Media Contact

Sam Petto, ACLU of Nebraska Communications Director

March 7, 2023

LINCOLN, Neb. - The Indian Center, Inc. and four community members will sue the City of Lincoln in a new effort to get a hearing for their appeal of a controversial housing development that they say would displace ceremonies at a nearby historic sweat lodge.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska, Big Fire Law & Policy Group, and attorney Ken Winston are representing the group.

A notice of appeal was filed yesterday with the Lincoln City Clerk to be transferred to Lancaster County District Court. The filing essentially tees up a lawsuit that will request a court order sending the issue back to the City Board of Zoning Appeals declaring that officials violated city code and plaintiffs’ due process rights when they refused to hear their appeal of the Wilderness Crossing development.

The plaintiffs have voiced religious, historical, cultural and environmental concerns about the project, saying it would displace traditional religious ceremonies on adjacent land.

This week’s filing comes after the City of Lincoln sued the group last fall to try to prevent board proceedings on their appeal. A judge dismissed that lawsuit in February. Two days after the dismissal, the Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Department notified residents that they would not hold a hearing for their appeal.

Crews have since begun taking down trees on the site, preparing the land for construction.

Renee Sans Souci, Niskíthe Prayer Camp co-leader and organizer, educator and cultural consultant made this statement:

"Everything that has been happening, thus far, in regards to Wilderness Crossing has clearly demonstrated how the City Government continues to violate Native Peoples' rights as citizens of Lincoln, Nebraska, and as the First People of this beautiful land. Our message stands: 'Hear us.'"

Kathleen Danker, who owns land adjacent to the development site, made this statement:

“I support Native people’s right to be heard in their effort to protect sacred ceremonial spaces. We also need to protect civil and property rights and unique environmental places.”

ACLU of Nebraska Senior Legal and Policy Counsel Rose Godinez made this statement:

“The City of Lincoln has tried to stifle our clients’ voices at every turn, from slow-walking the application to filing a meritless lawsuit to finally outright denying them an opportunity to be heard. Those are the lengths that they are willing to go to silence valid community concerns. Our clients rightly refuse to let that be the final word. We are proud to be representing this group as they once again advocate for their right to explain how this development would impact land and practices that they hold sacred.”

Big Fire Law & Policy Group Partner Rose Weckenmann made this statement:

“The City has acted in bad faith toward our clients at every turn.  If the City believed it had the right to deny our clients a hearing, it should have done so months ago.  Instead, it impeded the progress of justice through its intervening, frivolous lawsuit.  Luckily, the City’s antics won’t be able to continue forever as the district court will now finally have jurisdiction to hear our clients’ due process claims and rights under municipal ordinance.”

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.