As the sale of the historic Wounded Knee site looms with several offers on the table for owner James Czywczynski, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has moved to seize the land using eminent domain, according to a report by Brandon Ecoffey, the managing editor of Native Sun News.
In addition to this development, a petition on a Care2 website claims that one of the parties interested in purchasing the site wants to build a horse slaughtering plant and has garnered more than 38,000 signatures.
According to Denise Mesteth, Tribal Land Office Director, the tribe is intending to seek recovery of the Wounded Knee site through eminent domain, however the claims that the tribe would allow a horse slaughterhouse to be built on or near Wounded Knee were false.
“That isn't right; it is definitely a misleading petition. It is amazing how rumors get around. This may have been an effort to hinder the eminent domain move,” said Mesteth.
On May 16, the council voted 14-0 to file in federal court to seek the land owned by Czywczynski. While eminent domain is an action where a government utilizes its power to seize the private property of an individual or group of people for use by the state, some tribal law experts say this might be an exercise in futility.
But Mesteth says, “It’s all we’ve got.”
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a federal Indian law attorney in Washington, D.C. told Ecoffey that the likelihood of eminent domain working for the tribe in the case of Wounded Knee was low.
“It would be very hard for me to see the tribe pull this off,” the source said. “If this was truly a viable option for tribes then it would be extremely easy for tribes to consolidate their land bases. They could simply seize whatever they wanted from non-members within the confines of the reservation, provided they pay just compensation. Who determines what just compensation is?”
Czywczynski told ICTMN he is waiting for a specific buyer to purchase the land for the benefit of the tribe. “There are others that are waiting to buy this property, but I am waiting for this person who is buying it for the benefit of the tribe. I want the tribe to have this property,” he said.
Mesteth did confirm that there is a submitted initiative by tribal members to consider a horse slaughterhouse, but it would not be built on the site of Wounded Knee even if it were approved. She also said any possibility that the tribe would build on Wounded Knee were unfounded and that the tribe was putting measures in place to protect the site.
“There was a move on the council floor this Tuesday [May 28] to create a three-mile radius buffer for all additional development in the area of Wounded Knee,” she said.
Mesteth says the creation of a horse slaughterhouse is only an initiative that was presented to the tribal council and that any such thing would need to be presented to all of the tribal districts and approved before anything moved forward.
“We are not saying any of this will happen, the plan is not to use horses on a reservation and they are not going to just pick them up off the range and take them to the slaughterhouse, they will buy from the sale house,” she said.
Mesteth says, because there are no slaughterhouses in the United States because they have been outlawed since 2007, it would create a revenue opportunity for the tribe.
“There is only one in Mexico and one in Canada. The market is high now because I guess there is a foreign market for horse meat, although I wouldn’t eat it. All this said, it will bring jobs and some kind of revenue to our reservation,” she said.