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News from the Great Plains

Sitting Bull grave sites renovated

FORT YATES, N.D. - The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has taken ownership of one of the two supposed grave sites of the legendary and revered Chief Sitting Bull.

Left unprotected and subject to vandalism, the sites - one at Fort Yates and another near Mobridge, S.D. - both claim to hold the remains of Sitting Bull.

The state of North Dakota owned the Fort Yates site for 50 years before the SRST assumed ownership. (The site in South Dakota is now privately owned, and one of the owners is an enrolled member of the SRST.)

A sculpture created by the late Korzcak Ziolkowski, who also designed the Crazy Horse monument that is currently under construction, identifies the site as being near the town of Mobridge on the banks of the Missouri River. The sculpture has been damaged over the years.

In North Dakota, the grave site is poorly marked and covered with debris, but it still attracts many visitors.

State Historical Society Director Merl Paaverud said the tribe is best suited to deal with the site.

SRST plans to remodel the site, and provide better markings and landscaping to accommodate tourists who travel from all over the world because of the fascination with Sitting Bull.

In the 1950s factions from both states petitioned each state for permission to remove Sitting Bull's remains to what they considered the proper burial location. Some historians are not certain where Sitting Bull rests today, or whether some of his remains are in both locations.

But it is where the body decomposed and the blood ran into the earth that makes the site sacred, said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, SRST director of tourism.

Both sites will be honored, according to Allard.

''We can actually redo this site and do honor to this man,'' Allard said.

The North Dakota site will include interpretive signs that tell of Sitting Bull's life and death, and of the military occupation in that region.

North Dakota was petitioned in the past to remodel the site, but the tribe reached a dead end, Allard said. This time, the state was receptive and the deed to the land is now in the hands of SRST.

''It's almost like a dream come true to have this happen,'' Allard said.

Montana Legislator makes racist remarks, apologizes

HELENA, Mont. - Montana Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, apologized to the state Legislature for what were considered racist remarks he made prior to a hearing in which he is presided as chairman. Butcher referred to an extra-large gavel he owns as a ''war club'' and told other committee members that the meeting would start as soon as ''Chief Windy Boy'' arrived.

The reference was to Democratic Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, Chippewa Cree from Rocky Boy's Reservation.

Republicans acted on complaints from the Democrats and asked Butcher to apologize to the entire House.

Butcher told the press that he didn't consider his remarks racist and that since Windy Boy was a leader from Rocky Boy's he assumed he was referred to as ''chief.''

Butcher's remarks brought criticism from Montana's Indian community.

While most legislators and tribal leaders expressed concern about the comments, none of them said they considered the comments to have been made in bad taste.

Zoning rules may protect Bear Butte

STURGIS, S.D. - The sacred mountain Bear Butte may get some relief from additional biker bars and mega-entertainment venues, with the help of Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Meade County commissioners are considering zoning restrictions to protect the base, and the zoning could also be extended to the area around Bear Butte.

Protesters have camped and prayed at Bear Butte in attempts to stop the growth of large biker bar venues that could attract thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts that attend the largest biker rally in the nation. American Indians have testified at county commission hearings and spoke against any more liquor licenses, with little effect.

A few mega-entertainment venues, in the form of amphitheatres that will seat upwards of 30,000 people, have opened; more are in the planning stages.

American Indians from across the Great Plains consider Bear Butte a sacred mountain and use the area for prayer. People praying on the mountain would be disturbed by the sound of the bikes and the music, zoning restriction advocates claim. Local residents and ranchers have joined the effort to stop growth of the mega-biker bar phenomenon in the county.

Ellsworth AFB is located in Meade County just east of Rapid City. Rezoning would curb residential and commercial development to within a one-mile buffer around the base. Zoning restrictions around Bear Butte would also curtail commercial development.

The county has attempted in the past to zone certain areas in other parts of the county, but the effort was defeated by strong opposition. The region has a deep-rooted individualistic attitude, and land-owner's rights have taken precedence in the past.

South Dakota lawmakers passed a law that allows rezoning in five-square-mile sections. Mead County has one of the largest land areas of any county in the United States.

The August Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis attracts 500,000 bikes for a week or more.

Development corporation diversifies economy

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. - The Lower Sioux Indian Community of Minnesota has created a development corporation to plan for and diversify their economic base.

Dakota Services Enterprise has been incorporated as an economic development arm of the Lower Sioux.

The plan is to search for sources outside the gaming industry that will expand economic development for the southeastern Minnesota tribe.

''The tribal council made an historic achievement in economic development for the community members by establishing this corporation. The move ensures the financial stability of the tribe in the long run and will allow the tribe to grow to unprecedented heights,'' said Eric Lemm, Lower Sioux director of economic development and CEO of DSE.

The five new board members included Lemm, chairman of the board; Loren Johnson, tribal representative; Vice Chairman Darin Minkel, community member representative and business owner; Treasurer Royce Heffelfinger, retired bank president; and Secretary Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc.

Other development corporations are part of the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska and the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation in Milwaukee, Wis.

''We have a window of opportunity to make a difference in the lives of both current community members and future generations by investing in their financial future,'' Lemm said.

More help for Leech Lake

LEECH LAKE, Minn. - A helping hand once again reached out to the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa to finance economic development on the remote northern Minnesota reservation.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community business committee awarded Leech Lake a $1 million grant to develop a restaurant and marina. The Leech Lake reservation is located in the midst of Minnesota's lake region and surrounded by forests. Towns are scarce in the area, and the more than 6,000 residents of the reservation struggle with high unemployment rates.

The area is a tourist and fishing Mecca during the summer and winter activities draw crowds from the metropolitan areas.

In 2006 SMSC provided $1 million to Leech Lake to open a fuel station at the Northern Lights Casino near Walker, and for renovations to the White Oak Casino in Deer River. Neither is considered a megacasino, since the area is one of low population density.