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Panel: State should notify tribal chairmen if disinterment is sought for enrolled members

PIERRE -- A panel of state lawmakers recommended Monday that deceased enrolled members of tribes in South Dakota shouldn't be taken from graves and reburied without the state agency notifying tribal chairpersons.

Journalist Alaina Adekai, representing the Native Sun News and West River Eagle newspapers, told state senators Monday the story of Tere Charging Thunder as an example why state government should notify tribal chairpersons so they can decide whether to oppose re-interments of enrolled tribal members in South Dakota. (Bob Mercer / For The Daily Republic)
Journalist Alaina Adekai, representing the Native Sun News and West River Eagle newspapers, told state senators Monday the story of Tere Charging Thunder as an example why state government should notify tribal chairpersons so they can decide whether to oppose re-interments of enrolled tribal members in South Dakota. (Bob Mercer / For The Daily Republic)

PIERRE - A panel of state lawmakers recommended Monday that deceased enrolled members of tribes in South Dakota shouldn't be taken from graves and reburied without the state agency notifying tribal chairpersons.

SB 88 also would add tribal chairpersons to the list who can request a circuit judge stop a disinterment. County commissions and cemetery boards currently can ask.

A state permit is needed to exhume a body that's already been buried and move it to another location.

The state Department of Health would be required to notify the tribal chairperson by registered or certified mail within two business days of receiving the permit request and keep the notice for at least one year.

Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, brought the measure after a dispute arose last year on Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

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The Senate Local Government Committee recommended the bill's passage and put it on the Senate calendar for action Tuesday.

Journalist Alaina Adakai told the story of Tere Charging Thunder. Adakai writes for Native Sun News in Rapid City and West River Eagle at Eagle Butte.

She said Charging Thunder first was buried among grandparents and other relatives in the private St. James Episcopal Church cemetery at Eagle Butte.

Charging Thunder had been adopted as a child. Her adoptive mother, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, wanted a disinterment permit last summer, according to Adakai, while the church minister was on sabbatical.

Adakai said the Dewey County Commission based 40 miles away in Timber Lake requested the disinterment permit and the state department issued it in July.

Charging Thunder's body was cremated during the disinterment. Adakai said her research found state law doesn't specifically require tribal governments be contacted when permits are requested for tribal members.

"She is buried in a grave that does not bear her name today," said Adakai, who published a news story and a column about the matter.

Also testifying for the measure was Barry LeBeau, lobbyist for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

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LeBeau said holy men and "perhaps" archaeologists know the locations on reservations where religious ceremonies occur.

This comes into play when a person wants to be buried at a specific spot and tribal members have to consider whether the site is appropriate, LeBeau said.

He noted some tribal governments don't have offices to handle burial matters.

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said the correction was necessary. Sen. Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, thanked the witnesses and Maher for bringing attention to the situation. She is chairwoman for the panel.

The senators voted 5-0 to recommend the bill's passage.

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