News from the Great Plains


Missouri River water could turn to gold

POPLAR, Mont. - The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana have a plan to use water to create a major economic boon for the reservation.

The plan involves irrigating half a million acres of sandy soil near the Missouri River to grow high-value crops such as potatoes and onions.

The soil is poor for farming, as is common on many Western reservations. But with the use of irrigated water from the Missouri River, the land could transform a poor tribe and create newfound wealth.

To become reality, the plan needs an infusion of $45 million for an initial 15,000-acre plot. The tribe has approached the state and federal governments for some of the funding.

Treaties provide water rights for the tribes, but a quantifying agreement with the state allows the tribes to utilize more than 1 million acre-feet of water annually for irrigation.

At present, the tribes grow crops on land that is either fallow or used to grow dry land wheat, which yields about $12 per acre, said Tribal Chairman John Morales.

He said with irrigation the land could generate $200 - $300 per acre with another crop. The goal is to irrigate 100,000 acres within 10 years.

The project will require outside investments and agricultural companies initially, which will take much of the early year's profits. It could be a political football when downriver uses, such as barge transport companies, begin to oppose the plan, Morales agreed.

Drought has taken its toll on the Missouri River in the past seven years and water is at a premium for many tribes located along the river. Fort Peck abuts the Missouri River.

North Dakota to debate sharing taxes with tribe

NEW TOWN, N.D. - The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation wants the state of North Dakota to share tax revenue from the extraction of oil reserves on the reservation.

Under state and tribal law, oil and gas extraction from trust lands on the reservation is subject to taxation by both the state and the tribes. The state imposes a 5 percent tax, but until 2003 the tribe had not charged a tax.

Now there is a double tax, which the tribe claims is confusing for oil companies. There is a fear it may hinder oil and gas production altogether.

The tribes want state officials to agree to negotiate a tax agreement with the tribe that would impose a uniform tax through the reservation. Currently reservation land not held in trust, or fee land, is subject to state taxation. The tribe would benefit from taxes collected on fee lands as well, according to Tribal Chairman Marcus Wells Jr.

The bill is not before the state Legislature and does not mandate a negotiation between the tribes and governor, but only authorizes negotiations.

Wells asserts there is an abundance of oil and gas on the reservation that has not been developed, but laws need to be enacted to encourage oil companies to come on the reservation to extract the oil to the benefit of the tribe and individual members.

Medal of Honor sought for a Dakota veteran

SISSETON-WAHPETON, S.D. - The late Master Sgt. Woodrow Keeble, of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Nation, is closer to being posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He died in 1982.

A bill was introduced into the U.S. Senate by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., to award the medal. Army Secretary Francis Harvey previously approved the medal in 2006; final approval must come from the secretary of Defense and the president.

There is a three-year statute of limitations on the awarding of a Medal of Honor. Since so much time has elapsed, the Pentagon is requiring a congressional waiver of the time limits. Both houses must approve the bill.

During the Korean conflict in 1951, Keeble led three platoons of Company G in three successful assaults after the officers of the company had been either wounded or killed in action. Keeble single-handedly eliminated three four-man pillboxes and was subsequently wounded with injuries to his chest, arms and legs. Keeble has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart with an oak-leaf cluster.

His family in South Dakota has already conducted one celebratory ceremony in his honor when word was received that he would receive the award.

Keeble will be the only Dakota to ever receive a Medal of Honor.

The South Dakota Congressional Delegation has worked on this award for the past five years. This congressional action will be one more hurdle in the saga of awarding Keeble his medal. The original recommendations in the 1950s were lost.

''It is my hope that once this time limit is waived, that the Department of Defense and eventually the president will give Keeble his fair consideration,'' Johnson said.

''Master Sergeant Keeble's legacy is a great source of pride for his family, his fellow Dakota Sioux and all Americans,'' Thune said.

Basketball controversy eased by awards

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The Little Wound Mustangs, from the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the top-ranked basketball teams in South Dakota, ended up in second place at the recent state Class A tournament. But instead of waiting around for their trophies and medals, at the request of some adults, the team left the building.

The Mustangs lost the championship game to the top-ranked team in the state, St. Thomas More Cavaliers of Rapid City, 71 - 61.

The Mustangs defeated the Cavaliers in the championship of the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament last December.

One reason given for the walkout was that many people felt the non-Indian officials were responsible for the Mustangs' loss.

Blogs went wild over the incident and many people, on and off Pine Ridge, were upset at the Mustang walkout.

In order to soften the controversy, the Mustangs met privately with the Cavaliers at a luncheon. Afterward, in a public gathering, the Mustangs gave the Cavalier players and coaches star quilts and gifts.

The Cavaliers in turn gave all Mustang players and coaches specially designed drums as gifts.

It is still not known what started the walkout after the game, and no mention was made of the officiating at the ceremony. It was only noted by coaches and adults from either side that both teams were champions and their actions reflected that.