Native Sun News: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe settles dispute

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor, with contributions from Jesse Abernathy, NSN Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Robin LeBeau

EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA –– The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s bison corporation made a lump-sum payment to South Dakota buffalo rancher Clint Amiotte in an out-of-court settlement of his lawsuit claiming it still owed him for 308 head he delivered to the tribal enterprise back in 2006, the parties announced on Jan. 13.

“They’re paid for and the settlement’s been reached,” CRST Chair Kevin Keckler told the Native Sun News. “The tribe’s got all their land and all their buffalo, and it’s moving ahead.”

Amiotte agreed to renounce a million-dollar court judgment and dismiss all liens and levies against the corporation’s bison and property in exchange for an immediate deposit Jan. 11 of $583,000, lawyers for both parties confirmed. However, tribal members immediately announced their intention to sue to force the tribe to disclose the whereabouts of the herd.

The non-profit Lakota Advocates for the Rights of the People called for enrollees to sign onto a class-action suit to determine culpability for the alleged disappearance and mass burial of up to 995 buffalo.

“We were guarding the buffalo,” said tribal council member Robin LeBeau, who opposed a settlement resolution and became the non-profit’s authorized spokesperson. “The next thing you know the case is dismissed and they’re saying it’s done.

“But what about the people responsible? What about the buffalo? They were brutally massacred and left in a mass grave just like our ancestors at Wounded Knee,” she said.

Amiotte filed suit in 2009 against the tribally chartered Pte Hca Ka bison business and its former executive director Roy G. Lemmon, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in the U.S. District Court in Pierre, South Dakota.

He received a default judgment of nearly $1.6 million in August of 2010, prompting his liens and levies.

Faced with the tribe’s lack of liquidity, he agreed to the lower payment last week to avoid the danger, expense, and complications of rounding up and auctioning the tribal buffalo herd, his lawyer said.

“It’s a good outcome and a just outcome,” attorney Allison Eklund told the Native Sun News. “That Mr. Amiotte is relieved may be the understatement of the day,” she said. “Nobody wants to go round up buffalo; it’s dangerous work.”

Amiotte, an Oglala Lakota based at Interior, South Dakota, could not be reached for comment, despite repeated telephone calls.

A source who offered information on condition of anonymity noted, “Amiotte was going to lose his ranch at the end of January if he couldn't get paid either by rounding up and auctioning the buffalo at CRST or by negotiating a settlement. The $583,000 basically goes to his bank, but with his existing ranch assets he can now restructure or pay his debt and run his ranch again.”

Pte Hca Ka lawyer Margaret Bad Warrior estimated the herd is about 600-strong. It grazes on tribal trust land. She said loan repayment will come from leasing pasture for cattle grazing on approximately 22,000 acres of fee land, called the “VE Land”, which the tribe bought in order to restore part of its land base.

In 2008, title of the VE land passed to the tribe, allowing it to apply for trust status so as not to pay taxes on it. Liens on the land’s lease income would delay approval of the application, she noted.

“We can now proceed with putting that land into trust,” Bad Warrior told the Native Sun News. “It’s a kind of a win-win situation, I hope,” she said.

LeBeau said she opposed the settlement for its failure to guarantee justice for wrongdoing.

“I took a stand to protect and defend; that has been achieved. Now we must move on to the bigger questions and accountability, to why this has happened from the beginning until the end,” she said.


“I am asking that good solid hard evidence of why the buffalo that were slaughtered still lie over the prairie without a proper burial, and where is the money and equipment. Those that should be held accountable cannot be, unless we have the facts in black and white” LeBeau added.

As part of the settlement, Amiotte had to submit all his related transaction documents to both the tribal government and Pte Hca Ka, whose sole shareholder is the tribal government. The tribal council passed a resolution to hire an investigator to assist the tribe in determining what went wrong with the operation.

“It looks like a done deal to me,” Keckler told the Native Sun News.

However, adherents of Lakota Advocates for the Rights of the People told the Native Sun News he fears the tribal government might get rid of the remainder of the herd to replace it with cattle in order to earn lease money needed to repay the loan.

“We won this one round but I’m afraid they’re going to come back around and take our buffalo,” said the non-profit’s Vice Chairman Lloyd “Hap” Marshall. LeBeau said that the organization set up a bank account to receive donations to reach the fundraising goal of $5,000 needed to retain a lawyer for a class-action lawsuit.

“Do you think it’s all done and over?” LeBeau said. “That’s not the way it works,” she told the Native Sun News.


LeBeau stressed the sacredness of the buffalo in view of tribal elders, while Marshall, 70, said the lawsuit is important to bring authorities to task in the interest of the youth.

“The buffalo, without them we’re nothing,” said LeBeau. “It’s important for the elders because we believe the buffalo and medicine and the people are all one.”

Marshall said he wants tribal officials to stop “filling their pockets with both hands” and set aside money for students’ college expenses.

“This tribe is so far in debt, it’s pathetic,” he said. “There are no higher education funds. Kids need somebody to represent them. It will never get any better until we see some people handcuffed and marched off this reservation into jail.”

Ray Hand Boy Sr., an adherent of the non-profit, noted that tribal council members are part of the Pte Hca Ka board of directors.

“Nobody will say what’s going on,” he told the Native Sun News. “It gets worse and worse as we keep digging. It’s supposed to be a representative office for the people, but there is no accountability for them,” he said.

The tribal council has offered to conduct an independent forensic audit, he acknowledged. But he said, “They’re probably going to stall it.”

The controversy highlights the need for more transparency in administration, he said. Marshall suggested the federal government should provide more oversight to achieve disclosure.


In recent weeks, tribal council chambers have been the scene of wrangling not only over the bison herd, but also over members’ financial accountability and over live digital streaming of proceedings to remote receptors, a practice not as yet regulated by the tribe.

LeBeau filed a criminal assault charge on Jan. 4 against fellow council member Ardyce Cook for pinching her and verbally attacking her at tribal headquarters following a council discussion in chambers about live streaming. The tribal civil court issued a temporary restraining order to Cook, who did not return telephone messages from the Native Sun News. The order expired on Jan. 17.

Asked about accusations of opacity in CRST government, Keckler at first replied, “No comment.” However, he added, “We’ve been transparent and accountable for many years.”

Keckler is a former member of the Pte Hca Ka board of directors. Members have changed over time. Board positions are unpaid. The enterprise has not been operative for several years. Its last meetings are expected to take place in February as an interim review committee concludes business.

The members are: Chair Bob Walters, Vice-Chair Todd Ward, Secretary Mary Miller, Sharon Lee and Buddy Knife. A gathering of three constitutes a quorum. Minutes are submitted to the tribal council for approval and deposited afterward at the tribal secretary’s office where they are a matter of public record.

(Talli Nauman is the Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News and you can contact her at

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