Tourism is South Dakota's second-biggest industry. Our wildlife, monuments, and stunning landscapes bring in visitors from all over the world. With the creation of the country's first Tribal National Park, one Native American Nation could soon cash in on those tourist dollars, but only if it can overcome roadblocks created by misinformation.
The Tribal National Park would sit at the southern end of the Badlands, in the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
"We have the opportunity to make it the first National Indian Park. As a leader and looking at economic development, it would be great for the Reservation," said Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer.
The plan includes building a buffalo herd that Tribal members would manage. But not all members of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Government are convinced it's a good idea, including Vice President Tom Poor Bear.
"Common sense would tell you buffalo cannot live in the Badlands," says Poor Bear, "Buffalo would not survive because of lack of grass. There's no water."
There's fear on the Reservation about what will happen to people living in the Red Shirt Table area. A local reverend, Robert Two Bulls, has even filed an injunction to stop the park.
"People don't want to sell. In the words of Crazy Horse, 'you do not sell the land your people are buried on.' My mother is buried at Red Shirt Table. I don't want a bunch of tourists trampling around my mother's grave," said Poor Bear.
Poor Bear is also concerned about the people working the land, "Our Tribal ranchers are going to be affected by this park."
Brewer says the only people who will be impacted are ranchers who lease Tribal lands to run cattle. And contrary to rumors, no one living in the Red Shirt Table community will be forced from their homes.
"Only Tribal land will be used. No other land. But there are a lot of myths out there that we're going to take people's land away from them and use it for the park and that is not true," said Brewer.
Brewer says alternate land will be provided for the ranchers, and on top of that, the Tribe will pay the first year's lease. But he does have sympathy for those who feel invested in the land, "It belongs to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but they feel they are part of that land and after all these years, you can't blame them."
The historic bad blood between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and federal government leads to concerns any time a partnership is proposed. And the idea of losing more land - even theoretically - is more than many Tribal members can bear.
Poor Bear says it makes him recall the words of one elder, "He said, 'The white man are coming. The white man are coming. Now people must stop living and start surviving.' I look at it, we've gotta stop surviving and start living again. And the only way we're going to live is to keep our lands."
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council is reviewing the injunction filed against the park, and will decide whether it has legs to stand on.
For now, they will continue to hold meetings to make sure Tribal members are getting the correct information.
Thursday, February 20 2014 7:42 PM EST2014-02-21 00:42:09 GMT
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