Indian Center and city of Lincoln face off in court over jurisdiction dilemma

18 de Noviembre de 2022 a las 00:00 ·

People with the Niskíthe Prayer Camp and the Indian Center put up a tipi before a hearing with the Lancaster District Court on Friday.
People with the Niskíthe Prayer Camp and the Indian Center put up a tipi before a hearing with the Lancaster District Court on Friday. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media)

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A Native American group, their supporters, and a local landowner are beginning a series of face offs with the city of Lincoln in court. A motion filed by the city and debated Friday attempts to prevent the people’s petitions against a development from being heard.

The city of Lincoln approved annexation and rezoning for a new housing development this spring. The land in question is adjacent to sacred Native American prayer grounds and sweat lodges. Members of the prayer camp and their supporters petitioned and protested against the idea of the development and its location. Nearby landowner Kathleen Danker filed a court petition to stop housing construction as well.

Opponents of the development want to appeal the change in zoning that made the project possible. The city of Lincoln went to court to block the appeal. It’s up to District Court Judge Darla S. Ideus to decide if the law allows for an appeal in this case.

In Lancaster County District Court, lawyers for Danker and the Indian Center, on behalf of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp, echoed a message of the right to due process and the right to petition. ACLU Nebraska lawyer, Rose Godinez, represents the Indian Center and said the Indian Center and members of the prayer camp are simply following city procedures.

“It is clear and undisputed that the city of Lincoln’s municipal code and city charter provide for an appeal process,” Godinez said.

She said petitioning and appealing decisions of administrative bodies, including city council and zoning commission decisions, fall under the umbrella of what can be appealed.

During public hearings on the controversial project this summer, attorneys for the prayer camp and Danker also argued the new development would disrupt the peacefulness of the area and interfere with native ceremonies and prayer.

Lawyers for the developers, Manzitto Construction, responded that they’ve changed their construction plans to ease those worries. The city approved changes in the development plans in May. In a statement, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said the changes include “open land buffers, fences, etc.” that would “create distance and mitigate the impact of the development”.

The company said it will not accept any changes other than the ones approved already by the city council, according to a Lincoln Journal Star report in May. Manzitto Construction did not immediately respond to comments in time for this story's publication.

A spokesperson for the Indian Center said on Friday that there isn’t enough distance between the camp and the development, even in the new and altered plans.

On Friday, the city of Lincoln argued the Board of Zoning Appeals has no jurisdiction to hear the case. During Friday’s hearing, city attorney Abigail Littrell said the district court has the ability to make a decision on this case.

“This court has the authority to decide what laws mean,” Litrell said. “And it’s also the most efficient way to resolve the controversy between the parties.”

Now, the lawyers for the Indian Center have two weeks to write a response to the city’s motion that would have the district court decide the outcome of the case, rather than the board of appeals.