Media Contact

Sam Petto, ACLU of Nebraska Communications Director

November 18, 2022

Three tipis stand at the Niskíthe Prayer Camp.

LINCOLN, Neb. – The argument over a controversial planned development in Lincoln moved to a virtual Lancaster County District Court hearing this afternoon.

Attorneys with Big Fire Law & Policy Group and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska argued for dismissal of a City of Lincoln lawsuit that aims to prevent local advocates from appealing the development plans before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

At issue is a planned development called Wilderness Crossing, which would be built next to a historic sweat lodge. Native advocates say the proposed development would displace ceremonies and threaten their right to practice traditional religious beliefs.

The City of Lincoln sued the Indian Center, Inc., and community residents associated with the Niskíthe Prayer Camp in September, asking a judge to prevent board proceedings on their appeal and arguing the board lacks the jurisdiction to rule on the issues the appeal raised. In response, the advocates filed a motion to dismiss the city’s lawsuit.

Today’s arguments focused on that motion and a decision is anticipated in coming weeks.

ACLU of Nebraska Senior Legal and Policy Counsel Rose Godinez made this statement on today’s hearing:

“The City of Lincoln’s lawsuit is an unjust attack on residents’ lawful right to appeal this development. We are pleased with how today’s hearing went and we remain hopeful for an outcome that will let our clients take their concerns to the proper authorities.”

Big Fire Law & Policy Group Partner Rose Weckenmann made this statement on today’s hearing:

“The fact that the City of Lincoln would sue the community’s Indigenous leaders solely because they petitioned the City for rights of due process within a development process infringing on their religious practices defies all logic and understanding.  In doing so, the City has escalated an already fraught situation and compounded wrong upon wrong.  The City’s suit doesn’t meet the basic requirements necessary to maintain civil suits, and we hope that it will be summarily dismissed.”

Erin Poor, Niskíthe Prayer Camp organizer, co-founder of the Intertribal Medicine Collective and clinical mental health counselor-in-training, issued the following statement on today’s hearing:

“We are grateful to our unparalleled legal team at the ACLU of Nebraska and Big Fire Law & Policy Group for their handling of the hearing and the events that led us here. We remain extremely disappointed in Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird for her lack of leadership on this issue. Her actions drastically contradict her goals for an inclusive community and highlight the performative nature of her involvement in the Proclamation of Otoe-Missouria Day on Sept. 21. She signed the proclamation, then the next day her administration sued Native American community members to silence us as we fight for our right to live and pray in our way. Nothing about the way the mayor and city officials have handled this situation is okay.”

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.