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Time for the Tribal National Park to Properly Honor Native Culture

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In 1942, the United States War Department announced that it was taking the Northwest Corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for an Aerial Gunnery Range and told our Lakota families that they had two weeks to move out. 385,000 acres were taken and 900 families had to move. Once again, our Lakota people made a great sacrifice for America.

In the 1960s, the United States gave our displaced families a chance to buy back their own lands, and many did. The Federal Government restored the grazing, mineral and other rights to 133,000 acres to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, understanding that we would jointly co-manage the land as a Tribal National Park. Since 1976, the Tribe has had a plan to build a cultural heritage center at the Tribal National Park, but we could never reach an agreement with the National Park Service on how to proceed. Both the Tribe and the Parks Service agree that the existing Badlands South Unit arrangement has not lived up to the tribal plans for the area.

In 1999, President Clinton came to Pine Ridge and pledged $26 Million to build our Lakota Heritage Center at the Badlands South Unit, which has been run as an adjunct to the Badlands National Park for may years in consultation with our Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority. Unfortunately, we could not reach the necessary agreement on the Tribal National Park, and the funding pledged by the President lapsed at the end of his term.

For the past several years, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has been working with the National Parks Service on the Tribal National Park. We need Federal legislation to make the Tribal National Park a full unit of the National Park Service under joint management by the Secretary and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The proposed legislation would recognize the Oglala Sioux Tribe as a Federally recognized Indian tribe, with the right of self-government, including territorial and resource management, and our home on the Pine Ridge Reservation under the 1868 Treaty. The purposes of the Act are to preserve, protect and interpret the cultural, historic, prehistoric, scientific and scenic values of the area, including the history, culture and heritage of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Lakota people.

The bill would establish a Tribal National Park Commission to cooperatively manage the Park with seven representatives appointed by the Secretary based on the recommendations of the Tribal Council, including representatives nominated by the Tribal Land Office, Tribal Natural Resources Office (in consultation with Tribal Historic Preservation), the President of Oglala Lakota College, the Tribal President and Tribal Council.

The bill authorizes the reintroduction of buffalo into the area in accordance with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s management plan, and the Tribe can establish a herd large enough to provide a natural environment for the buffalo herd, with natural selection ensuring a healthy, natural herd. Some grazing permits within the area will come to an end to make way for our buffalo, but tribal members with affected grazing permits will be offered reasonable substitute grazing lands.

The bill authorizes the Secretary to assist the Oglala Sioux Tribe with the development of a Lakota Heritage Education Center within the Tribal National Park, so that our Oglala people can share our Lakota culture and history with our visitors. The bill also authorizes the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements with the Tribe to carry out the interpretive functions, development of cultural and historical materials, buffalo management, and other park functions.

The bill authorizes a Memorial to honor the service and sacrifice of our Oglala Lakota people, including:

1) the Oglala/Lakota WWII veterans;

2) the Oglala/Lakota WWII Codetalkers; and

3) the Oglala Sioux families who were displaced from their homes in 1942.

The bill will protect tribal member land. Only the existing lands dedicated at Badlands South Unit will make up the Tribal National Park. The bill will protect individual Indian lands by: 1) prohibiting condemnation of individual lands; and 2) requiring Interior to fence out any individual lands upon the owner’s request.

In sum, the Tribal National Park offers our Tribe the chance to honor our Lakota culture and heritage through a Lakota Heritage Education Center and the Memorial for Oglala WWII vets and our families who sacrificed so much by leaving their homes. We have a chance to restore the buffalo and native species, promote economic development and create jobs through respectful tourism that honors the heritage of our Oglala Lakota Nation.

Bryan Brewer is the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.