic.

Using the PRLIS, tribal members can:

  • Search for individually allotted and Tribal owned trust lands using the Tract ID found on their government land reports.
  • View, print and share a web link for the boundaries of specific land tracts.
  • View Pine Ridge lands with various base layers including Google and Bing aerial photography, Google and Bing roads, Google and Bing Hybrid, and terrain.
  • View a Landsat TM Image which can be used to assess the management and of lands on Pine Ridge.
  • View a map of the Range Units that are leased across Pine Ridge.
  • View the Boundaries of the Reservation today and as defined in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties.
  • We plan to soon add other demographic, cultural, political information to the PRLIS.

Village Earth has developed this as a demonstration and is open to consult with other Tribes interested in developing their own low-cost online land information systems. For more information about the Pine Ridge Land Information System or the Lakota Lands Recovery Project contact David Bartecchi at [email protected]

Agricultural Resources Planning & Management Meeting on Pine Ridge

The Oglala Sioux Tribe Land Office is hosting an Agricultural Resources Planning & Management Meeting March 30th and 31st at the Prairie Wind Casino on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. For more information contact 605-867-5305.

The Fate of the Badlands South Unit and a Forgotten History

By Jamie Way

The future of the land that now comprises the Southern Unit of Badlands National Park is once again uncertain. Today, the dispute over this land is somewhat more relaxed as the tension of war is no longer looming, but the stakes may be just as high as ever. In the fall of 2008, the National Park Service (NPS) began receiving public input on the creation of a new general management plan for the Badlands National Monument’s Southern Unit, (the Northern portion of the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota). The NPS is accepting public input on their proposed options until November 1st, whereupon the fate of this land will once more be determined by someone other than the Lakota.

The Southern Unit has a long history, riddled with controversy and violence. Originally, this land belonged to the Lakota. In 1890, after the Lakota along with their Cheyenne and Arapahoe allies, were massacred by the 7th Cavalry in the battle of Wounded Knee, the survivors fled to what is now the Southern Unit. They took shelter in the natural fortress formed by a butte surrounded by cliffs. The area served as a refuge for those who escaped the cavalry. For this reason, and because Lakota Ghost Dancers were buried in this location, the land came to be considered sacred.

The land could not serve as a refuge forever. Throughout time, the reservation was created and the Oglala inhabited the Southern Unit. Unfortunately, however, right before World War II began, things changed drastically yet again for the inhabitants of the Southern Unit. On July 20, 1942 the War Department advised the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that they would be taking over an area of 40×15 miles across the northern portion of the reservation. While a small portion of this land lay within what was then Badlands National Monument (337 acres), the vast majority of the land was located within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation (nps.gov). The dispossession would impact some 125 Oglala families. And while the dispossessed families were to be supplied with some relocation compensation, assistance and supplies, actual accounts vary as to how much the families received if any at all.

The displacement was messy and created a major crisis on the reservation. While officially, the families would have had 40 days to leave if they were given notice on the same day as the Bureau of Indian affairs (which seems not to be the case most of the time), most believed that they needed to evacuate almost immediately. In fact, archival data reveals that Mr. McDowell, an employee of the land acquisition division of the War Department, had stated that the War Department was taking possession of the land and shooting was to start on August 1st (Roberts 7/7/42).This is even more shocking when you take into account that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was only officially notified of the dispossession twelve days prior. Myrtle Gross, who was displaced during the event, reported that “the Farmer Office” sent a man to tell her to “[g]et out now because the Japs aren’t going to wait!” She said they were then given 30 days to leave, (Archives Search Report 1999, Interview 5). Similarly, Ida Bullman recalls finding out about the evacuation after reading a poster that was displayed at the local store. The store owner told her, “Pack up and leave. They’re going to start shooting at you.” Thus, by the time the information reached the population the impression was given that they were to have well under two weeks (approximately ten days) to evacuate their land.

Until 1958, the land was utilized for bombing and gunnery practice by what was then the Army Air Force. Even past this date, the South Dakota National Guard retained a small portion of the land for training purposes. When they left, the land’s future was far from resolved. Moreover, they left behind them dangerous ordnance and never fully lived up to their responsibility of cleaning the land. To this day, unexploded ordnance can be found on the site.

Due to many families’ attachment to the land, Ellen Janis represented her neighbors’ interests and fought for reparations or the return of their land in a series of trips to D.C. to see public officials. During this time, Congressman Francis Case, who had lobbied for the bombing range, acknowledged that the evacuation had created an incredibly difficult situation for many of his constituents, admitting that “[t]he injustice that was done to the people of Pine Ridge is almost beyond comprehension” (Francis Case as represented in Nichols 1960). In 1968, Public Law 90-468 was finally passed, and lands declared excess by the Air Force were to be transferred to the Department of Interior. The law afforded those displaced (whether their land was held in trust or in fee) the possibility of repurchasing the land that had been taken from them if they filed an application with the Secretary of Interior to purchase the tract. This application needed to be filed within a one year window from the date a notice was published in the Federal Register that the tract had been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Secretary. Needless to say, the displaced were not properly notified of this option in many cases, in part due to their geographical dispersion. The law also stated that the original inhabitants that wished to repurchase their land were to pay the price the U.S. government had paid for the land, plus interest. Thus, those that decided to repurchase their land explained that they paid much higher prices for the land than they had originally been paid for it when the government confiscated it.

According to Jim Igoe’s BRIDGE report, “By the end of the early 1960s it was clear that Department of the Interior bureaucrats intended that the area should be taken over by a Department of the Interior Agency, and not returned to the Tribe.” The Park Service promised the tribe that by creating the park, they would invigorate the reservation economy through tourism, while the a Senate committee simultaneously strong-armed the tribe threatening to “dispose of the land in question under surplus property agreements if the Tribe refused to lease land,” (Igoe 2004).

The topic was controversial on the reservation, as traditionalists refused to turn over the land. In 1976, the Tribal Council under Chairman Dick Wilson, whose questionable leadership during the AIM struggle on Pine Ridge has solidified his legacy as a harsh and corrupt leader, signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Park Service. The Stronghold District of the Badlands National Park, which includes 133,300 acres of land, from this point on has been held by the National Park Service in conjunction with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Over the next 25 years, the relationship between the NPS and some tribal members remained strained. In 2002, relations between the NPS and some tribal members degenerated to the point where a grassroots movement of Lakota defending the burial place of Ghost Dancers, called the Keepers of the Stronghold Dream, felt it necessary to physically occupy the land, guarding it from the invasion of hikers, park visitors and fossil poachers in an attempt to reclaim it (Igoe 2002). Unfortunately, this confrontation settled nothing and the issue remains unresolved to this day.

Currently, the NPS and the tribe both have complaints about how the area is being managed. The NPS complains that they have not been given proper access to manage the site as needed. The tribe feels as though the NPS has not lived up to its promises in the 1976 MOA including filling NPS jobs at the site with tribal members and reintroducing buffalo into the area. Moreover, they are still concerned with fossil poaching and environmental destruction of the region by outsiders. For this reason, many would like to see the land pulled out of the park system entirely.

As is evident in this history, the land was never properly returned to its original owners. While none of the NPS options include returning land to those that were displaced prior to WWII nor giving the land back to the tribe with no obligations, the options do include giving the tribe more control over this portion of their land. Option 2, considered the “preferred option” by the NPS, would have the NPS and the tribe create a “National Tribal Park.” Option 7 would give even greater control (but may create financial issues or have other drawbacks) to the tribe. It would allow the tribe to create and operate an Oglala Sioux Tribal Park. The NPS claims that both Option 2 and Option 7 would require Congressional approval. The reasoning behind this, however, remains unclear. In the original 1976 MOA (which has since been modified), section 21 states that “Any part or parts of this Agreement, including any appendix, may be amended or modified by mutual written consent (between the NPS and tribe) at any time.”

The NPS is currently in the final phase of public meetings and accepting comments. The comment period for this topic will close on November 1, 2010. Please consider this history while attending meetings on this topic or giving your feedback. You can read more about the options at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=117&projectID;=17543&documentID;=35882 and comment at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?parkID=117&projectID;=17543&documentID;=35882

www.villageearth.org

Support this Appeal for the Creation of the First Ever Tribal Park in the United States!

The message below was sent to Village Earth by Oglala Lakota Tribal Member, Doris Respect Nothing.
“Dear my friends and family, 

The Badlands National Park has developed a 20-year general management plan (GNP) for the South Unit. Within the GNP, there are seven alternative plans currently proposed. The comment period is now open until October 19th to the public. It is important for the public to review the alternatives and pick one which will help the Lakota people with the current status.

The South Unit is located in our reservation and has been a part of Oglala Lakota history. However, This area was leased to the war department during the WWII for the bombing practice. After the land was turned over to the National Park Service after the war in 1968. Since then, the National Park Service has given permits for the fossil excavation without a proper consultation with the tribal government.
In my opinion, the best alternative is Option 7: Oglala Sioux Tribal Park. This option allows us to protect our cultural and natural resources and restore our relationship with the buffalo nation on our own. With this option, it will guarantee protection of the South Unit from becoming the public lands (Option 1 to 5) as well as possible uranium mining and other threats of development by the tribe (Option 6: deauthorization). 

Please help us establish our own tribal park by making a comment today. If you agree with the Option 7, you could use the sample comment below. Simply copy and paste tin the comment page.

Thank you so much for your support on this matter. Please spread the word by forwarding this email to your friends and family.

Sincerely,
Doris
Sample comment here:  you can copy and paste this sentence to the comment page at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=35882.  Feel free to personalize the comment if you would like.
Dear Badlands National Park,
I would like to support Option 7: Oglala Sioux Tribal Park from the proposed alternatives of the park general management plan. This option allows Oglala Lakota nation to protect their cultural and natural resources and restore their relationship with the buffalo nation. With this option, it will guarantee protection of the South Unit from becoming public lands, which help the nation to fully regain their access to the South Unit. This option also prevents the possible uranium mining and other threats of development in the South Unit. I like to support Lakota nation’s sovereign right to manage the South Unit as a tribal park. This will create many opportunities for the Oglala Lakota people within park management, business and all other aspects of a tribal park. It is important to create a hope for the Oglala Lakota people, especially for the youth who deserve to regain their own identity as Oglala Lakota. Option 7 will serve the best to these purposes, in my opinion.
Thank you.



Village Earth Partners with Indian Land Tenure Foundation on Strategic Land Planning on Pine Ridge


(Above: Map illustrating the problem of fractionation on the Pine Ridge Reservation)

Village Earth, was recently awarded a grant from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation to conduct a series of Strategic Land Planning workshops with up to three (3) groups of allottees who own undivided interests on the same allotment(s) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The purpose of these workshops is to provide the education, resources, and support needed by undivided interest owners to analyze the different options they have for the management, use and inheritance of their lands, now and for future generations. But also, to choose an appropriate course of action and move towards it. This might include but is not limited to:

  • Consolidating fractionated pieces of land.

  • Creating wills to lessen further fractionation.

  • Creating agreements between landowners for the utilization of specific undivided allotments of land for farming, raising livestock, housing, business development, tourism, etc.

The Indian Land Tenure Foundation is a nonprofit organization, based in Minnesota, that is community organized and community directed. The community includes Indian landowners, Indian people on and off reservations, Indian land organizations, tribal communities, tribal governments and others connected to Indian land issues. The mission of the foundation is to ensure that “land within the original boundaries of every reservation and other areas of high significance where tribes retain aboriginal interest are in Indian ownership and management.”

 

WHY STRATEGIC LAND PLANNING
Nearly 1,067,877 acres of the Pine Ridge is owned by individual allottees. Over a century of unplanned inheritance has created a situation where lands have become severely fractioned. This has created a management nightmare where, in order for a land owner to utilize their undivided lands, they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result of this complexity, most land owners (Nearly 65% on Pine Ridge) have opted to lease their lands out as part of the Tribal/BIA range unit leasing system.

This situation has had a dramatic impact on the overall economy on Pine Ridge. Like other Reservations across the United States, fractionation has been a major obstacle to housing and business development but also native owned farms and ranches. According to the USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture for American Indian Reservations of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, in 2002 there was nearly 33 million dollars in receipts from agricultural production on Pine Ridge, yet less than 1/3rd of that income went to members of the tribe.

Despite the fact that most people are leasing their lands out, according to a survey conducted by Colorado State University, it was found that most people on the reservation believe that the Lakota people should be managing reservation lands, not the non-tribal lessees, State or BIA. Despite this situation, many opportunities exist for undivided interest owners of an allotment including stopping further fractionation and even reversing the situation through the creation of wills, land consolidation, or forming cooperative agreements between land owners.

WHO IS ELIGABLE TO APPLY?
Because of the complex nature of land planning on Pine Ridge we have limited the workshop to three (3) groups of allottees who own undivided interests on the same allotment(s) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

HOW TO APPLY?
Applications can be obtained by contacting David Bartecchi at 970-491-5754, [email protected] or online at

Completed applications should be mailed to:

David Bartecchi
Village Earth
PO Box 797
Fort Collins, Co. 80522

Application must be postmarked by Sept. 31st, 2007.