On the Northeastern edge of the Black Hills, just a few miles from the small town of Sturgis, off Highway 34, lies one of the most sacred mountains to the Plains Indians from the United States and Canada.
Up to 60 different tribes traveled to Bear Butte to fast and pray. Separated by about 8 miles of prairie from the greater Black Hills, which are also considered sacred by these same nations of people, Bear Butte looks like a sleeping bear lying on its side with its head pointed toward the northeast.
People praying on the mountain would be disturbed by the sound of the bikes and the music, zoning restriction advocates claim. Local residents and ranchers have joined the effort to stop growth of the mega-biker bar phenomenon in the county.
From August 1-12 a spiritual encampment will take place at the base of Bear Butte during the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Participants will pray for the protection of Bear Butte.
Bear Butte was the focus of protest marches and demonstrations during the motorcycle rally last year. Protest participants and organizers were critical of rally-related developments coming closer to Bear Butte and unsuccessfully sought restrictions on that development from Meade County officials. They also asked bikers attending the rally to avoid driving to or past Bear Butte on Highway 79 to reduce noise and activities that could disturb the tranquility of the mountain and spiritual peace of worshippers.
Some of those who took part in the protests are now organizing the prayer gathering this year, which will coincide with the rally. The well-known motorcycle gathering is scheduled from Aug. 6-12, but really begins a few days sooner.
"We kind of put our efforts together to do something a little more peaceful," Brennan said.
The prayer-camp area will be near the entrance to Bear Butte State Park. Alcohol, drugs and weapons will be banned from the camp. Tape recorders and video equipment will be allowed only when and where authorized by encampment coordinators, a release by the working groups said.
News reporters will be required to check in with authorities at the gathering, to limit disruptions of the worshippers, Brennan said.
"We're not going to allow TV camera crews to just walk around," she said. "We will designate one or two members to deal with the media when they come. We just don't want people videotaping or taking pictures when people are praying."
The Northern Cheyenne Military Society will police the camp and work with local law enforcement officials to help keep order and maintain respect for the mountain, the release said.
Bikers for Bear Butte have released the following statement:
This letter is to all those well-meaning bikers who participate in the Sturgis Bike Rally in South Dakota, in August. We believe that the majority of you are not aware of the destruction the rally is causing to one of Indian peoples' most sacred sites, Bear Butte. Very few non-Indians know that for many centuries all the Tribes of the Great Plains worshipped and conducted sacred ceremonies at Bear Butte. It is a place for quiet prayers of thanksgiving and for seeking spiritual guidance with ancient ceremonies.
Probably most of you are unaware that returning Indian veterans of wars since before World War1 have made their way to the sacred mountain to pray, fast and give thanks for their safe return. And most veterans wouldn't know that the Cheyenne Nation has conducted ceremonies on Bear Butte during WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam to insure the victory for American forces. Bear Butte is where our young men and women go to fast and to learn and to test themselves for adulthood. Bear Butte is where our holy men and women have gone to seek spiritual knowledge for as long as our tribal memories can see into the past. Even today in this new millennium Bear Butte continues to be central to the spiritual and ceremonial lives of over thirty Indian Nations.
In 1940 the Sturgis Bike Rally began as a small group of people who got together to ride their bikes and enjoy the Black Hills area. In the decades since it has grown steadily and now it will attract over 600,000 participants on its way to one million bikers in the near future! At first most of the bikers were concentrated in or close to the town of Sturgis a few rode the approximately 10 miles northwest of Sturgis past the sacred mountain, but our people could ignore those ones as they prayed. As the rally grew (and city ordinances became more restrictive) it became financially attractive to move out of the city into the surrounding rural areas. Because Interstate 90 runs along the south and west sides of Sturgis most of the increased development has been on the north and east sides, towards our sacred mountain.
In 1982 an almost unbearable event happened that shocked Indian people across the nation. An entrepreneur developed a huge campgrounds/concert venue he called "The Buffalo Chip" at an intersection only four miles from Bear Butte! As the "Chip" grew into a major venue of events hosting Evil and Robbie Knieval and concerts with Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, others have quickly sought to capitalize on its success and build even larger, noisier and bigger venues with which to reap the immense profits of the "Chip". Imagine trying to pray or conduct an ancient ceremony upon the mountain when rock concerts with mega-speakers blaring, are drowning out your words to the Creator. Every word from the speakers at the "Chip" can be heard from the sacred slopes of Bear Butte and now, to the horror of traditional Indian people, many more such destructive venues are bulldozing land and bringing in toilets to open enough biker bars and party venues to satisfy a million bikers.
Indian people have explored every avenue open to them to defend and protect our sacred mountain. We have petitioned, lobbied, protested and signed treaties. We have attended county meetings of every description and we have talked to Governors, Senators and Congressmen of every party and political persuasion. For a hundred-and-fifty years and more we have sought to find a way to protect this important part of our peoples heritage. At times it seemed as if the American government understood and would accede to our requests but each time what was promised has been later denied or taken away. The treaties were broken and politician's promises turned to dust and blew away on the first wind. Money and the greed for more money have overcome all our pleadings for justice and respect. The lands surrounding Bear Butte are once again golden in the eyes of the greedy just as they were when Custer announced gold for the taking in the sacred Black Hills. A rush is on to entice bikers to camp, drink their beer and spend their money in the ever larger and noisier campgrounds edging closer and closer to the sacred mountain.
Indian people are becoming desperate to preserve even small portions of our once peaceful and remote, sacred places across America.
We are not trying to close or stop the Sturgis Bike Rally or even to interfere with all the various things that go on there. We are asking that the Federal, State and Local governments enact and enforce a five-mile buffer zone around Bear Butte, to restrict the sale of booze within the zone and make sure concerts and other extraneous noise is kept away from the Mountain. To us that seems very minimal and reasonable, but our words have fallen on deaf ears once again and the county and state are allowing more and more destruction to happen always closer to Bear Butte. It must be stopped.
It is now our hope that we can turn to the customers of the bike rally, the bikers themselves, to ask that they help us in our efforts. We ask that all bikers who become aware of our struggle to observe our five-mile buffer zone. We ask all bikers to help us make all attendees of the Sturgis Bike Rally aware of our request and to help us encourage all the booze and concert venues too close to Bear Butte to close down and move away. We are asking that all bikers boycott the "Broken Spoke Saloons" until their owner Jay Allen formally withdraws his obscene proposal to develop a biker bar called "Sacred Ground" adjacent to Bear Butte.
We are asking that all "BIKERS FOR BEAR BUTTE" come together with Indian people to help us enact a buffer zone around Bear Butte and to help us inform all your brother and sister Bikers of the issue.
For Information and to Support this Grassroots Effort with Much-Needed Donations
Please contact Members of the Bear Butte International Alliance Working Committee:
Tamra Brennan 605-347-2061 Tamra@ProtectSacredSites.org www.ProtectSacredSites.org
Gilbert Brady 406-477-3175 firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcella Gilbert 605-624-9288 email@example.com
Phillip Gullikson 605-624-9288 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jay Red Hawk 605-347-4127 email@example.com
Anne White Hat 605-347-4127 BBIA@MatoPaha.org www.MatoPaha.org
Please consider sending your tax deductible donations to;
Bear Butte International Alliance PO Box 4232, Sturgis, SD 57785
The following is from the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune.
Group plans prayer camp
An American Indian group plans to hold a spiritual encampment at the base of Bear Butte during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally next month.
Tamra Brennan of Sturgis, a member of the working committee that is organizing the encampment, said it should not be called or considered a protest action.
"We're not going to do any marches or things like that," she said. "This is not a protest at all. It's strictly a peaceful prayer camp."
They'll pray for protection of the Butte that is held sacred by many American Indian tribes, as well as the protection of indigenous nations and their sacred sites. Prayers also will be offered for U.S. military personnel, nations that are being hurt by armed conflicts, the world's hungry, and the environmental effects of global warming.
Organizers will maintain the camp Aug. 1-12 on property owned by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe along Highway 79 on the west side of the mountain. The Sturgis rally is Aug. 6-12.
Bear Butte was the focus of protest marches and demonstrations during the motorcycle rally last year.
Participants and organizers were critical of rally-related commercial developments coming closer to Bear Butte and unsuccessfully sought restrictions on that development from the county. They also asked bikers to avoid driving to or past Bear Butte on Highway 79 to reduce noise and activities that could disturb the tranquility of the mountain and spiritual peace of worshippers.