|The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun
News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.
Myron Pourier, Office of the Fifth Member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Bryan Brewer, President of the Ad Hoc Veterans Committee on the Pine Ridge Reservation
Oglala Sioux Tribe breaks ground on veterans cemetery amid opposition
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Staff Writer
KYLE — On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Oglala Sioux Tribe in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs broke ground on a new tribal veterans cemetery.
The groundbreaking ceremony marks the culmination of four years of work by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, particularly the Office of the Fifth Member.
In a news release, the tribe said, “This project has been carefully nurtured and guided by the Office of the Fifth Member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, with Myron Pourier at the helm as the Fifth Member, with solid support from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council and Executive Board.”
Elizabeth “Jackie” Big Crow, administrative assistant to Fifth Member Pourier, said, “Our tribal members have answered to the call to arms and have served honorably in every conflict the United States has ever engaged in, and now they will be buried with honor and dignity near their homelands.”
Per capita, Native Americans enlist in the U.S. military at higher numbers than any other ethnicity.
In late September, the tribe announced that it had received official notification from the Department of Veterans Affairs that its grant application for the tribal veterans cemetery had been approved. The grant award exceeded $6.5 million and covers 100 percent of the costs associated with the project.
When completed, the cemetery will develop 15.2 of the 63 acres and will include 260 preplaced crypts and 40 cremains gravesites. In addition, the grant also calls for the construction of an administration building, an assembly area, committal shelter and landscaping that includes a memorial walkway.
The grant also includes funds to establish the necessary infrastructure needed to maintain the cemetery.
Shane Matt, project engineer at FourFront Design Inc. of Rapid City, helped with the planning of the proposed cemetery. He told Native Sun News in May that the project “ … will allow people on the reservation to have more flexibility for their culture.”
In the past, tribal members have been unable to perform certain requested, culturally appropriate activities at other VA cemeteries due to existing regulations and designs.
Not everyone was happy with the location of the new cemetery or of the planning process leading up to the groundbreaking, however.
In a letter written to tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele by Bryan Brewer, president of the Ad Hoc Veterans Committee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and himself a candidate for the OST presidency, Brewer expressed his concern and that of other veterans from Pine Ridge that they were not consulted in any way during the planning process.
Additionally, the veterans committee expressed its concern that, according to Brewer, “A non-Indian from Washington, D.C., made the decision to build the veterans cemetery east of Kyle, South Dakota.”
In the letter to Steele, the veterans committee originally threatened to blockade the road during the groundbreaking event. However, the committee only attended the event to show that it still opposes the location and its exclusion from the planning process.
“We didn’t show up to try and stop anything.” Brewer told NSN. “We simply wanted to be here to make our presence and opposition felt.”
The project is expected to take just under a year to complete, according to Eirik Heikes, who is the project’s manager at FourFront.
Earlier this year, Heikes estimated that the project would be completed sometime in the spring or summer of 2013.
The new cemetery will be located on 63 acres of land seven miles east of Kyle, along BIA Route #2 on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)