Hog farm standoff: Yankton Sioux tribal members, neighbors fear environmental and public-health consequences

Published in Indian Country Today in April 2008.

Marty, S.D. — On the morning of Tuesday, April 22, Charles Mix County police arrested 15 Yankton Sioux tribal members, including adult men and women and teens as young as 16, for blocking construction of a hog farm on privately held land within the reservation boundaries. By afternoon, bail had been set at $500 each, and the tribe had secured their release, said Frances Hart, Ihanktowan Dakota, secretary of the Yankton Sioux Tribal Business and Claims Committee, an elected group.

            The arrests came on top of 23 tickets the South Dakota Highway Patrol issued to tribal members last week when they obstructed construction equipment traveling toward the proposed farm via a Bureau of Indian Affairs-owned road.

            The protests began on Monday, April 14, the day the tribe approved a resolution to exclude Longview Farms, an Iowa firm. The company reportedly has necessary permits to produce 70,000 pigs a year at the site, though the permissions appear to have obtained in a manner that blindsided the tribe. On Tuesday, a tribal judge upheld the exclusion order.

            The number of protesters has ranged from 50 to 150, according to Gary Drapeau, Ihanktowan Dakota, a member of the Business and Claims Committee. A tipi has been set up on tribal land as a permanent protest camp.

            All of the citations and arrests took place along a BIA road, where county and state police don’t have jurisdiction, according to tribal lawyer Charles Abourezk. “In 1994, the country transferred the road to the BIA,” explained Drapeau, adding that when the BIA’s Aberdeen office clarifies ownership the citations and arrests will likely be dismissed.

            Whether BIA jurisdiction over the road keeps the farm’s builders off the site is unclear. Hart said that on Tuesday afternoon cement trucks were observed using back roads to bypass the BIA route.

Environmental effects
Hog farms typically generate vast amounts of air, land and water pollution, according to many sources, including the nonprofit Humane Farming Association. Places near the planned site that could be affected include the towns of Marty and Wagner, two sun dance grounds, five sweat lodges, homes, churches, a cathedral, a Head Start center, schools, hospitals, the tribe’s casino-hotel, the tribal hall, a college, and much more, according to Drapeau.

            “The farm site is near Seven Mile Creek, which empties into the Missouri River a few miles away, and two wetlands. We also sit on the Ogallala Aquifer, a major water source for the Plains,” Drapeau added.

            Said Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktowan Dakota, “In all of Creation, they couldn’t have picked a worse spot.”

            “What environmental regulations are they running from in Iowa?” asked Ellsworth Chytka, Ihanktowan Dakota. “Do they have rules there protecting quality of life? Don’t Indians deserve the same?”

            Safeguarding the waters of the United States is a responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so Spotted Eagle asked it to consider getting involved. This could kick off a search for historic and traditional cultural properties that must be preserved.

Police response
The protests have been described as peaceful by many sources, including Mitch Krebs, press secretary for South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, the police chief of Charles Mix County, where the reservation is located, requested state officers, said Krebs.

            By Wednesday, 50 officers, each in his own car, had arrived — reportedly more than are normally on patrol at any one time in the state. A former police commissioner went on television to ask who was watching over the rest of South Dakota.

            “Sending 50 cars and lining them up at the site was about intimidation,” said Chytka. “There are plenty of non-Native protests around South Dakota — about abortion, missile silos, high fuel costs — but you don’t see all that police presence.”

            Both Krebs and U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley denied that race was a factor. Jackley claimed that from his office’s perspective protests by non-Indian groups would garner the same response. “Federal, state and local authorities have been in communication to maintain order,” he said.

            Abourezk disagreed. “It was an attempt to provoke the protestors,” he said.

            However, they didn’t rise to the bait, said Spotted Eagle. “I am so proud of our people. Our elders told us to be good relatives, and we were.”

Back in the day
This is not the first time the county and state have overreacted to peaceful protest by Yanktons. In May 2002, construction workers building bathrooms for a state recreation area struck an ancient burial ground. Artifacts and the remains of two children and a woman in a shell-embroidered cape were unearthed. Yankton families sat in to stop construction until the situation could be resolved in court. Again, armed officers were called in, creating a frightening face-off.

            Two films with documentary footage of the pig farm vigil can be seen on YouTube (search for “Yankton Sioux”). One opens with two young Indian boys walking down “a lonely road” to join the protesters. “Just like back in the day,” says the older one. “Which, by the way, was a Wednesday.”

            That sly joke aside, the films may remind viewers of South Dakota’s history of racially charged confrontations, including the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and the Wounded Knee siege and FBI shootings of the 1970s. Inequities continue to this day. In a report issued in 2000, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission tallied uninvestigated murders of Indians in South Dakota, arrest and sentencing disparities, reservation unemployment rates as high as 85 percent and more.

            In a radio address, William Janklow, South Dakota’s governor at the time, called the report “garbage,” while claiming he hadn’t read it.

            Yanktons are not strangers to this animosity. The malfeasance has included police harassment while driving off-reservation and a county cop choking a Yankton 10-year-old in a park. (See Indian Country Today, July 19, 2000) The officer later received a suspended sentence.

            “The Yanktons had an early treaty,” said Abourezk. “They’ve had a tough fight since 1858.”

An unlikely coalition
In this context, the pig farm has created unexpected alliances. White area residents and citizens from around the state joined tribal members in expressing antipathy for the farm at a public meeting in Wagner on Monday, April 21.

           “White people thanked us for protesting,” said Spotted Eagle. “This isn’t an Indian-versus-white issue. It’s a common-people issue — all of us protecting our children and their future.”

c. Stephanie Woodard; photo by Stephanie Woodard.

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