In many places, there are no fences that divide Temple’s land and the other land, which the tribe leases to ranchers as range units. In 2012, Temple was told that the tribe had cancelled his lease for two of the units near Red Shirt he had grazed for at least 20 years, near Red Shirt, where he had established a home.
This land is whose? Rancher pitted against rancher in grazing battle on Pine Ridge Reservation
Curtis Temple says the rain has come at the right time, making for an excellent grass situation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Still, the grass might be greener on the other side.
The Porcupine, S.D., rancher, received word from the Bureau of Indian Affairs earlier this spring that his bids for Range Units had been denied.
But he recently won a legal battle with the federal government. The United States charged him with destruction of federal property for continuing to graze range units that had been leased to another rancher. Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey Viken dismissed the charges, and the government said it would not re-indict Temple.
The magistrate judge pointed out the federal court did not have jurisdiction over that situation, that the charges against Temple were not appropriate, and that no individual has ever been charged with “destruction of federal property” for trespassing on or grazing Indian trust land. “Indian lands are not included in the term ‘public lands,’ she said. She also points out that the Oglala Sioux Tribe has law to deal with such a situation: Any Indian who shall…willfully and knowingly allow livestock to occupy or graze on the cultivated or other lands, shall be deemed guilty of an offense and upon conviction thereof. Shall be punished by a fine not to exceed five dollars ($5.00), with costs; in addition to any award of damages for the benefit of the injured party.
But that’s the middle of the story, not the beginning.
Temple’s family has grazed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation since the 1930s. Himself an enrolled member of the tribe, Temple owns several parcels of land that are interspersed with trust land and tribal land managed by the tribe. In many places, there are no fences that divide Temple’s land and the other land, which the tribe leases to ranchers as range units.
In 2012, Temple was told that the tribe had cancelled his lease for two of the units near Red Shirt he had grazed for at least 20 years, near Red Shirt, where he had established a home.
Temple appealed the decision, and according to him, “it got tabled. As far as I’m concerned it is still tabled. They never did get back together and say, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’ They kept on with business as usual – I’m still waiting for another meeting.”
Temple said that in that community, he owns about 2,000 acres – 1,000 fenced privately and another 1,000, in small parcels, “scattered” throughout the range units he had been grazing.
The two range units, 169 and P501, were allocated to Donald “Duke” Buffington, a rancher who had recently moved from Minnesota to live with his grandmother on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Buffington, also a tribal member, said he came home to help his grandma because his grandfather fell sick. He then put in for the unit Curtis had grazed for over 20 years, thinking Curtis wouldn’t miss that small piece of grazing land. Buffington applied for an allocation, and the tribal council approved his request.
“Curtis had it as Indian preference,” said Buffington, adding that Temple owns a lot more cattle than he does.
The allocation that Buffington sought is through a program designed to help young producers and those without large numbers of cattle get a start, he said.
Buffington, who lives near the range units, by Red Shirt Village, said that the tribal land committee approved his allocation request, and that they contacted him in 2012 to let him know he could graze those two units.
“I thought they told Curtis, ‘you don’t have it anymore.’ I didn’t think it would be so difficult.” Buffington said that Temple had the units based on “Indian preference,” but that the allocation system would give him preference over Temple.
Even though he would turn cattle out onto the units in question. Temple would move them back, to his grandmother’s deeded ground which neighbored the units Buffington said. “I’ve paid almost $30,000 for this lease and he’d just kick them back and kick them back.” Buffington said that he reported Temple for trespassing and before Temple’s cattle were impounded, he was unable to use the units, and his cattle would graze his grandmother’s private pasture.
*Featured image taken from Curtis Temple’s Facebook page
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