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Preserve Bear Butte

Preserve Bear Butte

Meade County faces a constitutional and economic issue
by Charmaine White Face
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...Article I of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America

A few weeks ago a friend of mine stopped in to speak about a situation that had occurred that morning. Someone shot at her son-in-law while he was praying. The bullets didn't hit him but did cut short his prayers. If this had happened in a church with four walls and a roof, the police would have been called in, and South Dakota would be embarrassed as we watched the news broadcast on national television. As it was, the man was Native American praying on Bear Butte, a National Historic Landmark and recognized Native American sacred site. The police were not called in and the family still doesn't know who fired the shots. They just left the area.

This incident brought to mind the part in the US Constitution about prohibiting the exercise of one's religion. To drive people away with bullets from where they go to pray seems to be a way to prohibit the exercise of one's religion. In the case of Bear Butte, it's not just bullets. The rampant development that is occurring around the base of Bear Butte is also verging on the edge of infringing on the right to pray. Would the raucous noises of outdoor concerts barely four miles away combined with the constant buzz of motorcycles in the summer be condoned if they were occurring right next to a church or temple with four walls and a roof? In comparison, the size of Bear Butte with four miles away makes such places like highways and outdoor concerts seem like they are right next door.
The larger question is: if the practice of religious freedom is allowed to be discouraged at places like Bear Butte, how soon will the practice of religious freedom be discouraged from churches and temples with walls and roofs? It is not just an Indian issue. It is an issue for all Americans. And it is not just happening in western South Dakota but is happening all over the country.
Meade County, the city of Sturgis, and the state of South Dakota watched and then participated as the Motorcycle Rally grew and grew for more than fifty years. It appears to have reached its zenith a few years ago although no one wants to admit it. Now that there are other motorcycle rallies across the country, with the rising gas prices, and with the rampant influx of development in the Black Hills and the surrounding area, the beauteous scenery that has been an attraction is starting to wane. The private roads and no trespassing signs are increasing.? The tourist attractions are not as stimulating in this age of instant everything.? These are more observations no one wants to admit. No one wants the goose that laid the golden eggs to retire. But denial will not reverse the course that is becoming obvious to many.
Meade County, Sturgis, and even the state need to start seeing all of this with new eyes.? The economic windfall that is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally must not be allowed to condone the infringement on religious freedom. Many motorcyclists coming to this part of the country do so to experience the wide open spaces and see the natural beauty that did abound. Is that natural beauty still there? Are the wide open spaces becoming cluttered? What about the corridor that once separated Sturgis from Rapid City that is now filled with houses and other development? Who still remembers when there was only the little town of Piedmont between these two places? 
Meade County residents and others living in western South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming pride themselves on not giving in to zoning. Zoning is considered an invasion of personal freedom. But when someone's actions hurt or infringe on someone else's freedoms, then there arises the need for some kind of rules. 
Meade County could lead the way for the rest of western South Dakota to begin looking at other ways of keeping the economy going. Ecotourism seems the perfect fit for everyone.
The natural beauty of this area could be restored and en hanced at a time when the number of natural places around the country are beginning to decline with the increase in the human population. 
A natural landscape around Bear Butte would also provide the safeguards for Native Americans who come from all over the North American continent to practice their religions.

What would happen if economics, the Constitution, and protecting natural beauty were to coexist together all at one time? Are the people of Sturgis, Meade County, and South Dakota capable of planning and implementing something like this? A little more than fifty years ago, it was just a few motorcycles driving up some red hills at Sturgis and look what that became. It might be time now to start thinking of something new. 
Charmaine White Face is a free-lance writer and member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, or the Oglala band of the Tetuwan Oceti Sakowin (Tetons of the Great Sioux Nation). She is also the Coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills, a volunteer organization. She may be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Mission Statement

"Defenders of the Black Hills is a group of volunteers without racial or tribal boundaries whose mission is to preserve, protect, and restore the environment of the 1851 and 1868 Treaty Territories, Treaties made between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation."

Speaking about radioactive fallout, the late President John F. Kennedy said,

"Even then, the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby who may be born long after we are gone, should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent."

July 26, 1963 upon signing the ban on above ground nuclear tests