Oglala Sioux Tribe Breaks Ground on Veterans Cemetery Despite Opposition
With the benefit of a recent $6.5 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) in Pine Ridge, South Dakota broke ground in early October on a new tribal veterans cemetery in the face of opposition from a veterans’ group.
Myron Pourier, Office of the Fifth Member of the Oglala Tribe, has overseen the entire project from grant application to award, a four-year process.
“Our tribal members have answered the call to arms and served honorably in every conflict the United States has ever engaged in,” Elizabeth “Jackie” Big Crow, executive assistant to Pourier, said in a tribal press release. “Now they will be buried with honor and dignity near their homelands.”
The project has received support from the OST council and its executive board since initiating the grant process. But it has met some resistance from Bryan Brewer, president of the Ad Hoc Veterans Committee on Pine Ridge. Significantly, Brewer is a legitimate challenger for current Oglala Sioux President John Yellow Bird Steele in the next tribal election scheduled for this November 6.
In a letter to Steele, Brewer said that several veterans had expressed concern that the OST did not consult with the general public or veterans when deciding the location of the cemetery, just east of Kyle, South Dakota.
“The veterans were upset that they knew nothing about this,” Brewer told Indian Country Today Media Network. “They are very glad it is here, we’re all glad there is going to be one. The veterans were just upset they were not included. Most of the veterans feel that they were overlooked. They thought they had no part in this, and I wish they did.”
Brewer said that when he asked OST officials why they were never consulted, he was told that the OST had held 23 public meetings on the matter. But Brewer also said that such public meetings must be published in a local newspaper and has asked the OST for proof that they were so advertised. The OST has not yet issued the documentation that Brewer has requested.
Initially, critics of the project had planned to blockade the ground-breaking. However, they decided out of respect to instead stand at the ceremony in silent protest.
OST President Steele was not available for comment as ICTMN went to press, because the tribe was attending to matters related to the passing of Russell Means. But Big Crow said in an interview with ICTMN that public meetings have been held on the issue since 2008.
“They were announced on KILI Radio and any veteran that was able to attend could have attended,” she said.
Big Crow also insisted that Native veterans were not intentionally left out of the consultation process and that the cemetery will pay many tributes to them.
“We used a warrior theme which includes sculptures, scaffolds at the entrance way and there will be a plaque dedicated to Clarence Wolf Guts, one of the Oglala Lakota Code Talkers that is from my reservation,” said Big Crow. “We are very proud of it.”
The designated site for the new tribal veterans cemetery will be located approximately 7.8 miles east of downtown Kyle on 63 acres of land adjacent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs office. Project funds for the cemetery project will cover construction of a main entrance, administration and maintenance building, roads, assembly area, crypts, burial areas, memorial walkway and supporting infrastructure.
According to the OST, the tribe will use the cemetery principally to furnish only burial services to veterans, their spouses and eligible dependents in accordance with National Cemetery Administration standards.