SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A federal judge will allow a tribe to join legal arguments opposing South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's efforts to put on a July Fourth fireworks display at Mount Rushmore.
The Republican governor has sued the Department of the Interior after the National Park Service denied the state a permit to hold a fireworks display at the monument. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe had asked the judge to allow it to join the legal arguments, arguing it had a stake in the decision because the Black Hills, which include Mount Rushmore, are sacred for the tribe. It argued the fireworks event would violate the religious and first amendment rights of Native people.
Noem's lawyers had opposed the tribe's request in the U.S. District Court for South Dakota. But Chief Judge Roberto Lange, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, ruled Thursday the tribe could intervene. Lange granted the tribe's request in part because the Park Service cited concerns from local Native American tribes for denying the state's application.
Noem has argued that the permit denial was "arbitrary and capricious" and political punishment from President Joe Biden's administration. The governor successfully pushed last year for a return of the pyrotechnic display after a decadelong hiatus, and the event drew national attention when former President Donald Trump joined Noem on July 3 to give a fiery speech.
The governor and the tribe have also feuded over whether the tribe was consulted before the event last year. The tribe this week charged the governor with falsely claiming that the tribe was consulted on the fireworks event. However, the two sides disagree on what even constitutes a government-to-government consultation.
Court documents show that Steve Vance, the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe's historical preservation officer, attended two days of tribal cultural survey meetings hosted by the Park Service in February 2020 to discuss the event. A tribal council member also attended one of the meetings, which the Park Service listed as tribal consultation meetings in court filings.
But Remi Bald Eagle, a spokesman for the tribe, said that their attendance didn't mean the tribe engaged in a consultation with the Park Service. Only the full tribal council or the tribal chairman are authorized to do that, Bald Eagle said. Representatives from other tribes at the meetings also expressed at the time they were not authorized to engage in a formal consultation.
"Neither were there on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe," Bald Eagle said.
Lange has indicated he'll likely decide by June 2 whether to issue a preliminary injunction order to force the Park Service to allow the fireworks this summer.
In the order, he summarized Noem's arguments by writing, "From Noem's and the State's perspective, not permitting fireworks for Independence Day weekend at Mount Rushmore is, to put it bluntly, unjustified and un-American."