9 arrested at Whiteclay protest contest authority over land

Published Wednesday September 1, 1999
BY DAVID HENDEE
OMAHA WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Rushville, Neb. – Nine American Indian activists arrested earlier this summer during a standoff at a border village with state troopers are taking their fight to the courts.

Rather than enter pleas Tuesday in Sheridan County Court, the group – including noted activist Russell Means – filed papers challenging Nebraska’s jurisdiction in their misdemeanor criminal cases.

Judge Charles Plantz scheduled a Sept. 22 hearing on the jurisdiction question. John Freundenburg, deputy county attorney, said he had no objection to the move.

The 16-minute hearing Tuesday was the first legal step taken by the Indians to use their court case to argue Indian treaty claims to Whiteclay, an unincorporated village 21 miles north of Rushville in northwest Nebraska. The town is adjacent to the Oglala Sioux’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

The defendants said they will have experts from Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota testify that a turn-of-the-century executive order by President Theodore Roosevelt illegally took Whiteclay out of the reservation.

“We own Whiteclay,” Means said after the hearing. “Nebraska does not have jurisdiction. In no way shape or form can they violate our rights. We are going to force Nebraska to follow the law . . . and return what they stole – our property.”

Means and the others were charged with obstructing a police officer and failure to comply with a lawful order during a July 3 march to Whiteclay from the nearby village of Pine Ridge, S.D.

They led a group of 650 Indians protesting the sale of beer in Whiteclay and the unsolved slayings of two men found on the reservation.

Means said the charges against the nine are examples of racism in Nebraska’s court system.

“We have the State of Nebraska here attempting to put nine people who want to stop alcoholism, who want to stop alcohol sales . . . in jail,” he said. “It just seems to me this world is upside down. We refuse to accept this kind of continuing racism.”

The 59-year-old Means is a widely known leader for the American Indian Movement. He has a ranch in Porcupine, S.D., and appeared in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.”

He said he was looking forward to his day in court because “we always win.”

Among the nine defendants are Frank LaMere, 49, a Winnebago Indian from South Sioux City, Neb., and Tom Poor Bear, 44, an Oglala Sioux from Wanblee, S.D., who has been organizing the weekend marches to Whiteclay. Poor Bear is a half brother to one of the slain men and a cousin to the other.

LaMere said it is clear to him that Whiteclay is Oglala land.

“We in Nebraska are trespassers,” he said. “I hope that we will be able to come together and right this wrong. As Nebraskans we should be better than this.”

LaMere said American Indians from all tribes in Nebraska support the Oglala in the land dispute.

“I was honored to be arrested with my relatives on July 3, and it will be a great honor to see this through with them,” he said.

Means said he will call on all Nebraska tribes to join Indians from the South Dakota reservations of Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Yankton to march Oct. 4 in Lincoln when the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission meets.

He said he hoped to have a lawsuit filed by then alleging that issuing licenses to sell beer in Whiteclay violates federal and tribal law.

Means also said a march is planned at the federal courthouse in Lincoln to protest attempts to close down the Santee Sioux Tribe’s casino in northeastern Nebraska and efforts to jail tribal leaders.

Whiteclay has been the target of anger and frustration among the protesters since the bodies of the two Indians were found June 8. The town’s four beer-selling stores sell 4 million cans of beer a year, mostly to Indians from the reservation. Possession and consumption of beer is banned by law on the reservation, but the alcoholism rate there may run as high as 85 percent.

In addition to LaMere, Means and Poor Bear, the other defendants are Benedict L. Black Elk, 36, Pine Ridge; Vaughn J. Lodge, 22, no home listed; Gary L. Moore, 36, Pine Ridge; Webster Poor Bear, 48, Wanblee; Allen C. Sheppard, 23, Agency Village, S.D.; and John W. Steele, 52, Manderson, S.D.

Lodge and Sheppard did not attend the hearing.

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