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National boycott has impact: South Dakota responds to influx of comments

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YANKTON, S.D. - It takes more than court battles, protests, and numerous meetings to get a state and the federal government to stop expansion of a recreation area on a sacred site.

Sometimes you have to get their attention another way - set up a boycott.

That's what a group of Yankton Sioux tribal members did in an attempt to punish the state of South Dakota and get them to correct a wrong they claim was perpetrated against their culture - a burial site was desecrated and then artifacts were returned to their original location using hasty and disrespectful methods.

The Ihankotonwan Nakota Oceti Sakowin of the Great Sioux Nation, an organization formed to protect a sacred burial site, ask that all people planning to travel to South Dakota avoid visiting locations including Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, any of the non-Indian tourist attractions that are part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, all South Dakota state parks and refrain from fishing, hunting, boating, camping and the like on any state-sponsored recreation area.

The word went out a few weeks ago and the response has been overwhelming.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds' office has received what it calls "a significant number of comments" about the ongoing dispute over the sacred burial site.

Gov. Rounds' spokesperson Mark Johnston did not reveal how many queries the state received, nor did he elaborate on the content of the messages.

It prompted the governor, however, to issue a statement that was sent to inquirers by return e-mail that explained the state's position. Gov. Rounds said in the statement that the state has done everything the tribe wanted after the funerary objects were uncovered by the heavy earth moving equipment at North Point, a recreation area just north of Fort Randall Dam on the Missouri River.

This is correct; in fact the state even went beyond a federal court order.

But because members of the Yankton Repatriation Committee felt that the state was moving too fast and in a disrespectful manner while returning the dirt, tribal members stopped the heavy equipment by placing themselves in the way.

Tribal spokespersons for the repatriation committee say the governor's explanation contains some false information. Gov. Rounds stated that an archaeological study was completed prior to any excavation of the site. Tribal officials say only what is called a pedestrian survey was done.

There were no probes inserted into the area and based on a previous burial site found on the river just to the west, elders and others told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the North Point area also contained human remains.

Ellsworth Chytka, tribally chosen leader of the repatriation committee said the Corps and the state ignored the comments of the elders.

The governor also stated that construction was stopped immediately when the human remains were found in March 2002, but tribal officials deny that claim, and say that construction dirt was still removed after some bones were found. Also the state removed some human remains claiming they did not know their origin, Indian or non-Indian. Gov. Rounds states the construction stopped when they were found to be American Indian, which was a few days after the discovery.

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During a court proceeding in June 2002, the state accused Chytka and his family of planting the bones at the site, and also accused the tribe of trying to grab land that belonged to the state.

"Although previous attempts by the state at mediation have been ignored, the state will continue to do all that is necessary to ensure the interests of both parties will be heard," Gov. Rounds stated.

The major problems of the entire process have been the methods used by the state and the Corps; improper consultation methods. Chytka lambasted the Corps at a recent meeting for improper consultation practices and for not understanding tribal procedures and other cultural practices by the Yankton Tribe and members of the repatriation committee.

This is the reasoning behind the boycott, which is a method of getting the attention of the general public and state officials.

The tribe wants tourists to travel to South Dakota, but to visit reservations and "learn about the real history of the Dakota Territory from a perspective that is hundreds of years old," tribal officials said.

The Yankton people say their ancestors were the first to encounter Lewis and Clark in what is now South Dakota and kept the expedition alive. And the Yankton Tribe was one of the first tribes to lose land, have grave sites flooded and ancient villages flooded with the completion of Fort Randall Dam, one of the hydro-electric dams that is part of the Pick Sloan project started in 1947.

In 2001, an area just west of North Point, White Swan was exposed due to low water in the reservoir, graves were uncovered and caskets were found unearthed. After much litigation the remains were exhumed and interred at site overlooking the Missouri River.

North Point is often referred to as East White Swan by tribal members.

Then North Point was exposed, which was no surprise to the elders of the Yankton Tribe.

A court order was issued in May that required the return of some fill dirt that was to be used at the recreation area from an area that was to become a parking lot. It was determined to have no human remains. The area to be used as an RV waste dump and fish cleaning area did contain human remains and was ordered to be returned to the original site.

The state decided to return all fill dirt to the original location, something the tribe wanted in the very beginning. As dirt was being returned, tribal members were sifting through it to remove human remains and funerary objects. More remains than expected were found, tribal officials said.

That group then stood in front of the dirt moving equipment and stopped the process, violating the court order. The action placed two people in front of U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol to answer to contempt charges. Faith Spotted Eagle and Frank Sanchez, tribal members and spokespersons for the repatriation committee, were charged with contempt, but were allowed to remain free while the trial continued.

Piersol said he would determine whether or not a special master will be ordered to oversee the return of the fill dirt to its original location or whether or not he will spell out the proper procedures in his court ruling that will come soon.

In the meantime, tribal members and their supporters will continue to voice their opinion through the boycott of the state.