The Hogs of Rosebud
By Winona LaDuke
October 3, 2003
There were a good number of jokes about the Sicangu Lakota and their hog farm, but we can all quiet down now. In April, the US Supreme Court refused to get involved in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's dispute with the Bell Farm's proposal to build the third largest hog farm in the world on reservation land.
| The Lakota language does not have a word for "pig" but, with the arrival of Bell Farms massive hog factory, pigs would outnumber the Rosebud Sioux five-to-one.|
In a remarkable spring of justice for Native people, the Supreme Court's decision upheld a lower appeal court's April 2002 decision, which struck down a South Dakota federal judge's order that allowed the hog farm to be built.
The US District Court for South Dakota promptly dismissed -- with prejudice -- the case Bell Farms (a North Dakota company that operates some of the largest industrial hog farms in the country) filed to protect its hogs and facilities. The hogs, it seems, will be heading out.
After four years of legal tangles, the Lakota and the Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens (CRAC) are winning. This will be one heck of a clean up, when 96,000 hogs and all of their poop will have to be moved off the Rosebud Reservation in what is the first such industrial farm plant closure in history. I am planning to bring my stock trailer out for the occasion.
'Regime Change' in 1877: The Murder of Crazy Horse
The wind blows endlessly on the Rosebud. The faces of the elders, Crazy Horse and Hollow Horn Bull, look up from their resting places and they can see that, in spite of everything, their people, the Sicangu Lakota -- the Burnt Thigh people -- are still here.
The US Military's assassination of Crazy Horse on September 5, 1877 was undertaken to accelerate the federal policy of crushing the Oglala, Sicangu Minneconju, Yanktonai, Santee and other bands of Lakota and Dakota. The buffalo were obliterated and the Black Hills Act (and subsequent legislation) would take 9 million acres of Lakota land. The General Allotment Act legalized land-stealing inside the reservation, dividing the seamless prairie into 80- and 160-acre allotments -- with the "surplus" to be offered up to homesteading by white farmers. Adding to the theft, Congress enacted further laws that removed additional lands from the Rosebud reservation, largely for the benefit of the non-Native farming population.
Then came the dams. The Pick Sloan Project inundated most of the Missouri River Basin tribes, flooding the best bottom lands of the Hunkpapa, Mandana, Hidatsa, Arikara, Yanktonai. The water project put water where the Creator had not intended and transformed the buffalo prairie into a land of plow and till. All of these factors combined to crush the traditional Sicangu land-tenure systems.
By the l990s, 50 percent of the land within the reservation borders was held by non-Indians. Ben Blackbear of the Tribal Land Enterprise notes that there were originally around "three million acres of the Rosebud reservation. Today we have 900,000 acres in trust, with about half of the acreage allotted." A significant amount of this land is now leased to non-Native ranchers.
Water: Too Cheap to Meter?
Where once the water flowed, now it did not. In some cases, there was no secure water for basic needs -- like a faucet in the house. In 1988, the $365 million Mni Wiconi Water Project (MWWP) was born. Congress intended the MWWP to supply water to the Lower Brule and Pine Ridge reservations as well as nine southwestern South Dakota counties. The Rosebud reservation would be added later on.
"What Mni Wiconi was supposed to do was bring water for municipal, industrial and rural use," remembers Tony Ironshell, former Rosebud Tribal Planner and Mni Wiconi proponent. "Up in the northern part of the state where all the white guys were getting all of their systems, 86 percent of their [water] allocations were going to be used for cattle... only l4 percent for human and consumptive use."
The MWWP brought clean, piped water to the reservation but it also brought and some questions. "The pipelines were laid to the reservation, but they put meters on the pipelines," Rosalie Little Thunder observed. "People were thinking there could possibly come a day when they will be charged for the water. There is a lot of skepticism among Indian people about creating a dependence on something they won't be able to afford. Besides, they are pushing these tribes to quantify their water rights. For tribal people that is a lot like quantifying your oxygen needs for the future."
Hogging the Water Supply
The Bell Farms Hog Farm proposal came to South Dakota, almost as if the corporation could smell a water allocation moving towards the trough. Bell Farms had some Colorado hog farm operations, but that state's environmental laws were tightening. Because tribal sovereignty granted native communities precedence over state and local laws (including environmental laws), relocating to native lands soon appeared on the corporate radar.
| Members of Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens stand near the Bell Farms hog facility. From left: LaTesha and Richard Mednansky and baby Taylor, Eva Iyotte, Brad Shouldis and George England.|
Bell Farms first made an offer to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. After the Winnebago rejected their overtures, the corporation turned to South Dakota. In l988, South Dakota enacted an anti-corporate farming law in an effort to keep hog mega-farms out of the state. A few months later, however, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council chose to exercise its sovereignty and invited the Rosebud Pork Production Facility, a $l05 million hog factory, to set up shop on tribal lands. Bell Farms, as the owner, agreed to finance the construction and operation of the facility. In addition to offering the regulatory shield of its tribal sovereignty, the Tribal Council also granted Bell Farms access to the reservation's water.
The MWWP contained an exemption for commercial use. Commercial use was soon defined to mean "hogs." Once it was completed, Bell Farm's Pork Production Facility, was expected to suck l.7 million gallons of water from the Ogalalla Aquifer daily -- more than the combined water needs of the entire state of South Dakota.
"Where they put in the Wiconi project, the pig farm was already on it. Millions of dollars worth of infrastructure -- and at the end of each pipe was a proposed pig farm," explains CRAC's Carter Camp. "The tribe's total commercial water allocation went to the hog farm," Sicangu artist and activist Rosalie Little Thunder recalls.
Negotiating in secrecy, the tribal council members signed confidentiality agreements with the corporation. There was additional small point, CRAC attorney Jim Dougherty discovered: "When the hog farmers went to the tribe, they also added a condition: There would be no environmental impact statement."
Bringing Home the Bacon... or the Baloney?
Had the pork production facility been fully realized, it would have been the third largest hog farm in the world -- a sprawling factory farm processing 859,000 hogs a year inside 200 steel-roofed barns spread over reservation land. The hogs were destined for the Hormel Foods facility in Austin, Minnesota.
The project was promoted as an economic development and employment opportunity for the tribe, with an estimated l50 jobs created during construction and another 230 permanent jobs for tribal members. Wages were to range from $16,000-50,000 a year. And what would the Sicangu get in exchange for their sovereignty, environmental exemptions, and use of their water? A profit-sharing venture was to land the Rosebud tribe 25 percent of the projected $1,168,000 in annual profits. In addition, the lease stipulated that at the end of the 15 years of operations, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe would buy out the facility at 50 percent of its original cost -- or an estimated $ 50 million.
There were a few loopholes in the agreement, Attorney Dougherty notes. No one, it seemed, informed the tribe that the life expectancy of the hog farm facility was only l0-l2 years. The facility would have largely expired before the tribe could purchase it. Ultimately, 16 members of Rosebud Tribal Council supported and passed the hog farm proposal. At the time, it must have looked like a done deal. But these tribal leaders had not reckoned with Oleta Woodenknife Mednansky and Eva Iyotte.
Saying No to Toxics, Chickens and Hogs
Eva and Oleta had a long history of battling dubious economic development proposals for the reservation -- a land with 85 percent unemployment and what economists call "structural poverty" (the consequence of displacing people and taking their assets). Eva and Oleta had just defeated plans for a 6000-acre toxic waste dump for the reservation -- and a huge chicken farm.
"What I can say about those women, Oleta and Eva [represent] persistence, consistency and commitment," fellow Sicangu activist Rosalie Little Thunder tells me with admiration. "They were there at every tribal council meeting. They worked really hard on this issue and were consistent. That made huge difference." As well, leadership by elders like Neola Spotted Tail challenged the decision of the tribal council saying, "Yes the people need jobs, but what kind of job is that for Lakota men? How long will they last? They won't be able to stand the smell and they won't treat the animals that way."
In the 2000 tribal election there were l5 seats up for grabs. Rosalie Little Thunder remembers with a smile how "all of the ones who voted for the pig farm lost their seats in the election and the whole new Council got in. The new Council knew fully that they got in on the pig farm issue." William Kindle, present Tribal Chairman of Rosebud Sioux Tribe acknowledges the Hog farm was "at least within the top three [issues] of the past election."
CRACing Down on the Hog Farm
On November 23, l998, CRAC, the Prairie Hills Audubon Society, the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, and Humane Farming Association filed suit in Washington, DC, charging that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had neglected to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the authorizing of the lease.
The coalition's attorneys argued that the Environmental Protection Agency had identified manure concentrations from pig farms to be among "the greatest threats to our nation's waters and drinking water supplies." Large pig operations usually have lagoons of liquid manure containing up to 400 volatile organic compounds -- including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane, pesticides and potentially disease-causing microbes.
At that time, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council was still supporting the operations, and the council voted to sue the BIA in federal court for stopping the project. In the first in a series of injunctions against CRAC and its allies, Federal Judge Charles Kornman ruled that Bell Farms could proceed to build the contested facility and could begin moving hogs onto the Rosebud.
Construction began on the first of the project's 13 sites. Each site was to house 48,000 hogs inside 24 buildings, each building holding 2,000 hogs. CRAC began a concerted effort to make the Hog Farm issue one of the top issues in the tribal election. In the October l999 election, the Tribal Council Chairperson and members who had supported the hog facility were voted out. Although the new tribal council now opposed the facility, Judge Kornman's injunctions meant the hogs would keep moving onto the reservation.
By March 2000, with the first of the sites completed, reality had begun to set in. Only five tribal members employed at the facility, most of them at lower-level jobs. And the first "profit-sharing check" offered up to the tribe was a whopping $11,000. The new tribal council turned it down.
A Supreme Victory
With the US Supreme Court's refusal to review the case, the injunctions that Bell Farm had obtained against the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Humane Farming Association, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other opponents were dismissed. It looks like the end of the road for the corporate hog farmers.
This historic closure promises to set the stage for future tribal environmental justice struggles. In the future, major corporations will no longer be able to take for granted the tantalizing prospect of tribal sovereignty protection.
What's going to happen with the buildings and hogs already on the Rosebud?
"I can't tell you what we're going to do with the site out there," says Tribal Chairman William Kindle. "Some people say raise fish, others say tear the buildings down and restore the land. All I know is that we sure would like to see them out of here, but there's a lot of attorneys between now and then."
Winona LaDuke is the program officer for the Seventh Generation Fund's Environmental Program and campaign director for the White Earth Land Recovery Project. LaDuke is also author of All Our Relations and Last Standing Woman. She was the Green Party's Vice-Presidential Candidate in 2000,
©2003 Winona LaDuke
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