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History Center near funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved legislation to fund a historical center for the American Indian near Fort Pierre, S.D.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., would establish the Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place and include not only a museum, but a home for an economic development center and the location for the Sioux Nation Tribal Supreme Court.

Most of the tribes in South Dakota signed off on the proposal with the exception of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Some statements pointed to Cheyenne River as the top tribal sponsor of the bill, however its legal department provided information that stated the tribe is not involved.

"It is my hope that through the establishment of a reconciliation place, we can promote a better understanding of the history and culture of the Sioux people," Daschle said.

"It will serve as a center of prosperity, solidarity and stability for Native Americans, helping to generate new jobs, promote economic growth, and it will be an important repository for Sioux Nation history."

Gregg Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said the tribal council was skeptical about the proposal because of the inclusion of a supreme court. He said it was his understanding that a supreme court would be established that would travel from tribe to tribe.

Steve Emery and Tom Van Norman, attorneys, worked on the supreme court proposal under the direction of the Dakota Territory Chairman's Council and with a grant from the U.S. Justice Department.

Another objection to the development of the project is trust land. Bourland said the Cheyenne River Tribal Council prefers the building be placed on trust land, because some historic documents like docket 74 would be housed in the building.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has a committee that has worked with the Wakpa Sica board. Bourland said he was surprised the legislation had gone this far without consultation.

The bill calls for a $17 million grant to be administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. An additional $10 million per year for five years would be appropriated to the Department of Interior to establish an economic development council which would have to raise 20 percent in matching funds.

Purpose of the reconciliation place will be to display and interpret the history, art and culture of the tribes and provide a repository for tribal histories.

The Sioux Nation Tribal Court, to be established in the future, would be housed in the facility. Each tribe in the state has its own Supreme Court system.

"By empowering the Sioux tribes to establish their own Sioux Nation Supreme Court, the bill will help achieve greater social and economic stability in Indian country," Daschle said.

"Moreover, the court will bring the legal certainty and predictability to the reservations necessary for businesspeople to have the confidence to make investments in tribal enterprises."

The economic development council will provide tribal members with skills and resources to establish businesses. It will offer grants and loans to tribal members, and provide scholarships to students who pursue an educational track in business-related subjects. The council also will provide technical assistance to tribes and the members.

An 11-member board of directors would oversee the economic council operations. It would consist of a member from each of the tribes and one each to be appointed by the governor and by the senior member of the South Dakota delegation.

The bill must go before the full Senate and then to the House of Representatives before enactment.