Oill drilling battle over Bear Butte in South Dakota


In Sturgis S.D., Meade County commissioners abandoned the notion of suing over the state’s recent decision to limit oil drilling at the Bear Butte National Historic Landmark. At a June 8 hearing on the matter,  they voted unanimously to send a letter to state regulators, disputing the decision to hold oil drilling to five wells, instead of 24 initially permitted near the prayer site sacred to Native American tribes. They also voted to request a State Attorney General’s report on the validity of its boundaries.

The South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment decided on May 18 to reduce Nakota Energy LLC’s 2010 permit for oil drilling in the sacred butte area from 24 to five initial wells, after three public comment periods revealed substantial opposition on religious grounds.

Located six miles northeast of Sturgis in Bear Butte State Park, the landmark is a sacred prayer gathering site for at least two dozen tribes. The Standing Rock, Rosebud, Northern Cheyenne, Santee, Lower Brule Sioux and Sisseton-Wahpeton tribes contested the oil drilling proposal during state comment periods.

The county commission chambers have been the scene of numerous hearings over the years regarding commercial developments in the environs of the religious site, including bars and a shooting range. The county would get a share of taxes generated by production and pipeline infrastructure.

Meade County resident Nancy Kyle called for conciliation instead of questioning landmark boundaries. "Sit down with people, please," she said. "It’s for our grandchildren. It’s for all of us."

Rena Hymans, a landowner near Bear Butte,  expressed conflicting viewpoints. As an attorney representing Oglala, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and other Sioux tribes, she said, her practice of Indian law informs her understanding of the Native American concept of land as a spiritual asset rather than a commodity.

On the other hand, she questioned whether her plans to build a house, plant trees and run livestock would be jeopardized by the precedent of the state’s decision.

Mato Paha, as the mountain is called in Lakota, was noted and reserved as a traditional council site in the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie treaties with the U.S. government.

Reprinted from Native Sun News. Talli Nauman is the NSN Health and Environment Editor and is a co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. She can be contaced at: talli.nauman@gmail.com.