High-Stake Hogs in South Dakota

In 1998, the former tribal council authorized the operation in a deal that supplied free land, roads, water and electricity to Sun Prairie in exchange for five percent of the profits and up to 250 jobs for one of the poorest counties in the nation. But when local residents found out that the plan was approved without a legally-mandated environmental impact statement (EIS), many were outraged, including Eva Iyotte, who helped start Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens (CRAC), a group which opposes the farms.

“I know what it’s like to work hard out there and make a living,” Iyotte says, “but I want something safe, something that isn’t going to contaminate our water and our air.”

So CRAC joined forces with the local chapter of the National Audubon Society and the Humane Farming Association and successfully sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs to force the agency to halt the project until an EIS was completed.

Yet the legal counsel for Sun Prairie, who asked not to be named or directly quoted in the article, contends that no EIS is necessary because the initial environmental assessments performed on the planned sites showed that the farms would not create significant environmental impacts.

Last year, a local judge issued a temporary injunction which permits the construction of three hog facilities without an EIS. It also forbids opponents of the farms from speaking out against them.

“Our First Amendment rights were taken away,” says CRAC co-founder Oleta Mednansky. “The tribe had an election and we couldn’t even really talk about the farms.” But that didn’t stop tribal members from throwing out much of the former council and electing—by a two thirds majority—a new president who strongly opposes the hog operation.

Now it remains to be seen if the new council can put an end to the operation. James Dougherty, the legal counsel for the project’s opponents, is optimistic. “Our appeal has already been filed,” he says, “and we’ll take it to the Supreme Court if necessary. But in the meantime it appears that the fate of the pig farm will be determined in the tribal forum, where it belongs.”