Lakota Country Times: Oglala Sioux leader pushes zeolite mine

The following article was written and reported by Lakota Country Times editor Brandon Ecoffey. For more news, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times today. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Garfield Steele
Zeolite still an issue in Wounded Knee
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT editor

MANDERSON— Despite a recent vote by community members in the Wounded Knee district to rescind an earlier motion that would have paved the way for zeolite mining in their district the issue will be brought up at the next Wounded Knee district meeting.

“There are certain issues where only a small group of people get to decide what happens for all the people and that is wrong. Our district is moving forward with this project because no one puts food on the table for our people. It is up to us,” said Garfiel Steele, Chairman of the Wounded Knee district board.

Two weeks ago the Wounded Knee district announced to the media that it would be moving forward with plans to explore offers from companies to mine for the precious mineral zeolite in their district. The announcement led to push back from other district members and tribal citizens outside of the district who raised concerns about both the environmental and health concerns of the mining process. As a result a group of concerned district members voted against the earlier ordinance at the most recent Wounded Knee District board meeting.

“We had a district meeting and a group of people who were opposed to the project showed up and voted to bring the issue back up and they voted against it which was ok because it’s the people’s right to do that. The next day however I had people coming up to me saying they still wanted it. The only way to settle it is to have a referendum vote of people in our district,” said Steele.

Recently the Tetunwan Oyate Treaty Council met and passed legislation opposing zeolite mining and banishing representatives of the Dakota Land Trust company from the reservation but Steele says that this decision is one that should be made by people in the district.

“Legally, what is recognized is the tribal council and the tribal constitution. The constitution gives districts the option to pursue development and that is what we are doing. We are going to bring it up as a referendum vote and if the people vote in favor of it then we are going to move forward, if they vote against it then that will be the end of it. It is up to the people in this district to decide,” said Steele.

Leaders and members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe shut down the zeolite mine last October. Photo from Oyate, Oglala Youth And Tribal Entertainment Media Network / Facebook

Recent revelations about the roots of the Dakota Land Trust and there past illegal mining on the reservation has forced those in favor of the mining to answer some tough questions but Steele says that there was never a formal agreement between the district and Dakota Land Trust and that what the district had passed was a regulatory process.

“What we passed was a mechanism for the district to review proposals prior to any mining taking place that would allow for us to gauge the health and environmental risks of these projects,” said Steele.

Steele says that the process would give the district an opportunity to review proposals and the scientific evidence presented by companies prior to granting permission for a mine to open.

“There is a lot of talk about the zeolite we have in our district and how it causes cancer but what people fail to realize is that there are multiple kinds of zeolite and so far we haven’t found any evidence that shows that the zeolite we have in our district causes cancer,” said Steele.

The Wounded Knee District board meetings take place on the first Tuesday of every month.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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