Former Pine Ridge Mission Vicar Pat Barker emailed some pertinent facts about church closings on the Reservation. Some names are omitted at his request:
The first deanery meeting I called was crowded and lasted over two hours because we were even then discussing the disposition of property should churches be closed. I made the group (although they will not remember it this way) take up a resolution that I had circulated earlier to the effect that should a church be closed, the property be returned to "the original Indian owner." This language was verbatim from some of the deeds that I had inspected prior to the meeting. Not all the deeds I read (and there are some I didn't read--they are spread out over three counties), specify that when the property is no longer used for religious purposes that it "reverts to the original Indian owners." Some property is deeded to the Episcopal Church (actually PECUSA, etc.) for "perpetuity."
Second, the deanery voted in favor of the resolution. XXXXX and YYYYY [diocesan representatives] were there, and both said that they would speak for the resolution at the next council meeting (forget which, but the one that makes recommendations to the bishop about these things; the bishop's "vestry"). The council voted for it and the bishop agreed. However, as I understood it then, the council can only recommend; the bishop decides.
... the council's decision was to recommend that the property of a church that was closed be given to the Tribe (assuming that the Tribe paid any debts on it, taxes, etc.). Please note that this was not precisely what the deanery recommendation stated (although I can appreciate the difficulty of finding the "original owner"). However, and a point I made to YYYYY was this: the diocese cannot legally give property to the Tribe when the deed says that it is to "revert to the original Indian owner." For the original Indian owner who "loaned" the land to the church for "religious purposes" is not the Tribe, but an individual (this was after the Dawes Act that parceled the reservation lands to the "competent" Indians). The point being: church property on the reservation is differently deeded, and disposition of it would have to fit the individual case.
Finally, of the two churches that were closed while I was there, I know that people from one of them (Messiah, Wounded Knee) were trying to make arrangements with the Tribe to use the building on an as-needed basis. Don't know how that turned out. And, one of the points of concern was the graveyard (nearly every church has one on its property).
Anyway, that's about all I think I know.
Will remember you and the diocese in my prayers.
OK, so there are historic and legal complexities. There have been discussions going on here and there in the past. Why can't the Diocese just come out and say some of this? Instead, the Diocese tries to hide its actions and this is what gives off an odor of dishonesty and bad motives. And that odor is heavy in the air.
The profile for the upcoming Bishop election lists "communicator" as one of the desired qualities. That's an understatement given the propensity of this current administration to ignore questions, work by gossip, have in- and out-groups when it comes to information flow, punish people who ask questions and, most of all, cause thousands of members to leave over the last decade or so.
The Diocese of South Dakota has not needed the larger church controversies in order to shrivel and blow away. What we have here are textbook examples of bad leadership, apart from any ideology. And in the current regime, like promotes like.
Pray for us, indeed.