Erin Poor and Kevin Abourezk, both named in the city's lawsuit, speak at a Niskíthe solidarity rally in early September.

The ACLU of Nebraska supports Native community leaders in Lincoln who are opposing plans for Wilderness Crossing, a controversial housing development next to a large natural park and sacred ceremonial grounds.

UPDATED SEPT 24, 2022

Q: WHAT’S THE LATEST?

In August, the Indian Center, Inc. and Niskíthe Prayer Camp filed a zoning appeal with support of the ACLU of Nebraska and Big Fire Law & Policy Group.

Before a hearing for that appeal could happen, the City of Lincoln filed a lawsuit that argues the City Board of Zoning Appeals is "without subject matter jurisdiction to hear or rule upon the issues raised in the [appeal]." The lawsuit asks a judge to issue an order that would prevent any further proceedings before the board on the appeal.

Indigenous residents were scheduled to have a hearing on their zoning appeal on Oct. 7, but that hearing is now on hold because of the city's lawsuit.

Q: WHAT'S THE ACLU'S RESPONSE?

We provided this statement to media after the lawsuit was filed: "This litigation aims to silence dissent. The City of Lincoln is clearly intent on denying Native residents an opportunity to appeal a development project and to share once more how it would threaten their ability to practice their religious beliefs. We are not intimidated and we will not back down. We will continue advocating for our clients, their voice in the process and their right to practice their religious beliefs.” - Rose Godinez, Senior Legal and Policy Counsel

Q: HOW CAN I HELP?

Encourage officials to be responsive to Native residents’ religious, historical, cultural, and environmental concerns. Ask officials to reverse their earlier approval of the Wilderness Crossing project due to its violations of the Lincoln-Lancaster County 2050 Comprehensive Plan.

Email the appeals board at plan@lincoln.ne.gov. Email Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird at mayor@lincoln.ne.gov. City Council contact information is listed online.

Q: WHY IS THE ACLU INVOLVED?

  • Officials must respect Indigenous residents and their connection with this land. The development would displace ceremonies at a nearby historic sweat lodge, threatening Indigenous community members’ ability and right to practice their religious beliefs.

  • Guidance in the Lincoln-Lancaster County 2050 Comprehensive Plan says officials should actively seek engagement from historically underrepresented groups during planning and decision-making. Instead, officials disregarded clear concerns about the site’s cultural and religious significance.
  • The appeal also raises environmental concerns. While the ACLU of Nebraska is not an environmental advocacy organization, we recognize that environmental matters are frequently tied to racial justice and indigenous rights.

Land acknowledgment:
The Indian Center, Inc., Niskíthe Prayer Camp, Big Fire Law & Policy Group and the ACLU of Nebraska acknowledge that the land at the center of this appeal as well as the land on which the appeal and related material were developed is ancestral and unceded territory of the Oto-Missouria, Pawnee, Arikara, Kansa, and UmoNhoN (Omaha) Peoples, among others who have been caretakers of the land for generations, and comprises the present-day service area of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. We honor that stewardship in this effort by working to end an injustice impacting Indigenous Nebraskans.