LINCOLN, Neb. – A Lancaster County District Court judge has dismissed a City of Lincoln lawsuit against the Indian Center, Inc., and community members who are seeking to appeal plans for a housing development next to sacred ceremonial grounds.
The dismissed lawsuit aimed to prevent proceedings on an appeal of the Wilderness Crossing development plans before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Indigenous community members say the development would displace religious ceremonies at a nearby historic sweat lodge.
Attorneys with Big Fire Law & Policy Group and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska argued for dismissal of the city’s lawsuit in November, saying it failed to meet basic requirements for civil litigation and amounted to an unjust attack on residents’ rights.
The decision, released yesterday, affirmed those arguments, stating the City of Lincoln did not have standing to bring the lawsuit and did not provide “any compelling reasons to short-circuit the Board’s appeal process.”
The sued advocates and their legal teams say the dismissal should now allow appeal proceedings to move forward.
Sloan Rupp, vice chairman of the Indian Center, Inc., made this statement on the decision:
“The Indian Center is grateful this decision will uphold the democratic process by ensuring the Native community’s voice is recognized and heard against any attempt of suppression,” Rupp said. “Thank you to the ACLU and Big Fire Law for diligently fighting for the voice of free people and their continued commitment to holding governing bodies accountable to the people of this land.”
Erin Poor, Niskíthe Prayer Camp organizer, co-founder of the Intertribal Medicine Collective and clinical mental health counselor-in-training, made this statement on the decision:
“We are overcome with gratitude and relief at the decision,” Poor said. “After denying us for months, the city must now recognize our right to appeal their actions. Now we have a fresh opportunity to come together as a community and decide that we will not repeat the worst parts of our history. Displacement and removal of Indigenous Peoples has long been an American reality, but it does not have to be our future.”
Renee Sans Souci, Niskíthe Prayer Camp Co-Leader and Organizer, Educator and Cultural Consultant, made this statement on the decision:
“This decision is received with profound relief that our voices will be heard,” Sans Souci said.“Even so, it also demonstrates that there is long range work ahead of us to continue our efforts to be seen, heard and respected as Native People. Our connection to our ceremonies and to Mother Earth is not to be taken lightly. Thank you to our legal team and all who have shown their support for our efforts. We are here, we are strong and here we shall remain.”
Big Fire Law & Policy Group Partner Rose Weckenmann made this statement on the decision:
“The Court’s explicit refusal to interfere in our client’s appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals is a significant victory,” Weckenmann said. “Our clients are tremendously relieved that the Court saw fit to dismiss the City’s challenge that sought to silence their voices and suppress their lawful petitions, and they are looking forward to finally having the opportunity to present their valid concerns about the Wilderness Crossing development to the Board.”
ACLU of Nebraska Senior Legal and Policy Counsel Rose Godinez made this statement on the decision:
“We are absolutely thrilled for our clients, and we hope the dismissal sends a clear message to city officials about what happens when you try to use litigation to silence dissent,” Godinez said. “With this victory, we will now turn our focus to ensuring that our clients’ appeal moves forward in a timely manner. Advocates have waited long enough. They have a right to appeal these plans and to explain how this development would threaten land and practices that they hold sacred.”