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Oglala park board fired, project in jeopardy

KYLE, S.D. - The Oglala Sioux Tribal executive committee fired the entire Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority board and turned over control of a proposed cultural heritage center to two people.

Birgil Kills Straight, parks director, was kept on in his capacity, but he claims the executive council's move was not legal. A June 6 executive committee resolution states that the education committee and finance committee has documentation that will support the actions of the executive committee.

Kills Straight and board members were ordered to appear before the tribal council to answer questions about the issues raised by the two other committees. The resolution was not specific about those issues.

Kills Straight said the action was not legal because the parks board was created by an ordinance of the entire council and the charter of the organization separates it from the political arm of the tribe.

"The executive committee had no authority," Kills Straight said. He added that neither the board nor his office had received a formal copy of the resolution, as of June 27.

A copy obtained by Indian Country Today indicated it took 12 days for the resolution to be placed in the hands of the BIA superintendent.

A May 23 resolution by the Judiciary Committee recommended suspension of the parks board, but went further by recommending a list of names of people who would sit as an interim board. The Judiciary board also recommended Kills Straight be suspended and be replaced by Joseph Merrival. The committee cited non-compliance of an ordinance to provide financial records and went on to accuse the board of incurring "a huge debt."

The debt issue prompted the tribal council to order the Oglala Sioux Tribal Tribe's Public Safety Department to seize all financial records at parks board offices for a forensic audit.

Wesley "Chuck" Jacobs, chairman of the board, and Debra Frazier, board member from Medicine Root District, said the audit turned up no improprieties. They also said the Parks and Recreation Department had experience financial problems in the past, but with help from an independent accounting firm and some belt tightening, the financial problems were solved.

"The parks department was chartered to keep the politics out. When I saw the letter (suspending the board), I was angry. We were elected to do this work. We need to go beyond the fighting and act professional. Our children will not see economic development and they will suffer," Frazier said.

Another accusation by the Judiciary board was that the parks board and Kills Straight opposed the council's opinion that a new heritage and cultural center should be located near Red Shirt Table and not Stirk Table as has been proposed.

Kills Straight said the final decisions on the heritage center and scenic byway that will pass through the reservation should have been completed before President Bill Clinton left office.

He said the $25 million project for the center and the additional $10 million for the scenic byway is in jeopardy the farther from the Clinton years it gets. He said that on June 28 or 29 a letter concerning the scenic byway was to have been submitted to the federal government. It has not been submitted and Kills Straight said it will be another two years before it will come up again.

That puts the project behind a schedule that was planned to meet completion of the entire project for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial year, which begins 2004.

The site at Stirk Table was agreed to by the park board. However, moving the site to Red Shirt will reduce the size of the building because three3-phase power lines will have to be extended 18 to 22 miles at $100,000 per mile, Kills Straight said. A letter to the park board from President John Steele said the Red Shirt Table site will require less road construction making up the difference.

The Stirk Table site will require two miles of additional power line.

The entire project at Stirk table would include a new buffalo range with the National Park Service moving its herd to the southern unit and building two miles of fencing.

"With the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial we wanted to take our story to the people. That is all jeopardized now. If we had worked intensely we would see the dollars coming in. But for three months nothing has been done. The dollars will be divided and we are losing as we sit," Kills Straight said.

"The council accuses us of not going to meetings. We heard about (the meetings) after they were held."

Early in the process, Jana Pruitt of the BIA and Lynn Cutler, former White House assistant for Indian affairs to President Clinton, said if the project was changed or tampered with, it would fail. Cutler told Indian Country Today, after she left the White House, that one of the disappointments was that the heritage project "fell apart." She said there was clear communication to the tribal officials that the site was not to be moved.

As of June 15, the heritage center project has been placed under the wing of the land committee of the tribal council. A letter signed by Tom Conroy, chairman of the land committee, requested that Kills Straight meet with Richard Sherman and Emma Iron Plume-Clifford. Sherman and Plume-Clifford were given the task of seeing the heritage project through to completion. Kills Straight was instructed to provide all materials including minutes of meetings held on the heritage center project.