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Native Sun News: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe rejects military plan

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

Charles Murphy, the former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Standing Rock demands Air Force honor 1868 Treaty
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) sides with Air Force
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor


FT. YATES, N.D — With an April 3 deadline looming for public comments on the military’s proposal to expand its Powder River Basin airspace training area in Indian Country, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has conditioned its permission on nothing less than total disarmament.

The Federal Aviation Administration seeks input on the U.S. Air Force’s 28th Bomb Wing pitch to extend the geographical area for current B-1 bomber training missions operating out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota and B-52 bombers out of Minot Air Force Base in central North Dakota.

The enlarged area would cover 35,000 square miles, four times the space it now occupies, or an area half the size of the state of South Dakota, including land under the jurisdictions of the Standing Rock, Northern Cheyenne, Cheyenne River, and Crow tribes.

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe demands that the United States of America administer the rights derived from the Ft. Laramie Treaty of April 29, 1868, by the establishment of a commission that will … achieve total disarmament and utilize resources only for the economic and social progress and general welfare of the members of the Standing Rock Nation,” the tribe says in a declaration submitted to the federal government.

The chairman of the tribe in 2010, Charles W. Murphy, submitted the declaration then, after consultations began to satisfy the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Protection Act in the ongoing process of crafting an environmental impact statement for the purpose of permitting the proposal.

At least 126 tribal members and officials attended a Sept. 22, 2008 meeting at Standing Rock’s Long Soldier Community that addressed the issue of the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) expansion, Murphy noted in a letter accompanying the declaration.

He said 96 voted in favor of the declaration, which was later adopted by the Standing Rock Tribal Council on Nov. 5. It reiterates tribal positions taken in 1986 and 1987, he added.

The declaration goes further to demand “the adoption of measures prohibiting the tests of space weapons, the development, protection and buildup of space weapons for preparation of war, and the pollution and damage to members, the land, water and air of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”

It envisions scenarios in which those demands remain unmet, providing for options. Chief among them is monetary compensation.

It requests restitution and reparation for social and economic damages “caused as a result of the aggression and of illegal occupation of boundaries claimed by the Lakota/Dakota people.”

The federal government has agreed to a monetary compensation for its failure to honor the 1868 Treaty boundaries; however the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation, which include Standing Rock, have refused to accept the payment on the grounds that they want the land.

Part of the compensation the Standing Rock Tribe seeks in the event of new use of its airspace would be a payment allowing the tribe to “make an independent assessment on tribal air quality and interference on religious practices, including Hanbleca (vision quests),” it declares.

The tribe would then charge a fee for the use of its airspace, based on the assessment, the declaration states. Tribes want shielding from airborne threats

The Air Force says the expansion would save money and provide environmental benefits.

It would enable so-called Large-Force Exercises (LFEs), in which multiple aircraft and crews train together creating mock combat scenarios.

The different types of activities in an LFE include fighter interdiction, attack, air superiority, defense suppression, airlift, air refueling, reconnaissance, close air support, and combat search and rescue. No live-fire exercises would take place in this complex, according to the proposal.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana has also voiced opposition to execution of the proposal and a desire for protection of its reservation air quality.

The tribe requested consideration be given to potential heightened fire danger, noise pollution, habitat degradation and quality of life, before a decision is made to grant the expansion.

In South Dakota, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation tribal members expressed concerns about the use of airspace over the reservation during calving season and between June and August, due to conflicts with their economic and ceremonial purposes.

The Crow Tribe in Montana also expressed concerns about low level flights and noise interfering with ceremonies, such as the Sun Dance.

The tribe requested training exercises avoid the dates of the annual Crow Fair and Rodeo that takes place at Crow Agency in August and other important events on the Crow Indian Reservation.

According to the draft environmental impact statement for the project, the most direct effects would result from noise, sonic booms, or visual intrusions from the use of chaff and flare, as well as from sonic booms and overflights at 500 feet.

To date chaff and flares are not being used on the range. Under the proposed action, an annual estimate of 33,000 chaff bundles and 3,301 flares would be employed throughout all of the PRTC airspace for defensive countermeasure training.

Chaff creates a brief electronic cloud of fibers thinner than human hair to confuse enemy radar. Flares create a heat source to decoy heat-seeking missiles away from the aircraft, the Air Force notes.

U.S. senators at odds over proposal
South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune backs enlargement of the airspace training area.

“Finalizing the expansion of this training airspace is vital to maintaining our military readiness and is important to the state of South Dakota,” he said earlier this year, adding, “I will continue to work with the FAA and the Air Force to ensure its timely approval.”

Thune is the top ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Montana’s senators are soundly opposed to the expansion.

In February senators Jon Tester and John Walsh mailed Air Force officials a letter saying the plan “is unjustified and would negatively impact southeast Montana in a number of ways.

“The proposed expansion would significantly disrupt commercial and private aviation,” they noted. At least 33 community airports and 285 general aviation aircraft could be affected, they said.

The Montana Economic Import of Airports Study concluded that the PRTC could jeopardize 95 jobs that generate $1.5 million in annual payroll and $3.8 million in overall economic activity.

“The PRTC expansion proposal also generates a number of unacceptable safety risks,” senators said.

In August 2013, a B-1 crashed near Broadus, Montana, while conducting a training flight in the present-day PRTC area, they noted.

“While this crash, luckily, did not result in the loss of any lives, it did considerable damage to Montana ranchlands,” the senators said. “Fires were started from the debris scattered along the wreckage path of nearly 17 miles of pasture,” they said.

Expansion also would allow new use of the range by squadrons of aircraft such as F-15Es, F-16s and RC-135s, as well as the B-1 and B-52s.

Flights that break the sound barrier and fly as low as 500 feet “will stress livestock living under the affected airspace. The Air Force has no proposed remediation plan for land and livestock owners in the affected region,” the senators complained.

The PRTC also could affect emergency medical flights in rural Montana, where they “are as much a part of emergency medicine as ambulances in urban settings,” the senators said.

Historic sites abound
“Finally, we are concerned that the proposed expansion would bring the Little Bighorn National Battlefield under the PRTC,” they said. “There are more than 1,500 preserved artifacts at this important historic location.

“Additional aircraft traffic would increase the danger of damaging these important pieces of American history.”

The National Park Service has requested that the Air Force fly clear of the Little Bighorn Battlefield and adjacent Custer National Cemetery.

According to the draft environmental impact statement, a total of 244 properties on the National Register of Historic Places are located beneath the airspace affected by the proposal. Of these, 94 are already in the training range.

The proposed PRTC would be over 13 National Register properties in Wyoming, 39 in Montana, 15 in North Dakota, and 177 in South Dakota. A number of ghost towns, historic ranches, historic trails, traditional cultural properties, cultural landscapes, and National Historic Landmarks, are in the area.

Several historic battlefields lie beneath the proposed project airspace. In addition to the Little Bighorn, which is a National Monument, the Wolf Mountains Battlefield and the Rosebud Battlefield are on the National Register and are National Historic Landmarks.

The Montana State Historical Preservation Office is currently applying to elevate all of the status of battlefields of the Great Sioux War to the National Register. These battlefields are also either current Tribal Cultural Preservation properties or are involved in consultation for recognition of that status.

The Tongue River Valley in Rosebud County has been the focus of a project to document and nominate the cultural landscape to the National Register due to more than 1,700 well-preserved from prehistoric sites, as well as the Wolf Mountains Battlefield, and early ranching settlements, including Three Circle Ranch and SH Ranch.

Three National Historic Landmarks are located beneath the PRTC airspace. Also listed on the National Register, they are Bear Butte sacred area, Frawley Historic Ranch, and Deadwood Historic District.

Several laws and regulations address the requirement of federal agencies to notify or consult with American Indian tribes or otherwise consider tribal members’ interests when planning and implementing projects.

Ellsworth AFB initiated government-to-government consultation with each of the four tribes in the proposed PRTC in April and May 2008. In addition, 11 reservations outside of the airspace in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota were sent letters requesting information on concerns and initiating government-to-government consultation in June 2008.

Comments may be submitted by mail to:
Manager, Operation Support Group, ATO Central Service Center, AJV-C2
Airspace Study 14-AGL-06NR
Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
2601 Meacham Blvd.
Fort Worth, TX 76137

(Contact Talli Nauman, NSN Health and Environment Editor, at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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