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Native Sun News: Yankton Sioux families eye compensation

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

A map of White Swan on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

White Swan Survivors Group wants ‘just compensation’
Forced to move from flooded lands
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor


PICKSTOWN — When Patricia Hopkins-Buechler was 16 years old, she remembers her life being shattered when her mother had to move here from White Swan.

“I lost my home, my roots, my life, everything -- and my heart broke for my grandma and grandpa, because that was their place, where they lived, had big gardens, went fishing …,” she told the Native Sun News.

Hopkins-Buechler, now a septuagenarian, is one of more than a dozen Ihanktonwan survivors of the Missouri River dam flooding in the 1950s who have banded together to seek compensation from the Yankton Sioux Tribal Business and Claims Committee.

The committee swearing-in session took place on the eve of the federal government’s scheduled Oct. 1 initial deposit into a $24 million trust fund to help the tribe recover from some of the losses suffered in the flooding. “We want to meet with the new council face-to-face, as soon as we can get everybody together,” said Hopkins-Buechler, who has become the chair of the White Swan Survivors Group.

White Swan was a Yankton tribal community, one of many Sioux reservation towns in South Dakota and Nebraska that was wiped out by five dams built under the 1944 Flood Control Act and Pick-Sloan Plan that created North America’s largest reservoir system.

“The last Business and Claims Committee didn’t want to hear anything from us,” said White Swan Survivors Group Vice-Chair Judy Lee. “They keep saying they’re gonna put us on the agenda, but we never do see anything,” she said.

The members of the White Swan Survivors Group “want to ask them, ‘Where's the money?’ They want to see how it’s gonna be allocated,” said group Liaison Ronald Neiss.

Group members spoke with the Native Sun News over the weekend of Jan. 4 and 5, when committee officers could not be contacted by press time.

The officers of both the committee and the elected nine-member tribal council are Robert Flying Hawk, chair; Jean Archambeau, vice-chair; Glenford "Sam" Sully, secretary; and Leo O'Connor, treasurer.

They are responsible for approving annual disbursement of federal compensation money placed in The Yankton Sioux Tribe Development Trust Fund, according to a congressionally mandated tribal plan submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service in order for the tribe to qualify for the recovery funds.

The tribal plan notes that more than $8 million was expected to become available to the Yankton Sioux for the first fiscal year of the government expenditure program, ending Sept. 30, 2014.

It states that the tribe would obtain a loan before 2013, guaranteed by the promise of this federal money that would become available then. The loan was expected to accrue $300,000 of service costs, payable to the lender by the tribe.

The use of the rest of the money would be under the supervision of an “Infrastructure Management Director” who would be hired to carry out the Business and Claims Committee mandates, guided by the plan.

The plan prioritizes numerous projects ranging from wind energy development to crisis center construction and operation. However, it includes no designated reimbursement for the White Swan survivors.

The survivors group, which members calculate is made up of 16 to 19 individuals, acknowledges that the legislation creating the recovery fund prohibits so-called “per-capita” payments.

However, said Hopkins-Buechler, “We’re not asking for per capita. We think we should get just compensation. “We were forced out of our homes, with nowhere to go, and made to go with no money. It was terrible. It was very, very sad. We were just scattered around until we could find when we could get together again.”

She said she would be able to pay off her mortgage and leave her affairs in order for her children’s families, if she were provided compensation.

The survivors’ families were fee-land owners and heirs who had obtained private property under an allotment act. Their holdings were not tribal lands, although they were considered part of the reservation jurisdiction, according to administrative and case law.

“Grandma had to leave her armoire and all behind. I know it meant a lot to her,” said Lee, who was 7 years old at the time. “They were busy looking around, and there was no houses to go to, so they had to pitch a tent there beside the river till they found a house,” she said.

“Why is Washington paying the tribe, when the tribe did not help the people down there?” she queries.

In addition, she warned, people who did not live in White Swan should not pose as legitimate stakeholders.

“That’s not right. The rest of the tribe never went through that suffering,” she said.

(Contact Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health and Environment editor at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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