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National Park Service to ask Congress to create tribal park at Badlands

Sandra Washington, left, associate regional director for the Midwest region at the National Park Service, and Eric Brunnemann, center, superintendent of Badlands National Park, visit with Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer, right, before the start of a discussion about the future of the South Unit of Badlands National Park Wednesday in Rapid City. (AP photo)

RAPID CITY (AP) — National Park Service officials working on the creation of a tribal national park in South Dakota say they hope by early next year to complete draft legislation to eventually bring to Congress for approval.

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The federal agency and the Oglala Sioux Tribe have been working on making the South Unit of Badlands National Park into the first tribally managed national park in the country. Park Service officials met with tribal officials in Rapid City on Wednesday to further discussions.

The negotiations are confidential because of the “government-to-government relationship,” park Superintendent Eric Brunnemann told the Rapid City Journal.

The South Unit consists of 133,000 acres, most of which were taken by the United States government in the 1940s for a military bombing range. The Oglala Sioux Tribe currently owns a portion of the South Unit, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs holds most of it in trust for the tribe, and scattered throughout are acres owned by individual families.

Tribal supporters of the park plan see it as an economic development opportunity, with a Lakota cultural center and a large bison herd drawing visitors. The cultural center could become the nucleus for other development including a hotel, convenience stores, powwow grounds, campgrounds and perhaps even a racetrack with pari-mutuel betting, according to Chuck Jacobs, a tribal representative working with the Park Service.

The Tribal Council decided in June to end the practice of leasing the grasslands for cattle grazing within the South Unit by the end of 2015, to make way for bison.