The verdict is… We don’t know

By Taylor Risse

On Tuesday, July 12, 40 plus members of the community attended a special meeting of the Bennett County Commissioners in search of answers about the rumor circulating stating the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) was taking over the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge.

States Attorney Sarah Harris began the meeting, stating that she had been notified that OST is asking to meet with the Federal Government to discuss getting more involved with the Refuge.

Todd Schmidt, Refuge Manager, was present at the meeting to give as much detail as he could into what is going on.

Schmidt began by saying he doesn’t know much, nobody does. He received an email Friday morning (July 15), giving the information that OST signed and passed a resolution and they were meeting in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, July 13.

In 2021 Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland initiated a secretarial order which can be described as follows: “ U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture have created the “Tribal Homelands Initiative.” This collaborative effort will improve federal stewardship of public lands, waters, and wildlife by strengthening the role of Tribal communities in federal land management. Through a joint Secretarial Order, the two Departments codified a policy to facilitate agreements with Tribes to collaborate in the co-stewardship of federal lands and waters.”

Schmidt went on to say that from the calls he got, “The biggest fear was that the Tribe would take over the land, and that is not this case.”

The language in the resolution leans towards contract manage, co-manage, and co-stewardship of the Refuge.

Schmidt added that every challenge there is an opportunity, he is looking at it with a positive attitude.

A point that Schmidt commented on multiple times is that it is a co-management or co-stewardship initiative.

Commissioner Judd Schomp informed the public that he had talked to people at the state level and they are monitoring what is going on.

Schomp corroborated what Schmidt said and from what he was told at the state level, land will not be transferred

Until information is released from the meeting between the government and OST, there will remain to be a lot of unknowns.

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