Charmaine White Face inspired my latest online column in South Dakota Magazine. Her public testimony to the Lawrence County Commission against the Deadwood Standard Project got me thinking about the intersecting lessons of our efforts to dig for more gold in Spearfish Canyon and Native American efforts to outbid developers for Pe' Sla, the sacred grassland just north of Deerfield Lake:

In Deadwood, a Native woman says we whites cannot own, let alone mine, the Black Hills. Just down the road, Lakota people believe that, to protect the holy land, they must buy that which is not for sale from those who do not own it [CAH, "Black Hills, Mining, Land, and the Lakota," SouthDakotaMagazine.com, August 22, 2012].

I invite you to check out my full column at South Dakota Magazine... and say hi to Bernie while you're there!

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I would like to discuss Charmaine White Face's testimony in more detail here. She said that she had heard nothing so far about the impact of the Ragged Top mine on Native Americans. Indeed, no one else at Tuesday's meeting mentioned how white men digging for gold anywhere in the sacred Black Hills offend the Great Sioux Nation. The DSP attorney said at the hearing that the conflict boiled down to the company and the community seeking economic opportunity versus a couple hundred Spearfish Canyon landowners, with no acknowledgment of legitimate concerns of anyone else—Native Americans, environmentalists, tourists—not holding a white man's title to the neighboring land. On DSP's website, the history of Ragged Top begins with white gold mining in 1896.

DSP's conditional use application to Lawrence County also makes scant mention of the folks from whom we stole the Hills. DSP's cultural and archaeological assessment sites one study from 1983 that focuses almost entirely on remnants of recent Euro-American activity. That study mentions one pre-historic jasper flake. It says nothing specific about the Sioux, the Arikara, or any other pre-Euro-invasion inhabitants. The socioeconomic study by Michael K. Madden takes a similar Eurocentric view: Native responses to further desecration of the Paha Sapa are absent from discussion of social impacts. As far as Deadwood Standard Project is concerned in its permit application, Indians are irrelevant to the Black Hills.

Ignoring Native Americans isn't unique to Deadwood Standard Project. It's how most of us occupiers of the Black Hills get through the day. It's how we sell most of our tourist attractions (I have a book review on that topic coming soon—you're still on my desktop, SDSHS Press!). It's how we avoid addressing the moral challenge of the original sin (think about that term) of our state and our nation.

And it's why a full meeting room was uncomfortably quiet when Charmaine White Face, Oglala Lakota of the Great Sioux Nation, questioned the right of Deadwood Standard Project and every other white person in the room to take anything (except themselves) from the Black Hills.

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Here is the most impressive part of the Lawrence County Commission's decision yesterday to delay its approval of the Deadwood Standard Project:

The Lawrence County Commission is made up of five Republicans. Wealthy businessmen, including tourism icon and DSP partner Ted Hustead, told these commissioners that building this gold mine just over the rim of Spearfish Canyon is a matter of jobs, high wages, and economic development over the "ludicrous" (Hustead's word) objections of a very small minority of Spearfish Canyon homeowners. Proponents spoke from a position of strength, advocating an industry with a deep and cherished history in Lawrence County.

And those five Republicans said... not yet. Commissioner Daryl Johnson validated the environmentalists' Precautionary Principle, saying that if he had to make a final decision right now, he'd vote not to allow the mine, because the Deadwood Standard Project has not met its burden to prove the mine will not harm Spearfish Canyon. When the company reps pushed for a decision timeline so they could assure their investors, the commissioners dug in, saying they would decide when they felt they had enough information, not according to some arbitrary or rushed timeline.

The Lawrence County Commission made two formal decisions yesterday. First, it officially waived, per DSP's request, its own statutory requirement to act on any conditional use permit application within 45 days. Then it officially said that it would not make a final decision on the application until the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has studied the project and issued its report and recommendation... which DENR's Mike Cepak told the commissioners would likely take fourteen months.

Lawrence County Commissioners made a really hard choice between immediate economic gain and environmental protection... or maybe they didn't. At the beginning of the meeting, the commission indicated that, since last July's meeting on the mine, they had received 19 letters in support of the Spearfish Canyon mine and 243 against.

So maybe, technically, yesterday's vote wasn't really a great blow for environmentalism over the GOP economy-über-alles mindset. Maybe it was just five elected officials doing what the people want.

That's still a victory. Nice work, fellas.

Update 09:05 MDT: Here's Derek Olson's KELO report. Watch for the handsome blogger in the green shirt! ;-)

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