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Buffalo Chip case likely headed back to state Supreme Court

STURGIS | A more than three-year legal tug-of-war over the incorporation of the Buffalo Chip Campground as a town — an issue likely headed back to the South Dakota Supreme Court — could ultimately boil down to the difference between the words "and" and "or."

Buffalo Chip attorney Kent Hagg, of Rapid City, said Friday that a notice of appeal to the state Supreme Court will likely be filed this week seeking to overturn a 4th Circuit judge’s February ruling that the campground about 3 miles east of Sturgis failed to meet the residential requirements of a state law in filing to become a municipality in 2015.

In a written ruling filed Feb. 22, 4th Circuit Judge Gordon Swanson ordered the town of Buffalo Chip to be dissolved because the Sturgis motorcycle-rally campground did not have at least 100 residents as required by SDCL 9-3-1 at the time of its incorporation in 2015.

A news release from the city of Sturgis, which has steadfastly opposed the incorporation, stated the lack of residents was just one of the issues surrounding the campground becoming a legal municipality but that Swanson’s ruling was sufficient to “nullify the incorporation as a municipality.”

Swanson’s ruling nullifying the incorporation is “based on common sense and the plain language of SDCL 9-3-1 as in effect when Buffalo Chip was incorporated, the statute required that a municipality have at least 100 residents and at least 30 registered voters to be incorporated. It would not make sense for the Legislature to authorize the incorporation of a municipality with no residents,” Swanson ruled.

“His ruling was pretty clear that the town needs residents, and the Buffalo Chip doesn’t have residents and is not a town,” Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie said.

However, Hagg said the codified law in place in 2015 required municipalities to have at least 100 residents “or” 30 voters. In 2016, the state Legislature changed the law to require municipalities to have at least 100 residents “and” 45 voters.

“In my opinion, it’s a stretch for a court and the state to have imposed an entirely different word in the statute that’s not in there, that ‘or’ really means ‘and’,” Hagg said.

The campground fills with thousands of visitors during the Sturgis motorcycle rally, but has few, if any, year-round permanent residents. Hagg said about 53 voters listed the Buffalo Chip as their address of record in 2015.

“They can declare their residences, for voting purposes, to be anywhere they wish,” Hagg said.

Legal challenges from the city of Sturgis, the state’s Municipal League and other opponents have continued since Meade County voters approved the campground’s incorporation in April 2015.

In January of 2018, the state Supreme Court vacated a circuit court order appealing the 2015 election results, ruling only the state — not a lower court or other municipality — had the jurisdiction to bring the case to court.

The state attorney general’s office asked the high court for permission to intervene, which the court granted in March.

Then in May, the court denied the state’s request to bring the case back before the Supreme Court but told the state to proceed at the circuit court level.

Filing of a notice to appeal would stay the judge’s decision and allow the town of Buffalo Chip to continue to operate as a municipality "until the Supreme Court rules otherwise,” Hagg said.

Local nonprofit receives grant to document combat nurse's life

Marcella LeBeau's life story is well-documented.

The 99-year-old Native American began breaking barriers when she graduated in 1940 from St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Pierre.

Three years later, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and became a combat nurse during World War II. She would tend to wounded and dying soldiers who ran into a relentless hail of German fire while storming the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day.

On the 60th anniversary of that battle, LeBeau traveled to France and received the French Legion of Honor Award. She also served on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, where she would spend a year and receive a medal of honor from that nation.

After being discharged from the military as a lieutenant, she spent 31 years working as a nurse and in other capacities for Indian Health Service on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation where she grew up and now lives.

In 2006, she was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. In 2018, she received an honorary doctorate degree in public service from South Dakota State University. She is a founding member of the North American Indian Women’s Association.

She has spoken at countless events and is the subject of two books now being written. What more could be said or written about a woman whose impressive life story has been told over and over again?

The answer may be just around the corner.

The Rural Ethnic Institute of Rapid City recently received a $10,000 grant from the Mary Chilton DAR Foundation in Sioux Falls to create a manuscript documenting LeBeau's life.

The author will be her great-granddaughter, Ryia LeBeau, a 20-year-old who attends Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She promises the story she tells will be different.

"I will bring a unique perspective," Ryia said. "We have spent a lot of time together, traveled widely together. I have been inspired by her. I feel that this is a very important role for me."

Ryia said she hopes to finish a 120-page manuscript by the end of the summer.

"I have started working on the manuscript," she said Wednesday. "I have completed a few interviews."

Marcella is confident her great-granddaughter is the right choice to pen the manuscript.

"Ryia is awesome. She is one-of-a-kind kid. She does things beyond her age. She’s my right hand," said Marcella, who lives independently at her home in Eagle Butte and is "doing pretty good for being 99 years old."

Gemma Lockheart submitted the grant application and will assist Ryia with the manuscript. LeBeau's story is an important one in many ways, she said.

"Marcella connects us with stories and values of the old people. More, her story unfolds decisions and experience along the way of making choices for strength of community and country," Lockheart said. "It's a story worth hearing, worth knowing about for how it informs us in our own living."

She also looks forward to seeing what Ryia will write about such a well-known figure.

"She is looking forward to writing about her great-grandmother," Lockheart said. "It will be in her words."

Judy Goetz, grant chair for the Daughters of American Revolution in Sioux Falls, said the organization looks primarily at three criteria when it determines who receives grant awards — patriotism, historic preservation and education.

LeBeau's life covered all three of those categories, she said.

“We want to educate children and adults about what someone has done in their life,” Goetz said.

Tom Katus, the managing director for the Rural Ethnic Institute board, said the nonprofit seeks to improve relations between Native Americans and others in the Black Hills and western South Dakota.

Journal file  

Marcella LeBeau, 99, is member of the Two Kettle Band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, resident of Eagle Butte and was a 1st Lt., Army Nurse Corps

Helping hands
WAVI is there to help when women experience violence

Editor's note: Helping hands is a new weekly series profiling nonprofits in western South Dakota. 

When women in western South Dakota experience violence, WAVI is there with shelter and support.

Working Against Violence Inc. (WAVI) is the domestic violence and sexual assault center in Rapid City and the largest in western South Dakota.

They’ve been serving the community for 41 years and work to create a community free of domestic abuse and sexual assault through advocacy, education and support services. 

They provide services to women, men and children, both in and out of the shelter. All services are offered at no cost, and they have a wide range of services, such as emergency shelters, crisis management and support groups. The organization’s website includes resources from groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Sioux San Indian Health Service, the Social Security Administration and more.

“Most people know us for the emergency shelter where people can come stay if they are escaping intimate partner violence, but we offer so much more. We work with the Regional Hospital and IHS on emergency response, and we also have an attorney on site,” said WAVI Development Director Kristina Simmons.

WAVI hosts many events in the community, including the Spirit of Peace Beach Ball. The annual fundraiser benefits the emergency shelter and services provided by the organization. They chose a beach theme to lift the spirits of the attendants and get them in the mood for warmer weather.

This year’s event will honor Gayle Thome and Youth VIP (Voices In Prevention) with the Spirit of Peace Award for their work in the community in the ongoing efforts to stop violence. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at their location at 527 Quincy St.

There are many ways to benefit WAVI. Simmons said the best option is to spread awareness.

“A big way to help is speaking out. If you see something or hear something don't ignore it. Call us. We have a 24-hour crisis line, so somebody's always here on the other end of the line if they've got questions, or if it may not be affecting them directly,” she said

WAVI is always looking for volunteers and encourages the public to lend a helping hand. They have a list of items updated weekly on their website and Facebook page that people can donate. Items include toilet paper, deodorant, toothbrushes and diapers.

“I always tell people, ‘think of the things that you use on daily basis and multiply that by about 40 people’ and that’s how much stuff we need,” she said.

For more information or to learn how to donate, call 341-3292, visit them at 527 Quincy St., or on their website at

Ryan Hermens, Journal staff 

Tyler Oliver, of Black Hills State, shoots the ball during a game Dec. 1, 2018 against South Dakota School of Mines at the King Center.

Man pleads guilty to mailing gun

In August, a man walked into the East Boulevard post office in Rapid City and mailed a package to someone in Canton.

Inside was a handgun and ammunition, court records show. 

Last week, during a hearing at the federal court in Rapid City, Kohl Hammer pleaded guilty to illegally mailing that gun. 

It's illegal for most people to send pistols, revolvers and other small firearms via the United States Post Office, according to 18 U.S. Code § 1715. The military, law enforcement, dealers and manufacturers are exempt. 

Hammer now faces up to two years in prison and must forfeit his gun and ammo. 

Hammer went to the post office to mail his package on Aug. 27, 2018, according to a statement of facts document he signed. Inside the package was clothing, a Taurus double-action revolver and five rounds of .38 special ammunition. 

The package arrived at an address in Canton and law enforcement found the weapon after serving a search warrant, the document says. It's unclear how law enforcement knew or suspected that a weapon had been illegally sent. A special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) examined the gun, determined it was a revolver and was illegally sent. 

Shipping weapons through the USPS is "a lot more strict" than shipping through private companies, Ashlee Sherrill, spokeswoman for the ATF in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the Journal. "That's really where the snag is." 

"Pretty much any legal firearm can be mailed. It's just how it gets mailed and where it gets mailed," Sherrill explained. "Any person considering acquiring or transferring a firearm should contact his or her state attorney general's office to inquire about the laws and possible state or local firearms restrictions."