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Friday, August 04, 2006

Bikers, indians conflict

The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracts
thousands of bikers, like these who attended in 2003.

For Sacred Indian Site, New Neighbors Are Far From Welcome

Published: August 4, 2006

STURGIS, S.D., Aug. 2 — Robert Simpson pieces together a living, building ranch fences and riding saddle broncs at rodeos. When things get tough, he says, he makes a trip from his home in Montana to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where he can practice the traditional ways of his tribe, the Northern Cheyenne, with four days of fasting and praying on a bed of buffalo robes and sage atop Bear Butte.

“Spirits come and hear your prayers,” Mr. Simpson said. “You can regroup from everyday life, and get your marbles together. It’s peaceful.”

But Bear Butte, which dozens of tribes hold as one of the most sacred sites in North America, is getting a new neighbor: a giant biker bar and campground are under construction about two and a half miles away. They are scheduled to open this weekend, in time for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the country’s largest biker events, which officially starts Monday.

The potential for rock music, roaring motorcycles and thousands of people drinking near the striking volcanic Bear Butte formation has brought American Indians from around the country to an encampment on the treeless plains near here. They plan to march into downtown Sturgis on Friday to demonstrate their concerns to the bikers already gathering for the rally.

Organizers said that about 2,000 Indians and their supporters were expected to take part. Nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was the site of the Wounded Knee standoff in 1973, and some participants are veterans of that protest. Some religious groups, including the Mennonite Central Committee at Pine Ridge, have also become involved.

“We need integrity in our ceremonies here, and it requires a certain amount of quiet,” said Alex White Plume, president of the Oglala Sioux tribe at Pine Ridge, as he stood at the hot, windy encampment at the base of the butte about five miles from here. A small buffalo herd still roams the land.

Mr. White Plume estimated that as many as 8,000 Indians from 30 tribes around the country travel to Bear Butte, which the Sioux and others call Mato Paha, to fast and pray each year. Bear Butte, which rises 1,100 feet, is in a state park with an interpretative center that describes the central role the butte played in the lives of the Plains Indians for centuries.

Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Black Elk and other widely known leaders sought visions here, and the trees are still covered with bright prayer cloths and other offerings of modern-day seekers. The Sioux call it an emergence site, where their prophet Sweet Medicine brought forth the cultural traditions of their people. Tribal traditionalists say many people are finding their way back to the old ways, which is healing the drug and alcohol addictions that have plagued tribes.

Mr. White Plume said tribal leaders wanted to preserve a five-mile buffer around Bear Butte. Over the years, tribes have spent more than $1 million to buy about two and a half square miles of land near the butte, but they have not been able to raise enough money to protect the rest.

Down the road from the encampment, Jay Allen, who owns the Broken Spoke Saloon here in town, is racing to finish the new bar. Mr. Allen said that the Indians’ concerns were overblown and that the bar and campground would be good neighbors.

“We’re very responsible about how we run our operation,” he said, as a table saw whined behind him in a parking lot filled with antique Harley Davidsons and construction equipment. “We’ve got a flawless reputation.”

posted by Steve @ 12:16:00 AM

12:16:00 AM

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