City of Lincoln sues to keep housing project moving forward, despite Indigenous opposition

Sept. 26, 2022, 3 p.m. ·

Erin Poor and other members of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp address the crowd at Lincoln City Hall.
With a megaphone in hand, Erin Poor and other members of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp address the crowd at Lincoln City Hall. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The City of Lincoln filed a lawsuit that aims to keep a housing development project in West Lincoln moving forward, despite concerns from local Native American groups.

The Niskíthe Prayer Camp and its allies were scheduled to speak at a hearing with a city zoning board this week – in hopes the board would stop the proposed Wilderness Crossing housing development near their sweat lodge.

But last week, the city's lawyers stepped in, arguing the board doesn’t have the jurisdiction to veto the development approval made by the mayor and city council earlier this year.

"The 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," city attorney Yohance L. Christie said in a statement. "The courtroom is the proper forum for this type of request. The City has moved their request to the proper forum where the parties can be heard."

ACLU of Nebraska said pushed back in a statement of its own. ACLU's senior legal and policy counsel said the lawsuit is trying to silence dissent.

"The City of Lincoln is clearly intent on denying Native residents an opportunity to appeal a development project and to share once more how it would threaten their ability to practice their religious beliefs," Rose Godinez said.

She said her group will continue to advocate for Native Americans who say the development would hurt their religious practices.

7 white Native lodges on land
Native American community members stayed at these native lodges for three days. (Photo by Melissa Rosales, Nebraska Public Media News)

"We are not intimidated, and we will not back down," Godinez said. "We will continue advocating for our clients, their voice in the process and their right to practice their religious beliefs."

Advocates banded together earlier this year to oppose the Wilderness Crossing development. They argue the complex would hurt the nearby Wilderness Park and ceremonial grounds that are sacred to Native people and their prayer practices.

City attorneys filed the litigation just days after city leaders honored tribes that used to call Lincoln home in the 1800s.