Native Sun News: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe taps into fund

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Part I

CHEYENNE RIVER, SOUTH DAKOTA – The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council ratified milestone legislation on March 9 that triggers more than $100 million in federal payments to the tribe but excludes former landowners and heirs from compensation for Indian reservation property lost to flooding by Missouri River dam construction.

“It’s pretty sad we don’t try to help them,” said District 5 Council Rep. Ryman LeBeau, after making one of several failed motions to add language compensating landowners and heirs. “This is their money that we’re planning to spend,” he said.

The 12-year-old Public Law 106-511, entitled Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Equitable Compensation Act, provided $290.7 million plus $144 million in back interest to the tribe in recognition that “the federal government did not justify or fairly compensate the tribe for the Oahe Dam and Reservoir” when it acquired more than 104,000 acres of tribal trust and allotment-fee land for the construction begun in 1948.

Friday’s passage of the council legislation – until recently called the Joint Tribal Advisory Committee (JTAC) Ordinance and Plan – was a prerequisite for the federal government to begin releasing annual payments to the tribe from what was left of the interest portion of the award after a special advance draw-down made by the tribal council.

Only five of the 14 council representatives – DeAnna LeBeau, Ryman LeBeau, Merri Miller, Sharon Lee and Dixie LeCompte – voted in favor of an amendment to facilitate compensation to landowners and heirs.

“The majority of the constituents that reside in my district are not landowners, same way with District 2 and 3,” said District 1 Council Rep. Ardys Cook. “Our constituents are wanting us to get this law passed so they could move on with projects that they would like to see their communities have,” she told the council.

A comment period on a draft ordinance was scheduled by tribal council six months ago, in September, when the remaining portion of the interest money became available. The draft and comments propose the money be used for tribal and district projects including organic agriculture, community centers, Lakota language training and a water park.

The ordinance is based on the Seven Values of Lakota Life: woc’ekiya (prayer), wao’hola (respect), waun’sila (caring), wowijake (honesty and truth), wawokiye (generosity), wah’wala (humility) and woksape (wisdom).

It established the nonprofit Oahe Landowners Association to assist with individual assessments for compensation on the 42 percent of the flooded land that belonged to private allotment holders.

Agricultural landowners, their heirs and family members were disheartened by the lack of provisions for them in the final ordinance.

“This ordinance has been based on seven spiritual values,” association liaison Joe Lends His Horse told the council. “What has been done here this afternoon is violating the people’s right and way of life, and there’s consequences to that. You’re going to live with that the rest of your life,” he said.

“The United States has taken the Black Hills away from us, and now today our own tribal government has taken our land away and denied us of our rights,” Lends His Horse concluded.

Former landowner and nonagenarian Marcella LeBeau told Native Sun News, “We were quite disappointed because the tribal council didn’t vote us into the ordinance.”

One of 20 living elders who stand to receive compensation, LeBeau recalled her “great-grandfather signing the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868,” which guaranteed the sacred Black Hills territory would remain under control of the Great Sioux Nation, “and how they were treated back then,” adding, “I believe there’s a pervasive sadness that persists on the reservation.”

“It made me sad not being put into the teca ordinance, and I felt sad for the people who had to vote against us. So the pervasive sadness continues,” she said.

Tribal officials opted to rename the JTAC ordinance and administrative bodies “teca,” which means “new beginning.”

“If tribal council takes one penny of the that money that belongs to landowners and heirs, I call it stealing,” LeBeau said. “The money didn’t belong to the tribal council or anybody else but the landowners and heirs.”

Tribal council representatives acknowledge that the comment period failed to involve many of the landowners and their heirs, especially those living off-reservation – who are the majority of tribal enrollment – largely due to the flooding relocation. Those who feel passed over acknowledge they expected the council to act to exclude them.

“You ain’t going to satisfy everybody, no matter what decision you make,” CRST Chairman Kevin Keckler Sr. told Native Sun News the day before the vote. “There’s always going to be a side that isn’t happy.”

“Now there’s a petition of 300 signatures that would create a referendum,” said Council Rep. DeAnna LeBeau.

The referendum would bring the issue of compensation for landowners and heirs to a vote of the full reservation enrollment, most likely resulting in a decision favoring opponents of change to the ordinance.

The council heard testimony that both sides are prepared to sue. They also entertained the prospect of going back to Congress for legislation to appease landowners, heirs and potential off-reservation beneficiaries.

“We’re going to keep trying. We’re not going to quit,” said heir Ray Handboy.

(Talli Nauman is the Health & Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at

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