Protecting a spiritual way of life


STURGIS, S.D. -- Bear Butte is under attack -- again.

A proposed biker bar, campground and outdoor concert venue is planned for
construction on the north side of the sacred mountain.

Indigenous people from some 30 nations claim Bear Butte as sacred and they
pray at the mountain. Vision quests are held on the mountain in preparation
for the Sun Dance today as it has been for centuries, Lakota elders say.

The mountain is a South Dakota state park and visitors can hike at any
time, even when prayer is taking place. It is also located 20 miles north
of Sturgis. Therein lies the problem.

Sturgis is home to the largest motorcycle rally in the nation which is
accompanied by noise, concerts, partying and, as opponents of development
claim, "debauchery." And all within shouting distance of the ceremonial

American Indians who oppose the new development said they were insulted and
degraded because the name of the business would be "Sacred Ground."

Also proposed by the developer, according to the Oglala Sioux Tribal
Council, is a tipi village and an 80-foot-tall statue of an American Indian
along with several other bars in the area.

Developer Jay Allen could not be reached for comment. Land owner Jim Reed,
connected to the project by the public media, told Defenders of the Black
Hills, a local group with national ties organized for the protection of the
Black Hills and other regions, said that Reed had not sold the land and was
not in partnership with Allen.

The 600 acres on which the business would be located has not been sold and
no liquor license has been applied for. But Defenders of the Black Hills
and allied groups took no chances and approached the county commission with
pleas to disapprove a liquor license should it reach the commission. Both
American Indian and non-Indians were present at the commission meeting.

Carter Camp, Ponca from Oklahoma and AIM member, said the drunkenness and
revelry were getting closer to the mountain. Two such businesses outside
Sturgis presently attract nationally known entertainment. That causes those
who pray at the mountain to lose focus and concentration, many in the
packed court room said.

"Take care of what is sacred. Nothing has aligned nations like this," Camp

To emphasize the strong connection people have for the mountain, Camp said
young people are willing and ready to die to protect this sacred site. The
comment was taken as a threat by the commission, but many people said it
was not a threat.

The commission was told by many people that the American Indian nations
will not let this issue drop -- they will fight for the sacredness of the

Up to 20 nations in Oklahoma consider Bear Butte to be sacred and they make
pilgrimages to the site every year. Most of the vision quests and praying
take place around the time of the Sun Dance, which corresponds with the
time of the Sturgis Rally.

"We want no more filth and debauchery and we ask you to help us. We will
help you recover any lost money," Camp said.

Bear Butte was visited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Red
Cloud, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, all Lakota, visited and prayed at the
mountain. Sweet Medicine, the Cheyenne spiritual leader, as the Cheyenne
origin story is told, is said to have received the sacred arrow bundle for
the Cheyenne at Bear Butte. The Lakota name for the mountain is Mahto Sapa,
or Bear Mountain.

"It is a travesty to have alcohol so close. There should be no alcohol
within five miles of the mountain. Would you allow bars near your
churches?" Charmaine White Face, president of the Defenders of the Black
Hills, asked the commissioners.

"Would you allow a biker bar and campground next to your church?" she said.

White Face asked the commissioners to think 50 years into the future. The
rally, she said, is not as well-attended as before, indicating it may be on
the decline. The Sturgis rally is one of the most lucrative events in
Sturgis and the Black Hills, but biker rallies are cropping up all over the

"I ask you to look more long-range. The retirees are coming and they come
because of the environment: they don't come during the rally. I want you to
think about ecotourism," she said.

White Face told the story of a young man who was praying on the mountain
and was shot at some years ago. He was not injured.

"What does that say about America? A person was shot at while praying. Turn
five miles around Bear Butte as a wilderness," she said.

Economics is the motivation for building businesses near Bear Butte. It's a
solemn site, and for bikers and tourists it's also a pristine place to
visit. But greed and capitalism run counter to the Lakota belief system,
said Debby White Plume.

"People are grounded by money; that's not how we are. Many people are
interested in capitalism, but the money will not stay here. This bar won't
make the county or you rich," she said.

Theresa Two Bulls, state senator from Pine Ridge, said her first session in
the state senate was a learning experience. "I found that education was
needed about our ways. We learned your ways in school. We don't want
economic development where we pray."

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe passed resolutions
opposing any sale of land near Bear Butte. Both resolutions call for a
five-mile buffer zone.

The commission members made no comments and asked few questions. The
commission recorded the testimony and it will be put into the record in
case any application for a liquor license is received.