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Oglala Sioux work to form preservation office

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Preserving and interpreting history and protecing
cultural and sacred sites has been a problem for many American Indian
tribes, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe has now joined those who will protect
their ancestral connection.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe does not have an archaeologist or cultural
preservation officer, but a new tribal resolution will create the mechanism
that will change all that.

Edgar Bear Runner, administrative assistant in the Fifth Member's office,
said when a federal undertaking or activity was planned the tribe did not
have the resources to respond to any cultural or sacred site questions.

Bear Runner said federal agencies planned gas and oil exploration on treaty
territory in Wyoming, and the tribe was asked to respond when a nearby
cultural site was discovered.

"The tribe was not prepared to respond to these requests. We decided to
build our own program," Bear Runner said.

Other tribes in the state have tribal historic preservation offices; and
with the new Oglala historic preservation office, a coalition of Great
Plains tribes can be formed. State preservation offices were relied on to
protect cultural sites until recently.

The office will be staffed with an archaeologist, a historian and staff
support. The office will be financed through grants and tribal funding.

A five-member historic council will be formed. When the staff is in place,
a survey of the entire reservation and surrounding treaty territory will
preserve data that will help protect cultural and sacred sites. The entire
Black Hills will be included in that survey.

The 1851 and 1868 treaties allowed the tribe to retain portions of its
aboriginal lands, including part of Wyoming, the western portion of South
Dakota and a portion of Nebraska. Federal and state agencies will be
required to contact the tribe should there be a need for consultation for
any project, and now the Oglala Sioux Tribe will have an official
representative present.

A memorandum of agreement will be signed with the National Forest Service,
which manages the Black Hills National Forest. Many historic and cultural
sites are located in the Black Hills region, and federal law dictates that
agencies consult with the tribes before any construction or activity takes
place.

Recent drought conditions caused Missouri River flows to reach near-record
low levels, and reservoirs were lowered to accommodate down-river barge
traffic. The upper Missouri River is controlled by a series of hydropower
dams that created reservoirs that have flooded thousands of acres of land,
most of which were occupied by the tribes who lived along the riverbanks.

As the river flow reduced, artifacts and funerary objects were exposed, and
looting and destruction of the site became a concern. Tribal historic
preservation offices joined in the effort to protect those artifacts and
human remains.

The tribe did not have a plan to receive artifacts, human remains or other
cultural and sacred objects held in museums that were required by law to be
returned to the tribes. There was no central office with the authority of a
tribal ordinance or with specific guidelines that would dictate how items
would be repatriated.

The Oglala Sioux had to rely on intervention by other tribes and the state,
Bear Runner said.

Depending on grant approvals and the issuance of funds, the historic
preservation office will be up and running by the end of the year. The
office will partner with all agencies, whether federal or state, to protect
ancestral sites.

"We have the talent and the resources," Bear Runner said.