Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Saving Bear Butte: How you can help and why you should care.

(I'm cross-posting this at Dakota Women, as well.)

I had the privilege on Saturday of hearing a panel of Native American women activists talk about their lives and their work on behalf of Sioux and Lakota communities. I hope to be blogging about their efforts from time to time, helping to spread the word about what they are doing and how you can help.

Anne White Hat, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, shared with us her struggle to save Bear Butte from developers. Bear Butte is sacred ground. Sacred ground means something different, I think, in Western culture, in which "sacred ground" is often loosely translated as, "this is land that has meaning, and it would be nice if we could preserve it, but sometimes we just have to develop it."


In a First Nations context, sacred ground is sacred. As in, it is left alone. As in, it is integral to spiritual practice. As in, you do not despoil it: you protect it.

I think many non-Native people may need to work hard to imagine an analogy that will allow us to understand what this means. The problem is, Western culture is based on movement. We very often do not keep land in our families, much less our communities, from one generation to another. We have sentimental ties to the land, but we don't have the same kind of spiritual ties to it. Buildings - churches, synagogues, etc. - are generally the center of our spiritual practices. And buildings can be rebuilt, remodeled, and moved.

Land cannot. Sacred ground cannot be moved, rebuilt, or remodeled. It can be protected, or it can be destroyed.

Bear Butte is a place where people go to pray and meditate. Prayer and meditation, by their nature, need quiet and stillness. But Bear Butte is located six miles from Sturgis, SD, the home of the infamous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, making it a prime location for developers.

And, since Bear Butte has no zoning regulations whatsoever, the sanctity of Bear Butte is threatened by developers who want to build a giant biker bar and outdoor theater for concerts:
Arizona entrepreneur Jay Allen originally planned to name his venue “Sacred Grounds” and to erect an 80-foot statue of a Native person outside the bar. He boasted in March 2006 on his web site that the re-named Sturgis County Line will provide “hundreds of acres to party… in a safe haven, free from a policed environment, that’s what I’m talking about! … over 150,000 s.f. of asphalt for semi-tractor trailors… 22,500 s.f. of… ice cold beer… kick-butt music & oh yea, hot hot women!”[1] The 600-acre complex will include an outdoor amphitheater with space for 30,000 people, where “the largest music acts known to mankind” will perform less than a mile from the base of Bear Butte.

In case it's not clear from that quote exactly what this means for Bear Butte, let me tell you that the concerts at Sturgis - which are a few miles away - can already be heard clearly from Bear Butte.

The good news is that we can make a difference. Visit the Bear Butte International website to find out how you can take action by contacting SD Governor Mike Rounds (and, for SD residents, your legislators), donating to the cause, or helping to educate others about this important issue.

Anne asks that if you contact the Governor or your SD legislators, please stress that this is not just an issue for Native Americans. I found the following language from an earlier action (urging the Meade County Commission to establish a buffer zone around Bear Butte, which it failed to do), and it's a good model for helping us make the point that the integrity of Bear Butte is a concern for all Americans:

Bear Butte is a Sacred Place to many American Indian peoples such as the Lakota, Arapaho, Ponca, and Cheyenne and many more Tribal Nations. Bear Butte is a place of prayer (church), a place to learn tribal way of life (school), and a place of healing (hospital) to these Tribal Nations. Laws exist in America to protect churches, schools, and hospitals and most governments protect the integrity of such places.

From the perspective of the South Dakota citizenry Bear Butte is a National Historic Site, a State Park that holds much Cultural Relevancy for many Plains Indians Tribes, that Bear Butte Lake is a National Wildlife Refuge. Bear Butte should be protected from further destruction that will come with the development of more campgrounds, bars, amphitheaters, saloons and the heavily trafficked highways that inevitably become part of such developments.

Bear Butte, as a State Park and National Historic Site, and Bear Butte Lake as a National Wildlife Refuge, are a concern to many American citizens. The attitude of wanting integrity for such places is not limited to the American Indian People who hold Bear Butte as sacred. It is a concern of many other people as well.

Anne White Hat also had another specific suggestion for those who wish to help. The National Wildlife Refuge that currently protects Bear Butte Lake is planning to divest and give the land to the state of SD. Please, contact LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge and urge them not to do so at this time, as this will certainly mean the end of Bear Butte and the beginning of widespread development:
LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge
29746 Bird Road
Martin, SD 57551

And please, spread the word. Link back to this post, link directly to the Bear Butte International site, but please help me get the word out. This is a fight that can be won if enough people pitch in to help. We often feel like there is nothing that we can do to prevent injustice, to make change happen, and there are opportunities all around us. This is one.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It was very touching.

SallySunshine said...

Awesome Plains. Thanks for keeping us in the loop. I think this is horrible, I definitely will be contacting Gov. Rounds.~SS