Protesters arrested at site of housing development near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park

By: - February 6, 2023 12:40 pm
Wilderness Park protest

With Nebraska law enforcement agencies struggling to attract recruits, a state council had proposed relaxing drug- and marijuana-use standards. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Editor’s note: This has been updated to include developments on Tuesday. 

LINCOLN — Five protesters were reportedly arrested Tuesday as Lincoln police intervened to allow tree removal to resume at a housing development planned near Wilderness Park.

But by nightfall, Native American activists were still occupying a protest camp across the road from the proposed Wilderness Crossing development.

Wilderness Park
Protesters returned Monday to the site of a planned housing development at the edge of Lincoln’s Wilderness Park (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

A protest camp, featuring an Indian tipi, was erected early Monday morning as protesters sought to block bulldozers and other heavy equipment from clearing the site of trees.

The work was blocked from continuing on Monday.

But on Tuesday morning, police closed a road near the development and arrested protesters who attempted to block the equipment. By the noon hour, about 10 Lincoln police cars were still visible, as was a mobile police command center, as tree clearing resumed.

Erin Poor, a spokeswoman with the protest camp, called the Niskithe Prayer Camp, said that she was among five protesters who were arrested and later released.

Poor said that protesters were staying at the site Tuesday night.

A protest camp was first erected in May (and later dismantled) to object to the proposed development.

Poor said that activists had expected that after a lawsuit filed by city was dismissed last week, a public hearing would be scheduled so an appeal could be heard of the development’s OK by the Lincoln Board of Zoning.

But Poor said that late Friday it was learned that no appeal hearing would be scheduled. With tree removal imminent, protesters returned to the site.

Lincoln City Attorney Yohance Christie issued a statement Monday afternoon indicating the city believes that court rulings last week affirmed their legal stance: that the city Board of Zoning Appeals is an “unelected board and does not have the jurisdiction to veto a decision made by the mayor or City Council.”

Christie continued, “Therefore, on Friday, the (Lincoln) Planning Department returned the application and previously paid (appeal) fee in the form of a check to the ACLU of Nebraska and indicated that this matter will not be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals.”

The activists have protested the development, maintaining that it would disrupt sweat lodge ceremonies conducted across the road. They contend that the city failed to consider that, as well as impacts on flooding in the area, in granting permission for the development.

Officials with Manzitto Construction maintain they have followed all city rules in gaining an OK and have made concessions to create a buffer between the housing and the sweat lodge site.

Plans for Wilderness Crossing include 162 single-family homes, 134 townhomes and 205 apartment units.

Some commercial space is planned on the property, which was cropland that the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln sold to the developer.

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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.