Organic Consumers Association

From The Agribusiness Examiner #258 By Al Krebs



Rosebud Sioux Drive Factory Hog Farm off their Reservation

On the Rosebud reservation, they don't call them braids, they call them " pig tails", and the intercom at the Tribal council offices belts out " Suey, suey, suey" when it's lunch time. There were a good number of jokes about the Sicangu Lakota and their Kuukuus, their hog farm, but we can all quiet down now. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s dispute with the Bell Farm’s proposal for the third largest hog farm in the world. In a remarkable spring of justice for Native people, the Supreme Court's decision let stand a lower appeal court decision, which, in April of 2002, struck down a South Dakota federal judge's order that allowed the hog farm to be built and operated.

The appeals panel had determined that Bell Farms, a North Dakota company that operates some of the largest industrial hog farms in the country, was without legal standing to continue operation. The U.S. District Court for South Dakota has followed suit, and dismissed with prejudice the case Bell Farms had filed to protect its hogs and facilities. The hogs, it seems, will be heading out. After four years of legal tangles, and years of struggle, the Lakota, through, Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens (CRAC) are winning.

This will, in Oleta Mednansky's estimation, be one heck of a clean up, when 48,000 hogs and all of their poop, (the first phase of the operation) 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. The wind blows endlessly on the Rosebud, the faces of the elders, Crazy Horse, Hollow Horn Bull, all look up from their resting places and see their people, the Sicangu Lakota, the Burnt Thigh people are still there.

That is in spite of everything. The assassination of Crazy Horse on September 5, l877 by the U. S. Military accelerated the federal policies to crush 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 would make a policy of the land stealing inside the reservation, dividing the seamless prairie into 80 and l60 acre allotments, the "surplus" to be offered up for homesteading by white farmers. Adding to the theft, Congress enacted a set of laws which would remove 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 and all those who had come to reserve land along the Missouri. The project put water where the Creator had not intended, and transformed the buffalo prairie, the land of a plow and till. All of these combined to crush the Sicangu land tenure systems. By the l990s, 50% 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 the land is leased to non-Native ranchers. Where once the water flowed, now it did not, and would not for fifty years, until the tribes were able to seek their water, and in some cases, secure water for basic needs like a faucet in the house.

The Mni Wiconi Water Project was born. Authorized in l988, for what eventually would be $365 million, Congress intended 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% of their allocations were going to be used for cattle . . . only l4% for human and consumptive use. And they were trying to restrict the tribe to human consumptive use." The Bell Farms Hog Farm proposal came to South Dakota, almost as if the corporation could smell a water allocation moving towards the trough. The timing could not have been more perfect. Bell Farms had some Colorado hog farm operations, but environmental laws were tightening, and new operations would have to be elsewhere.

Tribal sovereignty over environmental laws appeared on the corporate radar, because the corporation first made an offer to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, which rejected their overtures; then in l988, South Dakota enacted an anti-corporate farming law as a response to efforts to place mega hog farms in the state. However, a few months later, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council exercised its sovereignty, and agreed to the Rosebud Pork Production Facility, a $l05 million hog factory on tribal lands In the agreement with Bell, the owner would finance facility construction and operation.

The tribe would offer the protection of its sovereignty for the operation, as well as access to water.. The hog farm's arrival followed the Mni Wiconi project allocation. An exemption in the Mni Wiconi project would allow for commercial use. Within a short time, commercial use was spelled out as hogs. The facility, once complete, would suck l.7 million gallons of water from the Ogalalla Aquifer daily, more than the needs of the 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 Carter Camp, from Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens." The tribe's total commercial water allocation went to the hog farm," Sicangu artist and activist Rosalie Little Thunder says.

Things moved pretty quickly. The Rosebud Tribal Council was wooed by the pig farmers, cached away in secrecy, having signed confidentiality agreements with the corporation. One additional small point:" When the hog farmers went to the tribe, they also added a condition. There would be no environmental impact statement," attorney for CRAC, Jim Dougherty explains. That sort of became the straw which broke the camel’s back. The farm, if it had been fully realized, would have been the third largest hog farm in the world, putting out 859,000 hogs a year in 200 steel rooted barns from the reservation.

The hogs were destined for the Hormel Foods facility in Austin, Minnesota. The project was largely represented as an economic development and employment opportunity for the tribe, with an estimated l50 jobs during construction and 230 permanent jobs for tribal members, with wages represented to range from $l6,000-50,000 a year. 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% of the projected $l,l68,000 a year in profits.

And, the lease stipulated that at the end of the fifteen years of operations on the Farm, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe would buy out the facility at 50% of its original cost- or an estimated $50 million. There were a few loopholes in the agreement, Attorney Jim Dougherty notes. For instance, Bell Farms was able to put attorney’s fees paid to Minneapolis-based Dorsey and Whitney, architects, Bell Directors’ salaries, etc., in the possible expenses to be deducted from the RST profits. As well, no one, it seemed, informed the tribe that the life expectancy of the hog farm facility was l0-l2 years.

The facility would have largely expired prior to the tribe's ability to purchase it. Sixteen members of Rosebud Tribal Council supported and subsequently passed the hog farm proposal, largely on the grounds that it would provide jobs for the community. They had, however, not reckoned with Oleta Woodenknife Mednansky and Eva Iyotte. Eva and Oleta had just been battling some other economic development proposals for the reservation, a land with 85% unemployment, and what economists would call structural poverty based on displacing of people and taking of their assets.

They had just defeated a 6000-acre toxic waste dump proposed for the reservation, and a huge chicken farm." What I can say about those women, Oleta and Eva is 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, and "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," Rosalie Little Thunder remembers. William Kindle, present Tribal Chairman of Rosebud Sioux Tribe acknowledges the Hog farm issue as an important issue, "at least within the top three of the past election." All of this happened in the course of a legal process.

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, D.C., charging that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had neglected to follow NEPA in the authorizing of the lease. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified manure concentrations from pig farms and all, 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, and methane, as well as pesticides and potentially disease causing microbes. The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council was still at that time in support of the operations, and sued the BIA in federal court for subsequently stopping the project.

Federal Judge Charles Kornman issued the first in a series of injunctions against Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens (CRAC) and their allies, and consequently allowed the contested facility to begin construction, and to begin moving hogs onto the Rosebud. Construction began, and the first of the project's thirteen sites, a 24 building, 48,000 hog finishing installation was completed and began operations. Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens began a concerted organizing effort at the tribal council, making the Hog Farm issue one of the top issues in the tribal election. By the October l999 election, the Tribal Council Chairperson and members who had supported the hog facility were voted out and new council members were brought in.

Although the tribe now opposed the facility, Judge Kornman's injunctions meant the hogs kept moving onto the reservation. By March of 2000, with the first of the project’s proposed thirteen sites completed (24 buildings with 2000 hogs in each of them), there were five tribal members employed at the facility, most of them at lower level jobs. And, the first "profit sharing check" was offered up to the tribe: a whopping $ll,000. The tribe, with a new council in place, turned it down. The facility however continued to operate. In the meantime, the Mni Wiconi Water Project, hard fought for by the Lakota, has brought both water to the reservation, and some international political 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. Then everyone will be dependent upon it. 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." In March of 2000, nearly l000 bureaucrats and executives gathered at The Hague, in the Netherlands, to talk about the future of water. In specific, their interests were in the privatization of the world’s water systems.

Thus far, corporations like U.S.-based construction giant Bechtel have been partnering with international agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to pretty much squeeze the lifeblood out of communities, or at least every drop of water. (In Cochabamba, Ecuador for instance, Bechtel forced a 35% increase in the price of water, in a community where intestinal infections leading to diarrhea are the number one cause of children’s deaths, all largely attributed to lack of access to clean water). Mni Wiconi brings water to the people, but, unless the people are careful, Rosalie Little Thunder and other activists are concerned that water might be up for grabs in a thirsty world, or in the least, come at a steep price.

The U.S. Supreme Court's April 2003 decision declining to review the earlier decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals means that the Bell Farm has no standing to sue the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Government over the cancellation of the leases. This ruling, and the subsequent dismissal with prejudice by the Federal District Court of South Dakota, requires the dissolution of the injunctions that Bell Farms had obtained against the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Humane Farming Association, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other opponents.

This will be the first closure of an industrial hog farm in this manner, and promises to be significant in setting the stage for future tribal environmental justice struggles as well, as major corporations will no longer be able to take for granted the tribal sovereignty protection, and behind closed door deals that insured the initial proposal for the hog farm.. What's going to happen with the hogs already on the Rosebud, and all that land and infrastructure?" I can't tell you what we're going to do with the site out there. Some people say raise fish, others say tear the buildings down and restore the land. All I know," says Tribal Chairman William Kindle, "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 was Ralph Nader's vice-presidential running mate in the 2000 Presidential election.

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