Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota sued in tribal court

Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) 12-08

The Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota’s decision to close nine Pine Ridge Reservation churches and reduce services at two others had ended up in Oglala Sioux tribal court.

Members of 11 churches also want the diocese to be prevented from deconsecrating buildings and cemeteries in the process.

The papers were served Nov. 24 in Sioux Falls but had not been signed by a tribal judge as of Nov. 25. The plaintiffs want a hearing to stop the closures, which were planned for Nov. 30.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council’s executive committee has passed a resolution stating that the diocese should return those properties to the tribe.

Steven Sanford, a lawyer for the diocese, says it doesn’t intend to sell the properties.


“It has always been our intention that if these properties aren’t used as missions of the Episcopal Church, that they would be, in one way or another, turned over to the tribe or to some other group locally,” Sanford says. “It’s not the diocese’s intention whatsoever to sell them to a McDonald’s or to some other denomination.”

Sanford said he expected the situation to be resolved soon.

“The people who are responsible for the suit, to the extent that they want the land kept local, they didn’t need to sue us to have that happen,” he added.

The diocese cited low attendance and financial issues as reasons for closing the following churches Nov. 30: Christ Church at Red Shirt Table; St. John’s at Oglala, Epiphany at Wolf Creek; St. Andrew’s at Wakpamni Lake; St. Thomas at Manderson; St. Barnabas at Kyle; St. Timothy’s at Potato Creek; St. Alban’s at Porcupine; and Inestimable Gift at Allen. The lawsuits also involve two churches that will move to “station” status, or part-time use: St. Julia’s at Porcupine and Advent at Calico.

Those pending closures would leave five Episcopal churches open on the reservation in Pine Ridge, Kyle, Batesland, Wanblee and Martin.

The Rev. Robert Two Bulls, pastor of Christ Church, said that historically, one-third of the Pine Ridge reservation’s residents were baptized Episcopalians.

He said his congregation would continue to meet for church services, regardless of legal issues.

“We don’t want to just let our churches go. We want to go down fighting,” Two Bulls said.