As the Yankton Sioux and their South Dakota neighbors oppose construction of a large-scale hog facility, they find a common voice. In their words, "Get the Oink out of here!"
by Tracy Basile
When Long View Farm came to South Dakota to begin construction of a large-scale hog facility in mid-April, tribal members from the Yankton Sioux reservation and their neighbors got together and decided to hold a different kind of welcoming party. The gathering took place on the side of a Bureau of Indian Affairs road near Wagner in Charles Mix County, the only paved access to Long View Farm's new address. Of the more than 100 people who attended, two boys held up signs that seemed to sum up the feelings of everyone there. One read: "Save Mother Earth," while the other one said, "Get the Oink out of here!"
Despite a brief announcement in a nearby town's newspaper, few of the local residents had any idea that an industrial pig farrowing facility of 4,000 sows, producing around 70,000 piglets a year, was moving into their neighborhood until the cement trucks and bulldozers started rolling by. Those who joined together on April 15 in defiance of the corporate investors were Native and non-Native, small farmers and teachers, college students from the University of South Dakota, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, young children, a Catholic nun, and visitors from Spain, Russia and Palestine.
50 state troopers and 17 arrests
What happened next is shocking. The following day, as protesters started gathering along the road again, 50 highway patrol officers, each in separate cars, arrived on the scene—reportedly more than are normally on patrol at any one time across the entire state of South Dakota. Two snipers were stationed on top of a trailer to watch the crowd through binoculars. Tom Dravland, state public safety secretary, said the highway patrol was there at the request of the county sheriff to ensure public safety, but many of those who stood along the road that day in peaceful protest felt that such an overwhelming show of force was an act of intimidation.
A few days later, Argus Leader, the prominent newspaper of Sioux Falls, S.D., published an editorial calling the display racist and condemning the state's response. Additionally, it was reported that the electrical contract for the building of Long View Farm had coincidentally been awarded to the county sheriff's son.
As tensions within the community mounted, a town meeting was called on April 21. More than 500 tribal members and residents packed into Wagner's National Guard Armory to hear the hog project's supporters and lawyers. It was a contentious evening with audience members holding signs that said "No hogs!" and "Stop lying!" and booing the speakers as they left.
The next day, 17 tribal members of the Yankton Sioux were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct as they peacefully blocked the road to the construction site. Meanwhile, despite setbacks including a tornado hitting the site on June 5, construction crews have continued working seven days a week. The project is expected to be completed in early 2009.
The site Long View Farm picked in Charles Mix County in South Dakota is on a hilltop on top of a shallow aquifer and the larger Ogallala Aquifer, and is a few miles from a creek that empties into the Missouri River. It's also not far from a Head Start program for young children, the tribal community center, small farms and ranches, churches, a hospital, a college, wetlands and wildlife reserves that are home to several endangered species and hundreds of bald eagles. "In all of creation, they couldn't have picked a worse spot," said Faith Spotted Eagle (Ihanktowan Dakota) in an Indian Country Today article.
Long View Farm investors selected this area for the same reasons other investors in large-scale agriculture pick remote areas for development: a lack of zoning regulations. Iowa is the country's top hog producing state. Long View Farm's 11 investors all come from Sioux County, Iowa, which is the third highest county in hog production in the United States and is spotted with manure spills and fish kills due to hog waste run-off. In the background of this situation, there is a growing grassroots movement of concerned Iowa citizens and family farm activists fighting for changes in state regulations.
Contrast this with South Dakota, where zoning restrictions are sporadic, poor or nonexistent, and environmental regulations are passed on to the county level. Without much fanfare, Long View Farm was given a general permit to build from the state of South Dakota, meaning that it was decided that a long and costly Environmental Impact Study was not necessary. Deb McIntyre, director of South Dakota Peace and Justice, describes the lack of zoning regulations in Charles Mix County as "the perfect storm."
Hogs and disease
Pigs are not indigenous to North America. Their introduction to this continent nearly 500 years ago brought with it dozens of diseases, many of which decimated tribal populations who had no immunity. The effect of these first hogs on North American land was devastating. According to Charles C. Mann, author of the book 1491, "Swine alone can disseminate anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, taeniasis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis."
Understanding the relationship between disease and hog confinement is an important part of the puzzle in assessing whether an industrial hog facility will do more harm than good for a community. Researchers and scientists have been studying the connections for years. In particular, a 2001 study by Dr. Rustam I. Aminov of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is cause for concern. The investigators found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria had seeped into underlying groundwater downstream of hog waste "lagoons." These cesspools hold massive amounts of waste from thousands of antibiotic-treated pigs. Long View Farm says its waste storage tanks will be secured underground and that every effort will be made to safeguard the environment. But many residents and protesters familiar with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have heard these arguments before.
No word for "pig"
How hogs are treated in CAFOs goes against traditional tribal values. According to Robin Kimmerer (Potawatomi), director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York-Environmental Sciences and Forestry in Syracuse, NY, in the indigenous paradigm, animals and the natural world are seen as "a community of persons… to be treated with the same respect owed to human beings as members of a community with reciprocal responsibilities."
In the breeding barn at a typical hog CAFO, a sow is artificially inseminated and placed in a 2 by 7 foot crate or stall, in which she lives during pregnancy. Shortly before giving birth, she is moved to another building and put in a farrowing crate that has a similarly sized area for her to stand or lie in. This crate has side extensions that are accessible only to her piglets, and are intended to prevent the sow from crushing her pigs. When the piglets are a few days old, their teeth are clipped and their tails are docked to prevent damage resulting from aggressive behaviors that come from confinement.
After weaning, the piglets are shipped to finishing buildings, where they are kept in pens, each pig receiving just 8 square feet of room in which to move around. The sow is returned to the breeding facility and reinseminated and the cycle starts again. She has around two litters a year.
"Confinement is not good for anyone, definitely not the animals, because they don't understand. It's not their way of life, and it's not our way of life, either," said Oleta Mednansky (Lakota) of Rosebud Sioux reservation, referring to an even larger hog operation that threatened her reservation several years ago.
Preferring to call themselves "protectors" rather than "protesters," members from the Yankton Sioux tribe have set up a permanent protest site against Long View Farm marked by a tipi and their nation's flag. Other tribes, such as the Santee, have sent their flags to express solidarity, but people of any races and nationalities are invited to join.
Gary Drapeau (Ihanktowan Dakota), a Yankton Sioux councilman, is quoted on a youth activist's blog as saying that the coming of the hog factory was "a message to all our Nations that we need to start using one mind as a people and stand together." The Yankton Sioux and their allies won't give up. Long after the newspaper and television reports have died down, the struggle will continue. Eventually, Drapeau concludes, "it will be a victory for all." But it won't be easy—it will require every one of us to stand together.
You can make a difference
Last month, the Animal Welfare Institute sent copies of its factory farm documentary "The Pig Picture" and pamphlets about the issue to both Native and non-Native activists in South Dakota. Please help the effort by writing a letter voicing your opposition to Long View Farm. Send your original letter to Gov. Mike Rounds and a copy to Secretary of Agriculture William Evan and Yankton Sioux Tribe Vice Chair John Stone:
Governor Mike Rounds
Office of the Governor
500 E. Capitol Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
Secretary of Agriculture William Even
South Dakota Department of Agriculture
523 E. Capitol Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
Yankton Sioux Tribe Vice Chair John Stone
P.O. Box 248
Marty, SD 57361
Additionally, if you would like to provide support to the tribe for its legal battle, checks can be sent to:
Yankton Sioux Tribe Hog Protest
Attention: Treasurer Leo O'Conner
P.O. Box 248
Marty, SD 57361