Proposed Lincoln Development Could Interfere with Native Ritual

April 18, 2022, 5 p.m. ·

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Kevin Abourezk. Vice Chairman of Lincoln's Indian Center, leads a protest at Lincoln City Hall against the proposed development near Wilderness Park and a Native American sweat lodge (Photo by Geoff Roth/Nebraska Public Media)

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At a public hearing Monday, the Lincoln City Council discussed a disputed development near Wilderness Park. The city planning commission voted in favor of the new development that would add five hundred seventy-five new houses and 30 thousand square feet for commercial use near the intersection of Highway 77 and West Pioneers Boulevard. Development review planner, Ben Callahan, says the project would be part of Lincoln’s comprehensive plan to increase the amount of homes in the city.

“This area along the South West Side including this property has been in our comprehensive plan for the future in the last 20 years as urban residential. So this piece of property has been designated as future residential for quite a while now,” Callahan said.

Some community members expressed opposition to the new development at a public hearing in late March. Community organization Friends of Wilderness Park says the project would not adhere to the environmental stewardship and sustainability outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan. Other concerns included increased traffic and potential for more flooding in the area. Lincoln’s Native American communities also oppose the project, which would be developed across the street from the oldest and most used sweat lodge, or Inipi, in Lincoln. Sweat lodges are an important part of purification rituals for native communities, and the increased traffic would cause disruptions to these practices. Native Americans held a rally outside city hall during today’s public hearing.

Vice Chairman of Lincoln’s Indian Center, Kevin Abourezk says the impact of the project could end the use of the sweat lodge.

“I always say if you're a Christian imagine trying to listen to a sermon, trying to take part in communion," he said. "When there are hundreds of cars and trucks rolling by when the fumes from their exhaust pipes are choking you. This is the reality we're facing. We're facing the possibility that we will no longer be able to practice our Inipi ceremony at this place. If this development is approved and constructed”

The rally included Native music and prayer as well as testimony from Native American Lincolnites and Friends of Wilderness park members.

Video: Around 3 dozen people gathered in front of Lincoln City Hall to protest the planned development. Along with speeches, a Native American blessing was given to those attending and songs were sung. (Video by Geoff Roth/Nebraska Public Media)