OMAHA, June 3, 2021
On June 2, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota ruled that the State of South Dakota is not entitled to hold a Fourth of July fireworks spectacle that would endanger people, the environment, and Lakota sacred sites in the Black Hills. The State and Governor Kristi Noem had sued to challenge the National Park Service’s (“NPS”) decision to deny a permit for the potentially disastrous July Fourth fireworks display. The severe risk of a wildfire threatened people, the environment, and tribal rights.
Big Fire Law and Policy Group LLP (“Big Fire”) represents the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (“Tribe”) in the lawsuit. The Tribe intervened as a defendant to protect Lakota sacred sites and religious rights that were threatened by the fireworks display. The most important holy sites of the Lakota religion are located in the Black Hills where Lakota people pray, make pilgrimages, and collect sacred medicines to this day. Mount Rushmore was a sacred formation known as the Six Grandfathers before the famous sculptures were blasted into its face. The Black Hills are at the heart of Lakota treaty land that was illegally taken by the United States in the 1870s. In his opinion, Judge Roberto A. Lange reiterated the Supreme Court’s comment on the theft: “A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”
The Court’s ruling against the state was not surprising. As Judge Roberto A. Lange explained in his opinion, courts must give a high degree of deference to agencies’ decisions, and they can only force agencies to grant permits that they have denied in very extreme circumstances. The state will carry the same high burden on appeal to the Eighth Circuit, which Governor Noem has already signaled she will pursue.
Big Fire attorney and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal member Nicole Ducheneaux commented: “In light of the high burden in this case, which the state did little to meet, Governor Noem’s lawsuit does not appear to have been a serious effort to win an injunction. Instead, it looks more like a piece of political theater aimed at exciting the Trump-Noem base. We are dismayed that Governor Noem has used the federal court to jeopardize our religious freedoms and our beautiful American landscape in service of her political ambitions.” Ducheneaux continued: “The Lakota people have been fighting to protect our sacred Black Hills for nearly 200 years. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is committed to finishing this fight in the Eighth Circuit and beyond if Governor Noem wants to take it there.”
The Big Fire team also includes, Leonika Charging-Davison, Rose M. Weckenmann, Calandra S. Mccool, Amber E. Holland, and Danielle Lazore-Thompson.