Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Sacred Bear Butte May Be Protected

One of real earthquakes of my life happened about fifteen years ago, when we visited Bear Butte, South Dakota. Bear Butte is a monolith that sits fifteen or twenty miles north of the Black Hills, out on the plains. It’s close to the town of Sturgis, where tens of thousands of “motorcyclists” (we used to call them “bikers” until we realized how much money they represented) congregate every summer.

Bear Butte is sacred to both the Cheyenne and Sioux Nations. It is where the Cheyenne recieved their Sacred Arrows from Sweet Medicine. It is where, for generations, the Sioux have gone for vision quests and retreats.

We stayed three nights in the ceremonial campground. The butte is a state park, and in general, no camping is permitted. We were there to do some ceremony, so we were allowed to stay at the Butte. We camped in a swale where Crazy Horse and his band used to camp. You can feel it. The trails up the butte are lined with signs: “Indians praying: please be respectful.” Every night we heard hand-drums from vision questers singing their prayers. Day and night there were sweat lodge ceremonies going on at the ceremonial campground.

It was amazing.

But, like most amazing and non-white things, it’s being developed to death. It may be, however, that steps are being taken to protect Bear Butte. I hope so.

Zoning rules may protect Bear Butte
STURGIS, S.D. - The sacred mountain Bear Butte may get some relief from additional biker bars and mega-entertainment venues, with the help of Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Meade County commissioners are considering zoning restrictions to protect the base, and the zoning could also be extended to the area around Bear Butte.

Protesters have camped and prayed at Bear Butte in attempts to stop the growth of large biker bar venues that could attract thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts that attend the largest biker rally in the nation. American Indians have testified at county commission hearings and spoke against any more liquor licenses, with little effect.

A few mega-entertainment venues, in the form of amphitheatres that will seat upwards of 30,000 people, have opened; more are in the planning stages.

American Indians from across the Great Plains consider Bear Butte a sacred mountain and use the area for prayer. 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.

Ellsworth AFB is located in Meade County just east of Rapid City. Rezoning would curb residential and commercial development to within a one-mile buffer around the base. Zoning restrictions around Bear Butte would also curtail commercial development.

The county has attempted in the past to zone certain areas in other parts of the county, but the effort was defeated by strong opposition. The region has a deep-rooted individualistic attitude, and land-owner's rights have taken precedence in the past.

South Dakota lawmakers passed a law that allows rezoning in five-square-mile sections. Mead County has one of the largest land areas of any county in the United States.

The August Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis attracts 500,000 bikes for a week or more.

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