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A mouse has roared on the Missouri River

When Leonard Wibberley wrote his book, The Mouse That Roared, I'm sure he did not have the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in mind. But lately, the tiny Sioux tribe, whose reservation is on the Missouri River in central South Dakota, has been doing a bit of its own roaring in Washington, D.C. The surprising part is it is being heard.

The roaring takes the form of an injunction against the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the state of South Dakota from transferring any federal land along the Missouri River to the state. The land in question is part of the land of the 1851 and 1868 Peace Treaties the United States made with the Great Sioux Nation. This land was further taken from the Great Sioux Nation in the 1940s and '50s under the Pick-Sloan Act. That federal law created a series of dams up and down the Missouri River to control flooding. The dams have also been a boon worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the economies of North and South Dakota from electricity generation and recreation. The land that was flooded was mainly on Indian reservations. Entire Indian towns and communities were displaced and the best lands put underwater. The land, water and dams were and still are under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Any excess land that the Corps didn't need was to go back to the Tribes under the Pick-Sloan Act, never mind the treaties.

The new Congressional Act authorizing this move was brought about jointly by Democratic Senator Tom Daschle and Republican Governor Bill Janklow against the vociferous and active opposition of the Great Sioux Nation which had been physically divided up into tribes in the late 1800s. Using a modern divide and conquer tactic, Daschle and Janklow pulled in the Lower Brule and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes so Congress would think the Indians were for this act. Originally geared for wildlife habitat mitigation, the onerous act was dubbed the Mitigation Act.

To mitigate means to make less severe, to alleviate, to cause to put something in a less harsh light.

The first Mitigation Act was repealed by Congress. There had never been any hearing as the original act was pushed through as a rider. After many letters and quite a bit of lobbying by tribal people, most members of Congress were made aware that there was another federal law involved, not to mention a treaty or two! While the repeal was in a joint conference committee, Daschle surreptitiously put the Mitigation Act in as another rider, called Title VI of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999, which slipped by Congress and was passed.

Since that time, the Corps has been under the gun to finish a complete Environmental Impact Statement as Senator Daschle and Governor Janklow have continually pushed for the immediate transfer of certain recreation areas. A complete EIS would take years to complete. Environmental groups are watching to see if the federal environmental law will be followed. They are also watching to see how federal land can be turned over to a state. How would that bode for national parks?

The land transfer of the recreation areas was to happen

on Dec. 21, 2001. Why the rush? Is there "gold in them thar recreation areas?" Is it in the form of increased tourism with the Lewis and Clark Expedition anniversary coming up?

Little Crow Creek Reservation lies on the east bank of the Missouri River and has a female chairperson, Roxanne Sazue, a rarity. Peter Capossela , the tribal attorney for the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, filed an injunction in federal court in Washington, D.C., titled "Crow Creek Sioux Tribe versus Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White et al."

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001, a hearing was held in Washington, D.C., before Judge Paul L. Friedman. In a letter to the Crow Creek Tribal Council summarizing the hearing, Mr. Capossela states: "Judge Paul Friedman ... questions whether the federal historic preservation laws can be properly implemented by the Corps if the land transfer goes through ... [and] expressed some level of agreement with the tribe's position in the lawsuit, that the Mitigation Act is unconstitutional because it contains conflicting directives to the Corps of Engineers, and that the Corps cannot transfer land to the state and implement the federal historic preservation laws, at the same time."

His letter also stated that the attorney for the Justice Department, who represents the Corps of Engineers, further tried to argue that a government-to-government consultation was held with the Crow Creek Tribe on the land transfer by producing a letter that had been sent to President Sazue. President Sazue told the judge that she had received the letter but the date for the consultation was at the same time as the hearing currently in session, and that it was very poor planning.

The judge agreed with President Sazue and dismissed the Justice Department's argument. The result is the land transfer is stopped until after Feb. 8, leaving the Justice Department and the tribe time to submit amended complaints and responses.

At a Sioux Nation Treaty Council meeting in Rapid City on Dec. 21, President Sazue and Peter Capossela were honored by the assembly. As the drum beat out the honor song and young men's voices carried the words to the universes, many tears rolled slowly from the eyes of men and women. Crow Creek is such a small little tribe but they were doing this for the Great Sioux Nation.

As a nation, our victories are so few and far between. We are such a small nation to stand up to the most powerful nation in the world, the United States. Yet, many of us believe that if the U.S. Constitution were truly upheld, truth and true justice would be the outcome. This victory is small. We know that. And there will be more court appearances. But for now, Peter Capossela and Roxanne Sazue, along with the Crow Creek Tribal Council are our heroes. A mouse has roared on the Missouri River.