Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 17, 2012

Native Americans struggle to save Wetlands in Kansas

Wetlands photo courtesy Kyle Gerstner
Jessica Lackey: President of the Wetlands Preservation Organization,
Kelda Britton: Secretary of the Wetlands Preservation Organization,

Who: Prairie Band Pottawatomie Nation, Wetlands Preservation Organization, Jayhawk Audubon Society, Kansas Sierra Club, Environs at KU, KU Ecojustice, and Save the Wakarusa Wetlands Inc.

What: Oral hearings begin for the Prairie Band Pottawatomie Nation, Wetlands Preservation Organization, Jayhawk Audubon Society, Kansas Sierra Club, Environs at KU, KU Ecojustice and Save The Wakarusa Wetlands Inc. vs. Federal Highway Administration and Kansas Department of Transportation

When: On the morning of January 19th, 2012

Where: Byron White Courthouse: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado

Battle Over South Lawrence Trafficway Reaches Circuit Court in Denver

Since the Kansas Department of Transportation proposed the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT) in the mid 1980’s, the status of this project has been contested in court. Most recently the Prairie Band Pottawatomie Nation and supporting plaintiffs (as listed above) filed an appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on the basis of ongoing serious reservations we have about the Environmental Impact Statement process, along with misgivings also echoed by the ruling judge in her statement.

On Thursday, January 19th at Byron White Courthouse in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado, oral hearings for our appeal will begin. David Prager and Bob Eye, attorneys for the plaintiffs, will present their 15 minute argument, followed by the 15 minute argument from the defendants. The three judges will then work on a decision which will hopefully be settled in the next few months.

In Lawrence, approximately ten members from representative plaintiff groups will travel to Denver to attend the hearings. On Friday January 13th, members of these groups met to assemble statements of support for the appeal. Gary Anderson, President of the Jayhawk Audubon Society stated, “The Jayhawk Audubon Society’s Board of Directors carefully considered the 2010 judge’s comments on the most recent ruling, which found that the EIS requirements had been met for the most part. The Board was extremely disappointed that only certain requirements were considered by the judge for review in the case. The Board continues to feel that all requirements of NEPA need to be followed. If this decision is permitted to stand, a dangerous precedent would be established; therefore, the Board voted overwhelmingly to join the appeal.”

According to Marisol Cortez, Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at KU and faculty advisor for KU Ecojustice, “This project continues to represent histories of injustice and disrespect to Native communities, to sacred spaces the world over, and to the living beings they contain. This is the kind of situation that many scholars and activists call environmental racism, and as in many of these kinds of cases, we see state and federal agencies cutting regulatory corners to railroad a project they assume is a done deal. We say: it is not, and we call on the entire KU community to stand with us against this injustice.”

Mike Caron of Save The Wakarusa Wetlands Inc. stated, “Federal NEPA standards were put in place explicitly to protect minorities from tyranny of the majority. They are the heart of our nation’s protections against environmental injustices.”

Jessica Lackey and Kelda Britton, President and Secretary of Haskell Indian Nation University’s Wetlands Preservation Organization commented, “As Native Americans we are taught that we are the caretakers of the earth. The students of the WPO have taken it upon themselves to protect the wetlands which the school itself has significant historical ties to. Haskell represents over 150 federally recognized tribes and for many of us our only connection to home while we are away is to be able to correlate to our spirit, animal, and plant relatives in the wetlands.”

For further information on the hearing, on the SLT issue, or on perspectives of plaintiff organizations, please contact Jessica Lackey or Kelda Britton at e-mails listed above.

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