Big Fire Law & Policy Group
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has moved to join a lawsuit brought by the state of South Dakota and Governor Kristi Noem that asks the court to force the National Park Service (“NPS”) to grant the state a permit to hold a July Fourth fireworks spectacle at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. The National Park Service’s recent denial of Noem’s permit cited the severe risk of wildfire, environmental threats, and threats to public safety and health, including risk of transmitting COVID-19. The National Park Service also cited concerns raised by tribes, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
The Black Hills are inestimably sacred to the Lakota people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The Lakota have used it from time immemorial to practice religious sacraments and gather sacred medicines. The area is a central part of the Lakota people’s treaty territory, which was later stolen by the United States. It contains hundreds of Lakota archeological sites, including within the immediate Mount Rushmore area. Mount Rushmore itself was traditionally known in Lakota as the Six Grandfathers before it was desecrated by the blasting of the Memorial. As a result, the National Park Service has been in the process of consulting tribes, including the Cheyenne River Tribe, on the existence of such important sacred sites pursuant to the National Historic Preservation (“NHPA”).
A wildfire could destroy forever sacred sites and medicines and would therefore infringe on the tribe’s right to freely exercise their religion under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In addition, the granting of Noem’s permit would illegally abort the ongoing National Historic Preservation consultation.
The tribe has argued that South Dakota cannot prevail in its suit because it “asserts speculative economic harm that does not even remotely approach the severe financial injury required for an injunction.” The state’s claim of “reputational harm from the perception that visiting the Memorial is unsafe” also doesn’t hold water.
Nicole E Ducheneaux of Big Fire Law and Policy Group LLP, which represents the tribe, commented: “Governor Noem has attempted to elevate her desire for a Fourth of July party over our Constitutionally guaranteed right to freely exercise our religion. Such an effort is not only deeply un-American, but she has also made little effort to meet her legal burden.” Ducheneaux, who is a member of the tribe, continued: “In light of these clear deficiencies in the state’s case, Noem’s lawsuit seems as much a politically motivated spectacle as the fireworks show itself.”
The Big Fire team also includes, Leonika Charging-Davison, Rose M. Weckenmann, Calandra S. Mccool, Amber E. Holland, and Danielle Lazore-Thompson.
About Big Fire Law & Policy Group
Big Fire Law & Policy Group is a 100 percent Native-owned, majority Native woman owned law firm dedicated to providing tribal advocacy with integrity. Big Fire provides innovative solutions and culturally competent legal representation and policy advocacy for tribal governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities.