I can#8217;t believe another summer has flown by me! As I lay in bed at my brothers Wyoming ranch, I just dont want my trip to end. I have saturated myself with my familys company all month (and a week of Sturgis in between), and it never feels like enough.
Sturgis 2006, the 66th annual event, is still attracting half a million riders every summer. And as this tiny town tries to accommodate these masses, its venue has spread in every direction. Big name bands were playing every night at the Buffalo Chip and Glencoe Campgrounds. These areas have become their own little contained cities. They meet all of the basic needs, and many people dont even want to fight the crowds, and dont even bother coming into town. I have seen the rally change and grow over the years, and I was saddened to see the negative effect it is now having on the native culture in the Black Hills.
The Black Hills are rich with native history, which is much of what makes them uniquely special. Because I have played my part in visiting these sacred places every year, I feel a sense of responsibility to speak up, and at least help bring awareness.
I arrived into Sturgis late Friday night, and was unpacking while watching the news. It showed many Native Americans protesting with signs on Main Street. As business moves outward, the land the Native Americans regard as most sacred, Bear Butte Mountain, is being surrounded. Many natives of different tribes from all over the United States regard this mountain as a sacred refuge. It has long been a place of solitude and prayer. It is a place where visions are sought, and found. And only in a quiet, tranquil environment, can they continue to do so. They compare this mountain to any place we would worship, and ask for our respect of this right. But their protest was early in the week, and not many people were there to see it. The ones who were there didnt seem to even know where Bear Butte was, or what all of the fuss was about. The short news story ended by showing the signs they had used in protest lying on the street with bikers walking on top of them. It was sadly obvious that it was not a topic of concern to most.
So what are they protesting, and why? They are protesting many businesses that are getting too close and noisy for them to continue with the traditions they have practiced for hundreds of years. They are protesting alcohol and drunken behavior in that sacred area. If you are trying to study in a library, you know it is distracting if there is noise. The natives believe their visions and prayers are being interrupted. They are protesting progress, and sadly, that is inevitable.
So what are they asking? During the rally, they asked bikers to willingly stay off the normally quiet and peaceful Highway 79 in an effort to reduce the noise pollution near their sacred state park. They are a proud people, asking for respect, and asking for the space to pray in peace. Technically, Bear Butte is a state park, and a beautiful one at that. Buffalo roam the hillside, and prayer offerings hang in the trees all along the hiking trails. Tee-pees line the canyon floor, and the view of Bear Butte Lake and the Black Hills from the top of the mountain is magnificent. Years ago, a native friend of mine took me to the top, and together we tore up a bandanna and tied tobacco into the pieces, and said prayers for the people we loved. That ritual stuck with me. I now feel at odds with the fact that I have taken dozens of friends up that path over the years, and taught them to do the same thing.
I have Ojibwa blood on my mothers side of the family, if only enough to fill one shoe. I have always been drawn to the native way of life. But can I fully grasp the damage done when years of us bikers interpretations have left the trees covered in tee shirts, shoes, and even underwear? How could that be viewed as anything but desecration to someone who goes there to worship?
As our world continues to run out of valuable space and resources, we can only expect these situations to be more common, and more complex. But the main targets of protest at the rally were not the bikers, so much as the new business owners. There is a shooting range trying to open near by, and the new Broken Spoke Saloon was of large concern. With Glencoe and the Iron Horse campgrounds just miles from the Butte towards town, the new Broken Spoke opened its doors this summer just miles past the Butte. With plans of being the biggest biker bar in the country, it is of great concern to all nations who travel far and near to seek answers on the mountain.
True, the land around Bear Butte is privately owned, and commercially zoned. By all standards, property owners should be free to do whatever they choose with that land. Broken Spoke owner Jay Allen is a businessman who wants to be fair, but there are some circumstances in life where even compromise isnt enough. I have been coming to the Sturgis rally for nearly 20 years, and hanging out at the Broken Spoke on Lazelle Street. It has been the meeting place for all of my friends and family who come in from all four directions. Its a small enough place that you can actually find your friends there, and I wouldnt dream of missing Jimmy Van Zant singing his 20 minute version of “Free Bird.”
Jay Allen, and the Broken Spoke have been good to me. He is about as cool a white man as you could meet. I did want to go out to see his new establishment, and my friends who ride the Wall of Death were set up there in the parking lot. The new bar does have grand potential as a path allows you to ride through the bar upon your arrival. Because I wanted to comply with the wishes of the natives asking people to stay off Highway 79, I took the dirt road option. Its a beautiful road, and virtually empty. I did read that the ranchers in the area are having problems with their cattle getting pneumonia from the excess dust in the air, so I can only imagine that road to get worse with time.
So I guess the question is, do we Americans, white, black, Latino, Asian, Christian, Jewish, whatever do we need to honor the beliefs and traditions of our native people and land? Does “ownership” buy you the right to do wrong? The natives had the opportunity to buy the land. With the popularity of the rally driving real estate prices up, the cost of the land was not affordable for them. The land is only being used for two weeks out of the year and left empty for all to enjoy the rest of the days.
What is fair? What is right, and what is wrong? As a woman who has traveled the world over, I have long been interested in the connection people of all lands have with their creator. It is that connection to our light source that leads us to know the difference between right and wrong. No matter how dim that light may seem, dont we all know the difference between right and wrong? I dont propose to have answers, but awareness is the first step.
An organized event is in the making that will benefit and bring awareness to the Lakota Nation. The Black Hills are worth visiting and worth preserving. The native traditions deserve our respect. If you would like to know more about this topic, visit DefendBearButte.org.
To see more of Betsy, visit her Web site at BetsyHuelskamp.com.