Yankton Sioux prophecy fulfilled
By Stephanie Woodard -- Today correspondent
MARTY, S.D. - Yankton Sioux tribal members credited divine intercession for a tornado that struck a large-scale hog farm that's being constructed on the reservation in defiance of a tribal court exclusion order.
The storm, which hit the building site June 5 at about 5:30 p.m., tore out a fence, downed electrical poles and wiring, scattered 4-foot-long concrete blocks and demolished small construction-related buildings, among other damage.
''The tornado was a sign for the builders to stop,'' said Izzy Zephier, an Ihanktowan Dakota elder who is widely known for his prophesies. ''On the second day of construction, the Grandfathers spoke to us in a
ceremony and told us that a wind would blow away the farm.''
Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktowan Dakota cultural resources expert and therapist, agreed with Zephier, calling the storm a warning that must be heeded.
''This sort of thing has happened before. A few years ago, when the state of South Dakota was constructing a comfort station over an ancient burial ground at North Point, a recreation area near here on the Missouri River, we told them to stop. They ignored us, and that very night, a thunderstorm hit the building, causing it to implode. Nothing else was damaged.''
In addition to the prophecy Zephier described, there were reports of tribal members dreaming of storms. ''We are praying, and we have faith that the Creator will take care of us,'' he said.
The cement foundations of the factory farm, also called a contained animal feeding operation or CAFO, are going in on a hilltop site. From the top of the rise, verdant rolling hills extend to the horizon, encompassing small farms and ranches, groves of pine and cedar and, four miles away, the tribe's main village, with its tribal hall, schools, college, cathedral, homes and more.
Lyndon Moss, one of 11 Iowa farmers who invested in the operation, said that the group would rebuild the tornado-damaged facility, which is intended to produce 70,000 piglets annually. These would be ''finished,'' that is, fattened to a weight of about 250 pounds, in barns on each of the investors' own Iowa farms, according to Moss.
''The superstructure wasn't up, so not much damage was done by the storm,'' Moss noted. He added that tribal members were ignoring benefits of the CAFO, which would produce an estimated 15 jobs.
Zephier was unconcerned by the reconstruction plans. ''The farm's owners can keep on building, but the next wind will be stronger, and whatever they do will be blown away again. When all is said and done, the farm will be gone, and they will lose out. They don't realize they're up against our prayers, which are not just for us, but for all future people, too.''
Tribal members have also been unimpressed by the CAFO's employment opportunities, which are not only minimal in number but also typically involve exposure to dangerous, even deadly, contaminants, according to the tribe's newspaper, Sioux Messenger.
Several legal confrontations are under way. Fearful of the effect on children's health of pollutants emitted by CAFOs, a group of tribal members with youngsters at the Head Start just two miles from the farm have filed a federal court suit against Long View Farms, which owns the venture.
For its part, Long View Farms has also gone to federal court, claiming the tribe has no jurisdiction over the company even when it is on tribal property. In this situation, that occurs when Long View's trucks and workers use the tribal road, BIA Route 29, which provides access to the building site.
In April, BIA Route 29 was the scene of civil disobedience by tribal members and others who blocked construction equipment; about 30 tribal members, including minors as young as 16, were ticketed or arrested by state and county officers - a seemingly illegal action, given that they do not have jurisdiction on tribal land. The cases will be adjudicated Sept. 16, according to a spokesman for the Charles Mix County Clerk of Court.
Tribal members' outlook is positive, Zephier stressed.
''I want everyone out there to know that we're not depressed; we're not worried. We are grateful for the help people and organizations are giving us to get rid of the farm. We know that all those things - laws and so on - have to be dealt with. But from our side, we pray and know that God sees what we're facing. Our connection to the Creator is solid.''