Little Big War: A band of armed Sioux warriors have seized 134,000 acres of Badlands National Park to protect what they say is a sacred burial ground
By Todd Wilkinson, contributing editor
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In oral memory older than writing, the men were called Tokala, a clan
of High Plains warriors revered for their fearlessness and disregard of
overwhelming odds. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota,
they still talk about the Tokala. When a battle seemed futile, they say,
the warriors would tie themselves to a stake in the ground, making
retreat impossible, and then embrace martyrdom. An Oglala Sioux who died
that way knew his spirit would transcend to the next world.
By the end of the 19th century, however, this society of fighters had
vanished forever. Or so it seemed. In the spring of 2002, word began
circulating through the reservation: The Tokala were mounting an
Just past midnight on June 21, 2002, some two dozen men crossed the
southern edge of Badlands National Park. They rode in a convoy of old
pickup trucks and carried tepee poles tipped with red, yellow, and black
prayer flags -- banners that Oglala Sioux warriors of old would fly
before battle. These modern-day Tokala also toted high-powered optic
scopes, topo maps, a laptop computer, cell phones, fresh buffalo meat, a
pipe with tobacco to make an offering to the Creator, and, some say, a
cache of guns. They packed in enough gear and provisions to sustain an
encampment indefinitely. Their goal was to seize the South Unit, a
134,000-acre portion of the park lying almost entirely within the
reservation's boundaries. The group made camp atop a broad, treeless
mesa called Cuny Table and, as the sun rose over the South Dakota
prairie, braced for a swift response from the federal government. Two
years later, they are still waiting.
The Tokala had reason to expect an attack. Several clan members had
lived through the 1973 shootout at Wounded Knee between 200 members of
the militant American Indian Movement (AIM) and FBI agents, in which two
Indians were killed. This time around, the Tokala began their fight with
a PR salvo. They sent a defiant statement to local newspapers and
broadcast it on the tribal radio station, declaring the South Unit off
limits to all "trespassers" -- meaning everyone but
themselves. They vowed to occupy the Badlands until the National Park
Service surrendered the swath of wild, eroded prairie to tribal control.
And, over many months, they scared off hikers, fired shots over the
heads of park visitors, threatened rangers with bodily harm, and called
for the removal of Park Superintendent William Supernaugh.
This hostile takeover is the first of its kind in American history.
It's the first time park officials have knowingly allowed visitors to be
booted out by vigilantes -- the Tokala estimate that they have asked
more than 100 hikers to leave. Yet the park service has not taken any
notable action, and the national press has virtually ignored the siege.
In fact, with the exception of the Oglala Sioux tribal leadership, a few
Indian-besotted Europeans, and the usual coterie of activists --
including actor Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn in the Lord of the
Rings films -- very few people outside South Dakota have noticed at all.
Even the state's congressional delegation has abstained from formal
It might seem inconceivable that a forbidding place like the
Badlands, a panorama literally gnawed from the Great Plains, would be
worth fighting for at all. Indeed, it would be impossible to assign a
single motive to the Tokala's fight. In the Badlands, everything is
complicated. This is a mystical, looking-glass realm where the lines of
reality are often blurry. It is the homeland of Crazy Horse and the
place where he is buried; the site of two violent conflicts at Wounded
Knee; and ground zero for a legal push to return the nearby Black Hills
to Native Americans. The Badlands are also a treasure trove of fossils,
a boon to poachers. And, some say, they are the scene of a government
attempt to cover up a second massacre at Wounded Knee's back door.
History and hearsay, legal battles and local politics, greed, heroism,
and the sheer frustration of living in the poorest place in America --
all are inseparable strands woven into the Tokala's decision to launch a
surprise offense against the U.S. government.
Every year, a million tourists turn off Interstate 90 at Wall, South
Dakota, home of Wall Drug, a tourist trap that advertises free ice water
for hundreds of miles. They veer south to drive the scenic Badlands loop
in the national park's northern tier, and then most of them get back
onto I-90 and resume their vacation. The rest, about 100,000, continue
south to the White River Ranger Station, a part of the national park
that lies within the bounds of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Until
recently, only a hundred or so of these visitors ventured more than a
quarter mile into the backcountry. Now, because of the occupation,
almost no one does.
This is a paradise for the bushwhacker who likes adventure, and for
young Sioux men on solitary vision quests. There are no marked trails in
the South Unit, no trailheads, no entrance stations, no designated
campsites. You pick your way through the shadowy labyrinths of twisting
ravines and canyon headwalls shaped like gothic castles and Druid ruins,
passing mountain lion tracks and darting antelope. Everywhere you step
there is the crunch of bleached...stones, you think. Look closer: They
are bones, millions of them.
Although the Badlands appear as prairie on the map, they more closely
resemble the desert Southwest. They are the arid yang to the lush yin of
the neighboring Black Hills, home of Mt. Rushmore. Looming tantalizingly
on the reservation's northern horizon, the Black Hills are the spiritual
heart of the Oglala, one of the seven bands of Lakota, or Sioux. This is
where the creator gave the Oglala their first laws and blessed them with
the buffalo. An 1868 treaty guaranteed the tribe's "absolute and
undisturbed" use of the Black Hills and Badlands in perpetuity.
Just 4 years later, geologists accompanying George Armstrong Custer on
an illicit expedition found gold in the Black Hills. By the start of
1875, 15,000 miners were squatting there. In 1876, the government seized
the Black Hills on behalf of the white settlers. In return for giving up
7.7 million acres of holy land, the Oglala were promised food, financial
aid, schools, and jobs.
The tribe's holdings shrank even more during World War II, when the
U.S. War Department used the power of eminent domain to convert this
part of the reservation into a bombing range. Planes and artillery
pummeled the area up until the 1960s. At that point, the Oglala had
every reason to believe that the land would be returned to the tribe.
Instead, the Department of the Interior made it part of Badlands
National Park. In 1976, a memorandum of agreement carved 134,000 acres
out of Pine Ridge to form the South Unit, doubling the park's size.
Tribal leaders, ignoring what must have been a sense of dejavu, signed
the memo in return for assurance of a federal windfall. The Park Service
promised that the South Unit would provide employment and income to Pine
Ridge, a benighted reservation with a chronic unemployment rate above 70
percent and a median income of $2,600. But the jobs and big money never
appeared. Once again the Lakota felt they were cheated by the Wasicu, or
At least this time the government didn't slaughter Indians. The 1868
treaty had been accompanied by a threat: Those Lakota who refused to
give up their nomadic culture and settle on the reservation would be
considered "hostiles" and hunted down. The hostiles responded
by annihilating Custer and his men at Little Big Horn.
Wasicu vengeance came 14 years later. In December 1890, the Seventh
Cavalry rode into Pine Ridge and surrounded one of the last free bands
of Lakota -- a starving and frostbitten group that had camped under a
white flag of truce beside Wounded Knee Creek. While the bluecoats
searched the few remaining Lakota fighters for guns, a shot was fired,
killing a trooper and triggering a hail of bullets from machine guns set
up on the ridges. An estimated 300 Lakota men, women, and children lay
dead or dying in the snow. To many Lakota, this is recent history. Some
had grandparents at Wounded Knee.
It is like the land itself. History is never linear here. The past
festers with each season as the soil exposes new reminders. And yet the
Badlands are traditionally a healing place. George Tall, leader of the
resurrected Tokala, sees no contradiction.
"This is where they rolled the bodies over the edge," Tall
says. He stands towering and brooding on the edge of Cuny Table as
spears of lightning streak ahead of a purple and pea-green thunderhead.
At 52, Tall has an intense, boiled-down look -- lean, fit, and
physically formidable, with a full head of long, raven-black hair and
ink pen tattoos on his arms. Half a life ago, he was a cohort of Russell
Means in AIM's early days. When Means left Pine Ridge to pursue an
acting career in Hollywood, it was Tall who remained behind.
Pointing to a ravine where he claims he found the bones of a young
Lakota child thrown from Cuny Table, Tall pauses for a moment. He
clenches his fists and tears up. "We are here to remember
them," he says.
He isn't referring to the victims of Wounded Knee but to an alleged
second slaughter. Not all of the Indians died from the cavalry's
Hotchkiss guns, he says. A few scrambled north for safety, negotiating a
maze of dry river washes that snake through a jumble of gumbo mountains
to a hidden place called the Stronghold. According to Tall, a militia of
white ranchers waiting in ambush at Cuny Table shot the unarmed Indians
and dumped their bodies into the chasm below.
Historians say they have never heard of such a massacre; nor, until
recently, have many Lakota. Tall himself has only hand-drawn maps and
blurry photos as proof. Still, against a century's backdrop of
atrocities, many of the tribe's members find it believable. It fits the
This time, however, when Tall and his Tokala seized Cuny Table, the
government responded with unexpected passivity. Officials are wary of
inciting another Waco -- or Wounded Knee, for that matter. When the
Tokala made vague threats against park officials, including Supernaugh,
the superintendent pulled all non-Lakota patrols out of the South Unit.
Supernaugh made a provocative exception when he sent several rangers
to escort a team of paleontologists into the South Unit. At the behest
of the Tokala, Oglala Sioux tribal police faced down the group at
gunpoint, their fingers poised on the triggers of loaded M-16s. Both
sides blinked. "We were lucky nobody got shot or killed, that's how
serious it was," Supernaugh says. "Next time, it could be
Reaching behind his desk at park headquarters in Interior, SD,
Supernaugh proffers a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon that he keeps in a
growing file on the Tokala siege. The drawing portrays a cowboy
returning on horseback from a negotiating session with Indians. His body
is covered with arrows. "On some days, I can definitely relate to
this guy," Supernaugh says. The soft-spoken 37-year veteran of the
park service sports a small ponytail and a bushy gray handlebar mustache
twisted tightly at the ends to resemble bull horns. Some of the Oglala
consider Supernaugh to be a bit of a dandy, but his enemies see him as
the archetype of the Wasicu oppressor. The Tokala have accused him of,
among other things, personally buzzing the protesters at Cuny Table with
a Piper Cub aircraft; requesting that the South Dakota Air National
Guard spy on the activists with black helicopters; masterminding a
covert fossil-stealing ring; and managing a government conspiracy to
mine Badlands uranium for nuclear bombs, a plot that closely follows the
story line of the movie "Thunderheart."
"You have to give my antagonists credit for being
creative," Supernaugh says. "The airplane stories are
particularly entertaining. For one, I don't have a pilot's license and
wouldn't know how to fly a plane. Number two, we don't have the budget
to be out taking joy rides. If we did have the money, we'd be using it
to monitor black-footed ferrets and bighorn sheep." He insists that
he doesn't take the allegations personally. "What they fail to
grasp is if they succeed in having me removed," he says,
"there's going to be another park superintendent arriving in my
place dedicated to upholding the same laws. And another after that, and
another after that."
Not all of the tribe support the Tokala. A few miles from the
encampment, 80-year-old Nellie Cuny serves up Indian tacos at the Cuny
Cafe, one of the few restaurants on the reservation. Her grandparents
were survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre, and she says her family has
always regarded the Badlands as sacred. Her own granddaughter is a
Badlands ranger who hopes to make a career with the park service. For
years, the Cuny family has grazed cattle on the plateau. Now the Tokala
have padlocked fence gates, restricting access to the public grazing
allotment for which the family pays thousands of dollars a year. When
asked about the Tokala, Nellie Cuny shakes her head in disgust. Her
younger sister, Frieda Jaeger, is more talkative. "I'd like to tell
them a thing or two and it's not going to be nice," Jaeger offers.
"I think they're bozos."
The siege has also hurt the business of Ben and Richard Sherman,
brothers who until recently led bushwhacking adventures through the
South Unit. The Shermans don't support the occupiers' militant tactics
either. But they understand the resentment that motivates it. Direct
descendents of Crazy Horse's grandfather, their own grandparents were
displaced when the government seized the land for the bombing range,
paying a pittance to willing sellers and forcing out the rest. Richard
Sherman remembers the daily flash of incendiary bombs and the boom of
explosive projectiles going on for decades. "It was like a war zone
out there," he says.
Strangely, the same natural forces that thrust bones to the surface
also bury the ammunition. Though there are plenty of spent shells and
other mock-battle detritus scattered throughout the South Unit, they are
not readily visible, and the place looks as wild as it was before the
The Shermans believe the park service should honor its promise to let
the tribe comanage the South Unit, but they say the activists undermine
the tribe's credibility by basing their occupation on a dubious
conspiracy. "I have no doubt that people are buried out
there," says Ben. "Humans have had a documented presence in
the Badlands for at least 11,000 years. I'm sure there are Lakota and
settlers and army soldiers and other Indians who died while they were
walking across it.
"But when I was growing up on the reservation, no one I knew had
ever heard of these so-called slaughters. If you ask me, I think this is
all about something else."
By "something else," he refers to remains -- not human, but
fossil. Supernaugh says it explicitly: "This is about fossils and
money, big money."
The usual features that inspire the creation of a national park --
sublime scenery, superb hiking -- are not the chief reason the
Department of the Interior absorbed the South Unit. The area is shaped
by the White River Geologic Formation, a combination of earthly forces
that happens to be ideal for preserving remains. The South Unit is
perhaps the world's richest source of fossils. Entombed in a deathbed of
shifting sand and silt, the bones go back 30 million years to the
Oligocene epoch, the period that followed the age of the dinosaurs. Each
year, wind, frost heaves, snow, and rain bring thousands of fossils to
the surface, from massive predators to giant turtles to grass eaters of
SUV proportions. Federal law forbids private collection. But if you want
a souvenir of your own, you can drive to one of the numerous shops
advertising Badlands fossils throughout western South Dakota. You barely
have to leave the reservation. In the Longhorn Store right across the
boundary, glass cases display the petrified remains of bulls and
tortoises. Ask the proprietor for something special, and he will gladly
show you more in the back room.
The government, for its part, supervises the excavation of South Unit
fossils and holds them "in trust" for the Lakota people; the
tribe is not permitted to sell them or keep them on the reservation.
Most are stored at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City. When
the skeleton of a Titanothere, a rare, rhinoceros like creature the size
of an elephant, was found protruding from a remote cliff in the South
Unit, the park service felt that it had to act fast. "A complete
skull can turn into a bunch of little bone chips" when it's exposed
to the Badlands' climate, Supernaugh notes.
The superintendent enlisted the School of Mines and the Denver Museum
of Natural History to conduct the excavation in the spring of 2002. He
informed John Yellow Bird Steele, chairman of the Oglala Sioux tribe, of
the project in a memorandum that described the location as "the
Titanothere graveyard" within the Badlands "Stronghold
The words "graveyard" and "Stronghold" would come
back to haunt Supernaugh.
When researchers arrived at the site, they discovered that poachers
had beaten them to it. A crude attempt to wedge the Titanothere from the
cliff side had damaged the skeleton. Nearby fossil beds showed more
signs of aggressive pilfering. But by then, Supernaugh had problems of
his own. Pine Ridge was abuzz with distortions of his memo to Steele.
The word around the reservation was that the park service intended to
dig up a human graveyard near the Stronghold, one of the most sacred
sites in the Badlands. In 1890, bands of the remaining free Lakota went
to this well-hidden site to perform a ceremony called the Ghost Dance,
believing that the ritual would bring back dead relatives and vanished
buffalo while making them invulnerable to Wasicu bullets. The government
saw the dance as a prelude to battle and banned the ceremony. When
Custer's nemesis, Sitting Bull, became a Ghost Dancer, tribal police
shot him dead.
Tales of Wasicu scientists plotting to go after Lakota remains at the
Stronghold stirred up the Lakota's worst fears. "Once a crazy rumor
like that starts circulating, it's hard to put it back in the
bottle," notes Supernaugh. He adds an understatement: "This is
a place where trust in the federal government isn't very high to begin
A few days later, the rumor gained credibility when a frumpy Lakota
housewife named Lovey Two Bulls went before the Oglala Sioux Tribal
Council and claimed she had proof that the park service was using the
Titanothere dig as a ruse to collect remains of resting ancestors. Then
she raised the stakes: The slaughtered Lakota were not buried in one
mass grave but in two, she asserted. She placed one site near Cuny Table
and the second near the Titanothere. Two Bulls held up grainy
photographs and said they depicted graves. In addition, she declared,
she and her sons had found bone fragments from Indians shot on Cuny
Table. Chairman Steele demanded an immediate moratorium on the
Titanothere excavation, and the tribal commission used the issue to
justify a resolution calling for an end to the park and a ban on all
visitors. The tribe hired Lovey's sons, Tony, Tom, and Ernest, to patrol
the South Unit and gather more evidence.
Does Steele believe the Two Bulls clan? Whenever asked, he responds
evasively. It is politically unwise for a tribal politician to side with
the feds. And Steele may be reluctant to buck the militants; his
opponent in the last tribal election was Russell Means. "What's
missing in all of this is leadership, to sort out fact from fiction and
calm people down," Ben Sherman says. "John Steele has acted
more like a white politician than a leader of the Lakota people.
Supernaugh hasn't behaved any better. If trouble starts, it'll be on
When Supernaugh dismissed the massacre story as absurd and announced
that the Titanothere excavation would proceed as planned, Lovey Two
Bulls met with George Tall, who mobilized his AIM friends. Supernaugh
credits Lovey with making him one of the most hated people in the area,
but he says her motive is more economic than political or personal. The
Titanothere excavation would hinder the work of fossil poachers. And
Lovey Two Bulls, he says, is one of them.
The Two Bulls family resides on a massive whale fin of prairie that
splits the Badlands in two. "Mi casa es su casa," reads a sign
nailed to a wall next to the family's front door. Casa de Two Bulls is a
clutter of junk. The yard is a mess of outbuildings, discarded trash,
and rusted vehicles scavenged for parts. When a visitor appears in the
driveway, a dog growls and a pair of exotic geese come honking. Lovey
Two Bulls opens the door to reveal a living room in an equal state of
dishevelment. Piles of paper are everywhere. Shelves, some holding books
on paleontology, are coated with dust. Nonetheless, the place has a cozy
feel made cheery by Lovey's toothy smile. The frizzy-haired 62-year-old
volunteers that her greatest ambition is to be a good grandma.
Lovey's husband of four decades, Eddie Two Bulls, emerges from the
bedroom and grunts himself forward in a wheelchair. A 66-year-old
painter of wildlife scenes, he used to sell his work in Grand Teton
National Park. Decades ago, an auto wreck made him a paraplegic and left
Lovey to support a family of five. Her three sons, now all grown, have
found their own share of trouble. One was sent to prison for
manslaughter after a fatal accident. Another was accused of running over
a fellow Lakota with a car in a drunken argument.
Lovey wheels Eddie into the backyard and then brings forth an old
metal pail full of mineralized hooves, jaws, and other bones. She lifts
a weighty hunk about the size of a melon: part of a Titanothere
skeleton, she says. Lovey and Eddie tick off the names of dozens of
extinct species, offering each genus in Latin, their relative abundance
or rarity, and going rates on the global market. They name renowned
paleontologists they've met over the years and digs in which their boys
assisted. "You can't say we're ignorant," says Lovey. "My
boys can pick up a piece of bone and tell you what creature it is."
Tears come to her eyes when she tells how fossil collecting has been
a source of solace for her sons dating back to their youth, when a white
physician on the reservation introduced them to paleontology. "They
live fossils," she says. Lovey has admitted numerous times, at
public meetings and to the press, that her family has made its living by
selling Badlands fossils. She sees nothing wrong with it. In her mind it
isn't poaching; it's a valid form of subsistence. "When I see
fossils, I think of all the money they are bringing in," she says.
Lakota and non-Indians alike have been taking fossils for years;
according to Lovey, tribal Chairman Steele was a bone prospector in his
Lovey and her family maintain that the park service's prohibition
follows a racist double standard. It prevents impoverished locals from
harvesting items that are only going to decay anyway; meanwhile, it
allows well-heeled museums to collect them. "I think them fossils
should be collected before they go to nothing," Eddie says.
"Ninety percent of them haven't even been exposed, but we've
already lost so much because we weren't paying attention."
"Stealing is stealing," retorts Terry Grosz, a retired law
enforcement specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The
South Unit's value lies not just in fossils that have been revealed;
"we have no idea what magnificence lies at the unknown levels
beneath the surface," he says. "For poachers to go in there
and crudely take those items from the face of the Earth is like serving
crystal at a table with a wrecking ball. Once those things are removed,
wholly intact or in pieces, so much will be lost forever." Grosz
believes that the illicit trade of Badlands fossils is worth many
millions annually. A well-preserved skull of a saber-toothed tiger can
fetch the finder thousands of dollars. The complete skeleton of a beast
new to science can rise to seven or eight figures. And in 1997, the
Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago paid $8.36 million for the
T-Rex named Sue, whose skeleton was uncovered north of Pine Ridge.
Just one officer remains to stop the poaching on the South Unit, a
Lakota named Vincent Littlewhiteman. A law enforcement specialist with
training in the Army and Bureau of Indian Affairs in Arizona,
Littlewhiteman is the only ranger the Tokala will allow into the South
Unit. He would not be an easy man to eject. Littlewhiteman has an
authoritative stare accentuated by a military-style buzz cut, highway
patrolman's sunglasses, and a body builder's physique. Stenciled onto
his knuckles is a homemade tattoo bearing the letters S I O U X. Ben
Sherman says he walks a cultural tightrope. A Lakota in uniform brings
back bad tribal memories; when Crazy Horse was murdered, his arms were
pinned by a Lakota wearing a law enforcement uniform, a former friend
named Little Big Man. Says Sherman: "Every morning that he wakes up
and looks in the mirror, whether he has his park service uniform on or
not, he is first an Indian." Littlewhiteman clearly feels the
strain. Five minutes into the interview, he lets his ranger bravado
slip. "I'm caught between two worlds," he says.
Lovey denies that the conspiracy theory about mass graves was
fabricated to prevent park authorities from interfering with poaching.
But Littlewhiteman insists the Two Bulls family is lying. "I can
tell you one thing right now," he says. "The National Park
Service is not going to start digging up grave sites."
Lovey says she has shown hard forensic evidence to Chairman Steele
but purposefully kept it from the eyes of Supernaugh and Littlewhiteman.
There are well-documented cases of researchers disinterring native
people, and Lovey says she fears the feds would exhume the dead and
destroy evidence. "We found skeletons minus their skulls. Where did
they go? To a museum? Our dead should be allowed to rest with dignity. I
will not give up the location of these sites."
Lovey tells a photographer on assignment to this magazine that her
sons Tom and Ernie will guide him to one of the sites. They drive for an
hour through roadless backcountry, using a Jeep Cherokee and an ATV
(donated, incidentally, by Viggo Mortensen), stopping finally at a cliff
wall near the Titanothere site. Small, hard chunks of something lie
scattered at the bottom of the cliff. They could be stones, or fossils,
or human bones; it would take a lab analysis to tell for sure. But Tom
and Ernie are not about to let a Wasicu wander off with a sample.
Although the Two Bulls clan and the Tokala are eager to publicize
their cause, it takes numerous requests before Tall approves a visit,
and then only with a Tokala escort. At noon on the appointed date, a
fleet of pickups driven by Tokala and non-Indian groupies leads the way
along axle-crunching dirt tracks that cross gates blocked with barbed
wire before crossing Cuny Table.
It is an impressive place to hold a protest. The table's edge, with
its sheer 500-foot drop, summons butterflies to the gut of the
unprepared visitor. A yurtlike shelter sits on a nose of land; nearby is
a camper trailer, bunkers covered with sheets of plywood, and a latrine
whose throne provides an inspiring perch. The camp has a temporary,
messy look. As Supernaugh says, "The place has been turned into a
trash dump. Very unparklike." The superintendent notes primly that
the Tokala never applied for a camping permit. Not to mention the privy,
which violates park regulations.
A hand-painted sign forbids guns and alcohol, but police reports
suggest enforcement is lax. Tall contends that the Tokala are unarmed,
although he admits that his own gun "accidentally discharged"
in a confrontation with a crew of Lakota who were cleaning up the
bombing range. His insistence that this is a "peace camp" is
contradicted by a Tokala named Tom Clifford. "Yes, we're all gun
toters, but you don't see no guns, no alcohol, because we're not giving
the feds any reason to come in here with their Homeland Security
terrorist b***s***," Clifford says. But he warns: "Supernaugh
should know that we've got guns if we need them."
In honor of their visitors, the Tokala prepare a feast of boiled
buffalo stew and bologna sandwiches, serving it up in the yurt as a
thunderstorm blows in. The scene is more Harley rally than armed camp. A
few warriors, pot bellied and stiff muscled, wear black biker T-shirts
with AIM slogans. Some of them talk like Cheech and Chong. One has a
shaved head and wraparound sunglasses. A man without front teeth sports
military fatigues and matted dreadlocks that hang to his waist. He types
on a laptop while Tom Clifford delivers an angry speech. "We know
what Custer thought of Indians and look at what happened to him at
Little Bighorn," Clifford says menacingly.
Sitting alone in the camper trailer is Charlie Smoke, a Tokala sentry
who says he was fired from the National Park Service after he questioned
federal policy. (Supernaugh says he was dismissed for downloading
pornography on the job.) Smoke has a tanned face and long brown hair,
and he claims a mixed heritage of Lakota and Mohawk. But a bit of
digging reveals that his real name is Roger Leo Adams Jr. and that he
grew up in Memphis. Canadian officials contacted his parents a few years
ago when he refused to provide a birth certificate to immigration
officials. His mother told the press that Roger "had always said he
wanted to be an Indian."
Meanwhile, Tall strolls solo along the dizzying heights of the
Badlands chasm, speaking on a cell phone to a lookout posted a few miles
to the west. Tall speaks in Lakota to prevent the National Park Service
from listening in. Asked for a translation, he replies: "When I
want to tell the truth, I speak Lakota. When I want to lie, I speak
A meeting of the Tokala commences when Tall strolls into the yurt.
The eight warriors in attendance agree to issue another ultimatum, this
one informing the National Park Service that the 1976 Memorandum of
Agreement is null and void. In return for the South Unit, the National
Park Service promised to help clean up the bombing range and share in
the gate proceeds from all of the park entrance stations, including the
busy northern gateway south of Wall. The memorandum also obligated the
agency to help construct concession facilities and create service jobs
for reservation inhabitants, establish a legion of Lakota rangers,
finish a paved road to provide access, re-establish a bison herd, plan a
trail and campground system in the backcountry, and erect a
multimillion-dollar, tribal-run interpretive center that would explain
the Lakota culture and even house local fossils.
The feds made good on the gate receipts, which total around $400,000
a year, and cleanup crews are working the bombing range. Other than
that, there's little to show for the memorandum. The visitor center
still occupies a double-wide trailer that had to be shut down and
disinfected last year because of a Hanta virus scare.
Tornado warnings have been issued in this corner of South Dakota, and
as the thunderstorm billows onto Cuny Table, most of the occupiers drive
off in their pickups, leaving only Tall and an aide on the rampart.
Motioning at the South Unit's rugged maw, Tall speaks of a passing into
the next world that would do Crazy Horse proud. He says he isn't afraid.
Park rangers and FBI agents in flak jackets could appear any day now.
"I believe they are going to come," he says, "and if they
do, they'll turn us into martyrs." Ben Sherman insists Tall isn't
bluffing. "There are people here who, because of lack of employment
opportunities, have become almost professional agitators and they aren't
buffoons," he notes. "They're looking to do something
honorable in defense of the tribe and make their families proud. If the
National Park Service provokes violence, there are going to be people
joining the Tokalas willing to lay down their lives."
Still, the Shermans credit Tall with remarkable restraint. They say
that when Supernaugh sent a team to check out the Titanothere site, the
Tokala leader chose a nonviolent response. "Bill Supernaugh should
have known better than to send his people out into the park. He knew
full well he might incite the Tokala, and he put the lives of innocent
people at risk," says Ben. "It was a good thing George Tall
kept his cool."
The Two Bulls family is less impressed. Lovey's husband Eddie says it
was he who told Tall about the legend of the Tokala. "They call
themselves Tokalas," he says, laughing. "They didn't even know
what the Tokalas were before I told them. The real Tokalas died out
during the 1800s. Those guys are Tokala wannabes."
When Tall is told that William Supernaugh's strategy is to wait out
the occupation in the theory that the Tokala will pack up and go home,
the Tokala leader seems surprised. "He said that? If Bill
Supernaugh wonders how long we'll be out here, our response is as long
as it takes," Tall says. "Probably longer than that."
If anything, Tall's motives are even more complicated than those of
the group he leads. His cause is not based entirely on poachers and
rumors, massacres and cover-ups. Tall says the Badlands continue to be a
magnet for contemporary Lakota warriors because of the sanctity of the
land, made more acute by its rare geographical isolation. Tall remembers
the stories traditional elders told, always in Lakota, about Crazy
Horse. Killed in 1877 when he went to Ft. Robinson in Nebraska to
negotiate with the federal authorities, Crazy Horse was carried by his
parents in a horse cart back to Pine Ridge, where they interred him in
an unmarked spot -- in the hardscrabble of the South Unit, some say, or
close by in the rolling hills and juniper-peppered ridges behind Tall's
hometown, the tiny reservation community of Manderson. He didn't die in
battle (he was bayoneted by Indian police) but his tribe reveres him as
a martyr. A white man had once asked Crazy Horse to point to the
geographic center of his home. Scorning the proffered map, the
warrior-mystic had replied with a bitter irony: "It is where my
people are buried." An Indian burial was nothing like the Wasicu's
version. Its cemeteries had no fences, and most graves were unmarked.
But these places were guarded as holy ground.
Tall understands why non-Lakota hikers, too, living in a crowded
world and seeking physical adventure, make pilgrimages here in search of
their own connection to the Earth. But after being pushed to the fringe
of Wasicu culture, he says, the Lakota now want to be left alone. Once,
at a negotiating session with the government, Tall lectured the
bureaucrats: "You only work here; we live here. This is why we're
fighting for this land."
That fight has borne some fruit; the Tokala have succeeded in getting Supernaugh to put the Titanothere project on hold.
But returning the South Unit to the tribe is another thing.
It would take an act of Congress to undo a national park.
If the National Park Service even endorsed divestment of the South Unit, it could bolster existing Indian claims at other parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Great Smokies, and Yosemite.
It could open the door, too, to the return of the Black Hills -- none
of which is likely to happen. But that isn't the point, exactly. The
point is to hold the South Unit for as long as it takes. Probably
So Tall stands on Cuny Table like a Tokala of old, staked to the ground and ready to defend even the most hopeless of causes. This is where the honor lies. It is where his people are buried.
Additional and highly recommended websites:
Write or fax William Supernaugh to demand he honor the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, and the wishes of the traditional Lakota people.
Badlands National Park
P.O. Box 6
Interior, SD 57750
605-433-6260 or 605-867-1271
Fax: 605-433-5404 or 605-867-5044
Doug Albertson (biology) [email protected]
Rachel Benton (paleo) [email protected]
Dan Johnson, Park Curator [email protected]
Research coordinator: Brian Kenner [email protected]
does a book review: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/parksci/vol21/vol21(2)/06-1book_review_
Supernaugh does a book review: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/parksci/vol21/vol21(2)/06-1book_review_
Badlands fossil dig delayed
August 9, 2002
By Heidi Bell Gease, Journal Staff Writer
[email protected] or 605-394-8419
Rapid City Journal
Rapid City, South Dakota
To submit a Letter to the Editor: [email protected]
Stronghold Table, South Dakota - The National Park Service has
delayed a proposed fossil dig in the South Unit of Badlands National
Park pending a meeting with Oglala Sioux tribal officials.
DLN - Dakota, Lakota, Nakota Human Rights Advocacy Coalition
Stronghold Donation Address
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE TOKALA AT STRONGHOLD
IMPORTANT! GATHERING ON THE STRONGHOLD! PLEASE COME!
*Independent observers ready to be witnesses in case of confrontation. *Infrared cameras and goggles for night-vision.
*Four big mud tires for serious SUV off-roading.
Lakota protest National Park Service
National Park Service spokesperson Marianne Mills commented that the
entire issue is simply a misunderstanding in terminology.
They made us many promises,
more than I can remember. But they kept but one: They promised to take
our land ... and they took it. - Chief Red Cloud
January 15, 1999, report from the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG). The report could divide political and fiscal conservatives. The OIG reviewed 12 sales from 1992 to 1996 in CA, MN, MS, VA, and WV. In 10 sales, several measures to minimize environmental harm were not implemented. Also, 3 contracts authorized the harvesting of more trees than specified by the agency's own environmental assessments. Agency critics and whistleblowers claim the practices it details are widespread. Report:
Executive summary: http://www.fguardians.org/news/oig-fs-0199.html
Timber sale data: http://www.fs.fed.us/land/fm
Last but far from least is this Very Important Article:
Interpreting Wildlife Management Policy to Meet Individual Park Needs: The National Park Service's Management Policy in the 21st Century
By William R. Supernaugh
The George Wright Forum (pages 19-22)
Volume Sixteen, Number Three
When the National Park Service (NPS) released its current Management Policies volume (NPS 1988), it recognized that parks needed flexibility to apply prescriptive management techniques to wildlife residing within park boundaries for all or a part of their life cycle. Despite continued references in the media and some professional journals, NPS does not rely wholly on the principle of “natural regulation” when contemplating the long-term management of park ecosystems (NPS 1988, chap. 4:6). While preferring to manage holistically -- that is, at the ecosystem level -- park managers must, of necessity, adopt single-species management programs in some instances.
For a better understanding of the manager’s options with regard to prescriptive management of a species, the following review of some of the wildlife-related policy statements is presented. As a first screening, faunal components of park ecosystems are noted as being either native or exotic (non-native) species (NPS 1988, chap. 4:5). Within the former category, NPS sets forth policies applicable to managing both resident and migratory native species, even going so far as to discuss the need to vary management practices for species with relatively short migration patterns, such as elk, versus animals having long migration routes, which may only include park-administered lands for a short period of time, such as whales or butterflies. Providing a further breakdown of discretionary decision-making, NPS acknowledges that management of harvested species and their habitat may occur in those areas where Congress has specifically authorized hunting or trapping.
A second category within the management policies comprises nonnative species, also called “alien” or “exotic” species. In general, NPS pursues opportunities to limit the establishment of species that were not a natural component of the ecological system characteristic of a particular unit of the National Park System. NPS policy allows different actions in response to non-native species that extend their range to parks (coyote and armadillo, for example), as opposed to zebra mussels, brown tree snakes, and European wild boars. There is even a provision for the introduction of new exotic species when they may control previously established ones (NPS 1988, chap. 4:12). Leaf, root, and stemboring beetles that live on purple loosestrife are but one example of such introductions.
A third discrete emphasis of NPS’s wildlife management policy is on the management of threatened and endangered wildlife (NPS 1988, chap. 4:11). Active management of such special-status species may be warranted under certain conditions, including but not limited to removal of targeted predator species, preconditioning of animals slated for introduction, and intense habitat manipulation to favor their success.
By now you should get the idea that wildlife management in the National Park System is not a single set of rules; rather, it constitutes broad guidelines designed to meet Servicewide objectives. Due to the diversity of areas (which now number over 370 sites; NPS 1997), their legislative history, their location within a larger ecosystem context, and the particular needs of a species or assemblage of species, park managers have a great deal of flexibility and discretion in designing wildlife programs. In 1991, NPS produced a guideline for natural resource management, NPS-77, which further amplifies the 1988 management policies with established or recommended practices and procedures for many aspects of the program (NPS 1991). Among these are more detailed discussions of native animal management; endangered, threatened and rare species; hunting and trapping; and exotic species management. These sections are designed to assist park managers in the development of resource management plans and action plans for specific programs. Just as important, they discuss the external concerns of managing native animals across park boundaries.
By way of illustrating policy interpretation and application in real situations, let us examine several recent events that have occurred at Badlands National Park, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. Our first case study involves controlling the migration and establishment of black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies on private and national grassland prairie communities adjacent to the national park. Within South Dakota, the prairie dog is designated a pest species and active efforts are maintained by the state to eliminate colonies when range managers complain (SDDA 1994). For the park manager, the policy is relatively clear: a native species to the badlands, prairie dogs are an important -- and according to some (Kotliar et al. in press; Miller et al. 1994), a keystone -- species within prairie ecosystems. (A keystone species has a large overall effect on community or ecosystem structure or function, an effect disproportionately large relative to its abundance; see Power et al. 1996.) Seen as a competitor for scarce forage and a destroyer of rangeland, emotions run high when colonies expand outside the park boundary. The park has, on a case-by-case basis, prior to 1994, controlled colonies within one-half mile of private lands, using zinc phosphide, when requested to do so by adjacent land-owners. The Management Policies define an animal “pest” population as one which interferes with the purposes of the park (NPS 1988, chap. 4:13). While prairie dogs in and of themselves don't interfere with park purposes, they are a state-listed pest species and subject to control. The NPS policy statement goes on to say, “Native pests will be allowed to function unimpeded except where control is desirable ... to prevent outbreaks of the pest from spreading to ... other plant communities ... outside the park.” The state, along with a private landowner, may take steps to control a population beyond park boundaries only to have it recolonized by animals migrating out of a heavy density on park lands, creating a chronic problem for the land-owner. In such a case, and using the exemption cited above, NPS would conduct a biological assessment, and, if disparate densities between NPS lands and private lands outside the boundary exist, control measures may be initiated. Further complicating any such action contemplated by NPS is the ongoing effort to reintroduce the endangered black-footed ferret onto park lands. While this may make control efforts more complex, the environmental impact statement for ferret management (USFWS 1994) did allow for the continuation of limited prairie dog removal even where the presence of ferrets was documented.
A second case study involves one of several species of native grasshoppers found within the prairie ecosystem. One, the migratory grasshopper (Melanoplus sanguinipes), is of economic interest as it is known to contribute significantly to crop and rangeland damage (APHIS 1997). Through emergency designation it has been declared a pest species in South Dakota in past years (SDDA 1997). In 1996 and 1997, populations increased dramatically, and agricultural landowners adjacent to the south boundary of Badlands initiated a campaign to obtain funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to conduct a preemptive aerial spray campaign on lands administered by NPS but held in trust for the Oglala Sioux Nation within the Pine Ridge Reservation. Using the same policy guidance as in the previous instance, APHIS was requested to initiate aerial spraying during the third instar of the species and at a time when visual counts with a sweep net were resulting in over 90 animals per sweep. A quarter-mile buffer zone was established within the park boundary adjacent to cropland.
I believe that the Servicewide policies pertaining to the management of wildlife species do provide viable options for prescriptive manipulation of populations and their habitats. Both prairie dogs and grasshoppers -- by nature cyclical and migratory -- influence vegetation within an ecological context across political and ownership boundaries. Solutions based upon research findings and founded on common understanding and compromise among the several affected parties, using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach, can achieve results that meet each party’s objectives without unacceptable long-term loss to park resources.
Parks do not exist in vacuums, but rather as islands among a sea of jurisdictional ownerships. Managing fragmented ecosystems with only part of the historic faunal component, policy must -- and does -- recognize the need to intervene at some definable threshold of tolerance.
APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service]. 1997. APHIS Environmental
Assessment: Rangeland Grasshopper Cooperative Management Program for Western South
Dakota. N.p.: APHIS.
Kotlier, N. B., B. W. Baker, A. D. Whicker, and G. Plumb. In press. Are prairie dogs a
keystone species? Journal of Environmental Management.
Miller, B. G., G. Ceballos, and R. Reading. 1994. The prairie dog and biotic diversity.
Conservation Biology 8, 677-681.
NPS [National Park Service]. 1988. Management Policies. Washington, D.C.: NPS.
———. 1991. NPS-77 Natural Resource Management Guideline. Washington, D.C.: NPS.
———. 1997. The National Parks: Index 1997-1999. Washington, D.C.: NPS.
Power, M. E., D. Tillman, J. A. Estes, B. A. Menge, W. J. Bond, L. S. Mills, G. Daily, J. C
Castilla, J. Lubechenco, and R. T. Paine. 1996. Challenges in the quest for keystones.
BioScience 466, 9-20.
SDDA [South Dakota Department of Agriculture]. 1994. Prairie Dog Management in South
Dakota. N.p.: SDDA.
———. 1997. South Dakota Grasshopper Program Manual. N.p.: SDDA.
USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]. 1994. Final Environmental Impact Statement,
Black-footed Ferret Recovery, Conata Basin/Badlands, SD. N.p.: USFWS.
William R. Supernaugh
Badlands National Park
P.O. Box 6, Interior,
South Dakota 57750
http://www.georgewright.org/163supernaugh.pdf (four pages)
Environmental Assessment for the Fire Management Plan, Badlands National Park (Jackson, Pennington and Shannon Counties, South Dakota)
March 31, 2004