Bikers and developers need to take a hard look at the damage wrought by their merrymaking near sacred places. Last week, the 66th annual Sturgis Bike Rally in South Dakota drew thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts. But it is also drew attention to the rights of Indians.
Sturgis is near Bear Butte, or Mato Paha, in the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa, which in Lakota means "everything that is." Central to the spiritual practices of several Great Plains tribes, Bear Butte is a sacred place of pilgrimage, prayer and reflection.
Now, however, an entrepreneur from Arizona is building an enormous biker bar, music venue and campground at the base of Bear Butte. In line with the carousing that goes on at bike rallies, he plans on offering 600 acres of police-free partying, with daily "orgasm" and "Popsicle licking" contests. In the spirit of sharing Indian culture with his patrons, he said he was also planning on erecting an 80-foot statue of an Indian at the entrance.
His original plan was to name the facility "Sacred Grounds." He seemed genuinely surprised that local tribes were not supportive, so he changed the name to "Sturgis County Line."
But that's hardly sufficient.
Hundreds of Indians and supporters camped at the base of Bear Butte to protest excess development near the area. They would like to maintain a two-mile buffer zone around the site.
Located within the Bear Butte National Park, Bear Butte is a historic landmark. The protesters are educating tourists about the significance of this place for Indians. And they are drawing support from some bikers who waged a "Don't Ride 39" campaign, referring to the highway that winds from Sturgis to Bear Butte.
The fight for Bear Butte is just the latest battle over Indian sacred places.
Despite treaty guarantees, Indian holy land continues to be sold, mined, developed and destroyed in the name of cash. Arizona's Mount Graham, the peaks in San Francisco, Black Mesa in Arizona, the Devils Tower in Wyoming and Mount Shasta in California are but a few examples of continuing battles.
These places represent more than acres of real estate for American Indians. They are living, breathing connections to our spirituality, our cultures and our very identity as tribal peoples.
Our presence in these places often dates back thousands of years. Surely our ceremonies should prevail over the mere 66-year tradition of a gathering of fun-loving bikers.
Mary Annette Pember, Red Cliff Ojibwe, is past president of the Native American Journalists Association.