Activists argue for dismissal of lawsuit filed over controversial development near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park

By: - November 21, 2022 4:30 am
Wilderness Park protest

A protest camp was erected in May to object to a housing development approved near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Attorneys for Native American activists asked a judge Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them by the City of Lincoln over the right to appeal a controversial zoning decision.

The court action was a continuation of protests over the approval of a housing development called Wilderness Crossing adjacent to Lincoln’s Wilderness Park and near a site where sweat lodge ceremonies are conducted.

Sweat lodge ceremonies disrupted

Native advocates, who erected a protest village called Niskíthe Prayer Camp on the site in May, maintain that the development will displace the ceremonies and disrupt their right to practice their traditional religion.

The City of Lincoln sued the activists in September, seeking to block any appeals of the city’s Board of Zoning approval of Wilderness Crossing, which will sit on land purchased from the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln.

The activists, who are being represented by the ACLU of Nebraska as well as the Big Fire Law & Policy Group, asked a judge Friday to dismiss the lawsuit.

Judge to rule later

After oral arguments Friday, Lancaster County District Judge Darla Ideus gave the activists 14 days to submit written arguments and took the matter under advisement.

The activists, which include the Lincoln Indian Center, maintain that the city ignored and neglected the rights of Indigenous peoples in approving the housing development. They maintain that they should be allowed to appeal the city zoning decision and that to block that is an attempt to “muzzle” their voices.

“Nothing about the way the mayor and city officials have handled this situation is okay,” said Erin Poor, a Niskíthe Prayer Camp organizer, in a statement after Friday’s court hearing.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird has said that the housing development was properly approved. She has met with the activists and pursued reconciliation, including declaring an “Otoe-Missouria Day” in September to honor the tribe displaced by white settlement in the Lincoln area.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.