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2016-12-15 / Voices

Curtis Temple Deserves Better From Tribal Government

BRANDON ECOFFEY
Oglala Lakota
A Note From The Editor’s Desk

Although I grew up tending to cattle and horses with my father and grandfather I never really got involved in the political side of the ranching business. In all honesty I have done my best to avoid wading into the waters of any local politics because of how nasty and personal it can become around here. This time however I cannot sit back and allow what has happened to Curtis Temple to be swept under the rug,

Approximately five years ago the Oglala Sioux Tribe along with several private citizens embarked on an endeavor to create a first of its kind Tribal National Park north of Rockyford. The project was estimated to create 200 jobs and was intended to boost the local economy and help the tribe protect artifacts from poachers.

When it was first brought to my attention I was completely in favor of its success. Local ranchers were notified that their leases may be ended once the project got underway but were assured that they would be given preference on other range units if they lost a lease. As a result these ranchers were give one year leases instead of the customary five year lease that is the norm. In an ordinance passed by the tribal council supporting the project the term “Eminent Domain” was included as a formality. Opponents of the project seized the opportunity to exploit that wording and created a cascade of negativity towards the project that has resulted in its apparent abandonment. Although opponents of the project may have claimed victory the result was a weakening of the tribe’s ability to manage its own resources.

In the middle of the political jockeying surrounding the project the one year leases that these ranchers signed have been taken advantage of by nonresidents who have tapped into our tribal political system and manipulated it for their own good.

Curtis Temple is one of the local ranchers who met all the requirements to continue to lease land from the tribe as he is a life-long resident and met the minimum bid required by tribal law. However when leases for two of his grazing units came up for review they were given to a tribal-citizen who lives in Minnesota, but runs cattle here, and the other was given to the brother of a tribal council member. The councilman and his brother are not lifelong residents of our reservation and the man who now has the lease in question still does not love on the reservation. We can send people all over the country to fight for our land and water but we have had the wool pulled over our eyes by some in tribal government in this instance.

When Temple’s lease was ended illegally, the BIA seized his cattle because they said they were on range units not leased to him. Temple challenged the BIA’s actions in tribal court and secured an injunction ordering the BIA to stop stealing his cows. The BIA ignored the tribal court and seized more cattle from Temple despite a standing injunction prohibiting them from doing so. The BIA’s response is that they are not bound by any action taken by the tribal court. If they are not bound by the actions of the tribal court, than who is? Is this a failed state?

For those of us who grew up here we understand just how difficult it is to get ahead. For our ranchers who live on the reservation and actually contribute to our economy they deserve first preference to these range units. It’s an absolute joke that this lease ended up in the hands of non-residents. The councilman who sat back and watched his brother steal this lease should seriously consider resigning from his post if our people living on this reservation are not his first priority.

LCT has prided itself on speaking truth to power and in this instance we must challenge our elected official to do the right thing. Let’s hope that Mr. Temple receives justice, the BIA upholds our tribal constitution, and that this level of douchebaggery displayed by tribal government does not permeate within this incoming council.

*Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of LCT and is an award winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

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