Lincoln Mayor Says Housing Near Native American Sweat Lodges Will Continue

May 5, 2022, 4:43 p.m. ·

White sign that says "Welcome relatives to Niskithe Prayer Camp"
The Niskíthe Prayer Camp are a group of Native Americans in Lincoln protesting plans to build a housing complex near their sacred sweat lodge. (Photo by Melissa Rosales, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Lincoln’s mayor announced the city will move ahead with plans to build more than 500 homes across the street from the only two Native American sweat lodges in town. She told Niskíthe Prayer Camp leaders Tuesday that the housing development will continue to make room for more residents. The Niskíthe Prayer Camp is a group of Native Americans in Lincoln who have been staying on the approved development land for the past five days.

At the camp site, inside a tipi on a rainy day, vice chairman of Lincoln’s Indian Center Kevin Abourezk said they’re disappointed in the decision and don't feel like they were completely heard. Sweat lodges are an important part of purification rituals for native communities. The housing development would increase light, sound, and traffic that causes disruptions to these practices.

"If you take that tipi lodge away from us, we're going to lose our most effective means of healing the trauma that so many of our native people feel after centuries of genocide and displacement and boarding schools," he said. "I just can't imagine that my neighbors here in Lincoln, Nebraska want to see that happen."

In a statement, Lincoln’s mayor said they will include "open land buffers, fences, lighting restrictions, landscaping, relocation of an existing street, and tree plantings to create distance between and mitigate the impact of the development on neighboring private properties, and the park." However, Abourezk said those aren’t enough.

The camp suggests a 300 foot setback of property from the proposed homes, or a city park built right across from the sweat lodges. They also want more inclusion within city government to be involved in any future discussions about projects that will impact them.

"This is cultural genocide," Abourezk said. "When our community won't even allow the only two tipis in the city to exist or won't provide any sort of accommodation for our last two tipis here in our city, that's cultural genocide. We're going to stop that, we're not going to allow that to happen."

The Niskíthe Camp will continue to stay on the housing development land until there’s more conversations about their concerns, or they will take legal action..