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Urban Indians home in path of redevelopment

LINCOLN, Neb. - A small house stands alone on a Lincoln city lot, surrounded by lots owned by the University of Nebraska.

It is home for Kenneth Bordeaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who purchased the house nearly 30 years ago. The home also is a place where Bordeaux practices his Native rituals, but it is in the path of a proposed downtown revitalization project and proposed expansion of the University of Nebraska.

Bordeaux, who has spent much of his life teaching others about his culture, privately worships using tribal rituals. He believes his home is sacred not only because he lives and worships there, but it is a site his forefathers considered sacred.

Meanwhile, what may be the largest public works and community revitalization project in city history includes changes in a neighborhood of older homes and a portion of the downtown business district near the banks of Antelope Creek.

Supporters have suggested the $227 million Antelope Valley Project, designed to enhance flood control along Antelope Creek, will improve transportation routes and give a core community close to downtown a face lift.

However, Bordeaux suggests it's merely the university coveting the property where his home sits rather than a flood control project aimed at preventing a disaster in a 100-year flood.

The project, being pushed by university officials and the mayor, will include major changes to land-use patterns, creation of trails, parks and community centers and construction of an open storm water channel along with two massive roads.

The 20-year Antelope Valley Project includes construction of a six-lane highway on 19th from K to Q streets. It will curve and meet a new open storm channel for Antelope Creek at 20th Street. It would run between Beadle and Malone centers and then curve west at Vine Street, intersecting a new east-west roadway at 16th Street. The east-west roadway would carry motorists through State Fair Park to future commercial development in the northeast.

Representatives of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and University of Nebraska-Lincoln sold the project saying the long-term benefits to the city, university, business and residents in what has been dubbed a "downtown flood plain" outweighed the large costs, which will be split among city, state and federal agencies, Bordeaux said.

Bordeaux questions motives of federal, state and local agencies which suggest the area is a flood plain and motives of city leaders eager to assist the university with expansion.

The retired BIA worker, who devotes much of his time to teaching traditional Lakota rituals and history, is preparing to battle for his home. He says he doesn't want to move and doesn't believe he will get fair market value for his home since the area has been declared a flood plain.

The project, which mirrors those of other cities where downtown river-front redevelopment has taken place over the past couple of decades, will entirely change the area, he said.

The Antelope Valley area is necessary for the university to move ahead with a proposed research park near the Beadle Center.

Lynn Darling, another resident, who opposes the project, has disputed inclusion of the residents affected by the plan. Darling said Antelope Valley was "a done deal" before most of Lincoln knew of its existence.

Others say the plan will blight the downtown by having the largest intersection in the city at 19th and O. The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the roads, floodway and downtown redevelopment proposal.

During the hearing, Commissioner Greg Schwinn said that while opponents have characterized the project as a "land grab" by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "The university is the crown jewel of our state. We should help it as much as we can."

In late October, Congress approved $23 million for Antelope Valley's flood control component within the Water Resources Act. State and local governments including the city, The Lower Platte Natural Resources District and university will match the $23 million. Construction could begin as early late 2001 or early 2002.

While the Natural Resources District largely endorsed the project, two of its directors, Roxanne Smith and Don Jacobson, voted against it.

Those living in the Malone Neighborhood say they hope the two will continue to support their views. Barbara Morley of Lincoln, a newly elected director whose district includes Antelope Creek, urged the board to delay the vote because many of her constituents still have major concerns about the project.

"I'm using a lot of leverage on this issue locally. The mayor has called me on this issue and said he would give me a specific time to meet with him. I saw him at the Indian Center and (he) wants to know about this and how I fit in," Bordeaux said.

He added there are concerns about sites such as the Lincoln Indian Center and where it might be forced to move, along with the potential destruction of sacred ground.

He told the neighborhood group the area was once a gathering place for the Indian tribes across the region and areas along the creek were sacred sites.

"All of the Indian nations had a pathway all the way through here," Bordeaux said.

He warned that if the city doesn't listen to its residents, disaster might take place. He pointed out a storm that blew into the city around noon on Dec. 15 when lightening, thunder, freezing rain and sleet hit the area. Such storms, residents say, are rare events in December.

"We had a warning sign yesterday with, a thunder spirit. We've had them before. Not every day - but years apart - but something is going to happen here and I don't know what it is. Thunder beings, historically in my culture, people are scared to death of them. They have a right to be scared to death of them because if they are guilty of some infraction in life, they have a right to be scared. The thunder beings are like prosecutors," he said.

For now Bordeaux is making phone calls to state legislators, congressmen and considering hiring a lawyer to represent his interests.