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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Sacred Land in South Dakota May Be Safe

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Per The Daily Republic  A Native American tribe trying to buy land it considers sacred in South Dakota’s picturesque Black Hills is in negotiations with the landowners and has secured money for a deposit, though no final agreement has been reached, tribe officials said Tuesday.

The nearly 2,000 acres of pristine prairie grass plays a key role in the creation story of the tribes making up the Great Sioux Nation, and members fear that new owners would develop the property. The land, which the tribes call Pe’ Sla, is the only sacred site on private land outside Sioux control.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is among the closest to the land, has allocated an undisclosed amount of money as an earnest deposit on the land, though tribe spokesman Alfred Walking Bull said Tuesday that he couldn’t specify the amount or where negotiations stood with the land owners.

“Basically, Rosebud is working out the details and the details will be forthcoming as early as next week,” he said.

The tribe had earlier said it was allocating $1.3 million to the cause, and donations to an online fundraising effort totaled about $300,000 by Tuesday, though tribal officials fear that the land could sell for between $6 million and $10 million.

The landowners, Leonard and Margaret Reynolds, declined comment Tuesday. An auction to sell that land had been scheduled for Aug. 25, but the couple cancelled it a few days before without commenting. Walking Bull said both sides have been working through a third party to handle negotiations.

Despite the hushed negotiations, tribe supporters praised the news of the progress.

“We are very pleased we’ve reached this positive milestone,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who led the online fundraising effort. He said supporters will hold a celebration rally Wednesday in Rapid City.

The tribes believe the Sioux people were created from the Black Hills. According to part of their spiritual tradition, Pe’ Sla is where the Morning Star fell to Earth, killing seven beings that killed seven women. The Morning Star placed the souls of the women into the night sky as “The Seven Sisters,” also known as the Pleiades constellation.

Tribal members hold ceremonies and rituals on the land.

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Native Americans in Prison are Denied Religious Freedom.

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OMAHA, Neb. — The state of Nebraska reneged on a 2005 agreement to accommodate the religious and cultural needs of Native American inmates, an inmate claims in a contempt motion filed this week in federal court.

Nebraska prison officials agreed in a 2005 settlement to allow Native American inmates to have two powwows a year and give them time for religious education and worship ceremonies, as well as use of traditional, ceremonial foods such as fry bread, buffalo, deer, elk, corn and “berry dish” in their ceremonies. The inmates agreed not to use tobacco in their ceremonies after officials noted it is banned in the prison system. Prison officials allowed them to use chinshasha, made from the bark of red willow trees, as a substitute.

The motion filed Monday by inmate Michael Joseph Sims on behalf of about 180 Native American inmates claims state prison leaders have not allowed those ceremonial foods since the agreement was signed in 2005. The motion says Native American inmates also have been denied access to eagle feathers for certain ceremonies, and that prison officials have repeatedly changed policies, provisions, access, spiritual educational classes and schedules without agreement from Native American inmates, as required by the agreement.

Prison officials also removed ceremonial stones from a sweat lodge at the prison, the motion says, adding that when a Native American faith practitioner objected, a prison official responded, “I don’t care about that; I’m taking those rocks.”

Sims, who is serving a life sentence at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln for first-degree murder, asks a federal judge to “find that there has been a misrepresentation or fraud by the defendants” regarding the settlement. He asks the court to allow him to proceed with a class-action lawsuit against the state prison system. He also seeks to reinstate use of tobacco in certain ceremonies, saying prison officials allow tobacco in certain areas at the Community Correctional Centers in Lincoln and Omaha.

U.S. District Court Judge Warren K. Urbom, who signed the settlement, has given prison officials until Sept. 12 to respond to the motion.

Sims also asked that the court appoint an attorney to represent Native American prisoners in the matter. No ruling has yet been made on that request.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith declined to comment on the motion Wednesday. She also declined to answer questions about whether Native American inmates are given ceremonial foods and eagle feathers for religious rites or whether prison employees removed ceremonial stones from the prison-based sweat lodge.

Prison officials also rejected a request Wednesday by The Associated Press to speak to Sims by phone about the motion.

The tug-of-war between prison officials and Native American inmates dates back decades. In 1974, a federal consent decree also signed by Urbom required prison officials to allow Native American inmates to conduct religious ceremonies and have access to medicine men and ceremonial tobacco, among other things. The 2005 agreement replaced that decree.

BACKGROUND | THE REPUBLIC

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