CHEYENNE RIVER SIOUX RESERVATION, S.D. (KELO) — A federal judge has allowed the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to intervene in a lawsuit filed by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem against the federal government after the National Park Service (NPS) rejected her permit for July 4, 2021 fireworks at Mt. Rushmore.
The judge ruled that the Tribe may join the case in part due to concerns cited by the National Park Service.
On Thursday, KELOLAND News reached out to the Governor’s office for comment on the motion, as well as accusations by the Tribe that they had been misrepresented. The Tribe says that Gov. Noem made false statements in claiming that the Tribe had been consulted on the impact of fireworks at Mt. Rushmore.
Noem’s communications director Ian Fury claims that the Tribe was in fact consulted, pointing to documentation of conversations from January and February 2020. Fury would not answer when asked if the Tribe had been consulted on the matter of 2021 fireworks.
On Friday, KELOLAND News spoke with Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who says that there has been no discussion at all of fireworks in July 2021. “No dialogue or anything,” Frazier said.
“I don’t feel that even in 2020 that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has been fully consulted,” he continued. Frazier says this is due to the fact that the right people were not at the meetings for any decisions to be made.
“All they have to do is have someone from a tribe sitting there, regardless of if they say anything, they consider that consultation,” Frazier said. “We view that process differently. We feel that we have to have the appropriate people there, as well as they need to. Many times we go consultation meetings, they have someone there that has no decision making authority — in our form of government the Tribal Council is the governing body and in absence of the Tribal Council, then the chairman is the one authorized to do things on behalf of the council and the people.”
Frazier went on to say that often the Tribes go into meetings with the state with no documentation, no information on the subject matter and sometimes are not even given physical material to review.
“They tell us what they’re going to do and they don’t care what our opinions are,” he says.
Speaking about why the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is entering into the legal fray, Frazier says it is about the sacredness of the Black Hills region. “Anytime we see any type of desecration or anything like that, then we feel that we need to intervene.”
“That land is so sacred,” Frazier continued, “that years back, people would go in there and pray and then leave. Nobody ever lived in there. It was just too sacred of a place.”
Beyond a spiritual connection to the Hills, Frazier also noted the community’s legal claim. “When you look at the treaty of 1868, the Ft. Laramie treaty — there’s an article that says before there is any cession of lands there must be three-fourths adult male signatures, before any cessions,” Frazier said.
These signatures were never given, he says.
Asked about the tribal community’s relationship with the state and the Governor, Frazier had this to say: “Actions speak louder than words.” A moment later he elaborated. “Moving forward, I don’t think that it’s going to get any better. Right now I don’t feel there is a relationship — in order for us to have a relationship, the respect needs to be there, obviously from both sides.”
In terms of an eventual solution to control over the Black Hills, Frazier is not blind to the current reality. “I think we’ve accepted the way things are,” he says, speaking on the subject of the people who have made the Hills their home over the years.
Frazier held up the Bradley bill as a potential solution to satisfy both sides.
“Back in the day Senator Bradley introduced legislation to return all federal lands back to the tribes. That isn’t talking about private land. I feel that’s a good resolution,” Frazier said.
He says there has also been discussion among the Tribe of taking over management of the federal lands.
“Why can’t Forest Service leave and put our tribal people to manage the forest and protect it? I think that’s a good start, where we have peace and harmony amongst everybody,” Frazier said.