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Harjo: Praise for rescuers of Bear Butte, even for Janklow

There's praise aplenty to be handed out to people who stopped a shooting range that would have disturbed the quietude of Bear Butte, a sacred place in South Dakota where Native people of many tribal traditions have prayed for millennia.

To the Cheyenne, Bear Butte is Nowahwus, Holy Mountain. To the Lakota, it is Paha Mato, Bear Mountain. To Arvol Looking Horse, Cheyenne River Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, Bear Butte has the sacred energy of "wowakan" that would be disrupted by the presence of weaponry.

The first to be praised for rescuing Bear Butte are Lakota warriors of the Cheyenne River, Lower Brule and Oglala Sioux tribes. They sounded the alarm over a year ago about plans by state and local officials to build a recreational complex near Bear Butte, where sports shooters would fire off 10,000 rounds daily within earshot of Indians at prayer, in healing ceremonies and on vision quests.

Deserving of praise are the leaders and lawyers for the tribes that took legal action to stop the shooting range: Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana and South Dakota Sioux tribes including Crow Creek, Rosebud, Standing Rock and Yankton.

Also worthy of high praise are the Defenders of the Black Hills, another plaintiff in the case, and its coordinator, Charmaine White Face (Oglala Lakota), who helped organize the lawsuit; and James D. Leach, the lawyer in Rapid City, S.D., who litigated the case.

The state and local officials and private investors kept details of the shooting range a secret until they had been awarded a federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build the sports complex. Leach brought suit in federal court against the HUD secretary, local governments and developers of the complex.

The defendants settled in for a long court battle.

Then Rep. William Janklow (R-S.D.) killed a man on a motorcycle, and the world changed.

Notorious for speeding, Janklow ran a red light at high speed, causing the motorcyclist to crash into his car in broad daylight in the flat country of South Dakota. He later grasped at a defense that his diabetic condition was responsible for his speeding, failing to stop and killing someone (a defense that would have caused him to laugh out loud if it had been raised by Indians, who suffer from diabetes at the highest rates in South Dakota and nationwide).

Even in pre-trial contrition mode, Janklow was bullish on the shooting range proposal. While he awaited trial, he took full credit for having put the shooting range deal together with an entrepreneur in Nebraska and having funded the project with South Dakota's block-grant money from HUD when he was the state's governor.

In December, a jury found Janklow guilty of manslaughter, reckless driving, running a red light and speeding. He petitioned the court to nullify the jury's decision and to postpone his sentencing.

On Jan. 13, the judge ruled against Janklow, declining to substitute his own judgment for that of the jury.

This wasn't the best month for Janklow. His resignation from the House of Representatives, rendered on Dec. 9, is effective on Jan. 20.

Four days before he lost his bid for rehearing, his compatriots in the sports complex project filed court papers declaring that they were abandoning plans for the shooting range. Left with a booster who lost his influence and a legal wrangle with Indians trying to pray in peace, they decided against pursuing the shooting range.

"It was an enormous honor and privilege to handle this case," said Attorney Leach. "In almost 30 years in South Dakota, I can't remember such an outrageous racist travesty as trying to put a shooting range next to Bear Butte. The white racism in western South Dakota never ceases to amaze me." But, said Leach, "Sometimes the good guys win."

Leach credits another South Dakota activist and old friend, Mark Tilsen, with getting him involved in the case.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the memory of the late Jancita Eagle Deer should be invoked and credited. She was the Sicangu Lakota woman who testified in Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court that Janklow raped her in his car and threatened to use his gun on her if she told anyone.

Janklow was indicted in tribal court, where he was admitted to practice as a legal services attorney, but refused to appear before it to account for himself. He has denied elsewhere that he raped Jancita Eagle Deer. Judge Mario Gonzalez (Oglala Sioux), who presided over the Janklow case, believed her and disbarred Janklow from practicing before the Rosebud Court.

Janklow went on to a highly public Indian-fighting career. As the state's attorney general, governor and representative in the House, he was the political go-to guy for tips on everything from undermining tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction to putting Indians in prison and keeping them there.

Jancita Eagle Deer went on to meet a lonely death, killed by a car on a road 100 miles from her home. No one has come forward with any information about how she got to the spot where she was killed.

I have an image of Janklow on two fateful days: one, when he tried to use his power to stop Indians from praying at Bear Butte, and another, when he powered his way through a red light and stopped a man's life. With him is a memory of Jancita Eagle Deer, saying, "Bill, just be yourself."

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.