Protest camp near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park to be dismantled

By: - May 17, 2022 10:11 am
Wilderness Park protest

Protests against the Wilderness Crossing development escalated in May 2022 with the erection of tipis on the site, just west of Lincoln’s Wilderness Park and across the road from a sweat lodge ceremonial site. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A protest camp is being dismantled Tuesday that had occupied the site of a planned housing development near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park, across the road from a private enclave that hosted sweat lodge ceremonies.

In a statement Monday, representatives of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp said the protest resulted in “better, stronger relationships with our city leaders and our community” but added there is more work to be done.

“We have the beginnings of a plan toward more meaningful representation of native voices in city government, and we have a commitment from the mayor to continue to work with us to honor our culture and protect our ceremonies,” the statement said.

Sweat lodge site

The protest camp was erected two weeks ago on the site of the proposed Wilderness Crossing subdivision, a 75-acre plot of farmland now owned by the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln that lies between First Street and U.S. 77, south of Pioneers Boulevard. 

The development will be across a gravel road from Lincoln’s largest city park, Wilderness Park, a cluster of trees and trails that spans 1,472 acres along Salt Creek, as well as a private enclave called The Fish Farm where sweat lodge ceremonies have been held since the 1970s. 

Leirion Gaylor Baird
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird (Courtesy of Lincoln Mayor’s Office)

The protest began after the City Council approved the Wilderness Crossing development plans. Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird later signed off on the plans, which included some adjustments by Manzitto Construction, such as setbacks and a buffer strip, that have been employed by other developments near the park. 

Sought more protection

Protesters, though, wanted more protection, and larger setbacks, from the site of their religious ceremonies, as well as the creation of a Native American advisory committee to provide input on city development plans.

The Lincoln mayor, representatives of Manzitto Construction and the bishop of the Lincoln Diocese all met with representatives of the protest group.

Protesters plan a march Wednesday with the final tepee to the Lincoln City Hall and the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. The walk will begin with a sunrise ceremony at the protest camp, and will depart for City Hall at 8:30 a.m.

Beyond the protest walk, protesters said that they will continue to “pursue legal protections for the land, coalition-building, advocating for structural change in the city government, and engaging in ongoing direct actions.”

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.