June 29, 2006

Bikers and Bear Butte

by Kari Lydersen
In 1857, 30,000 Sioux and Cheyenne gathered at Bear Butte in South Dakota to plan how to deal with white settlers moving in on their sacred land. Native American warriors launched attacks on wagon trains from the mountain, incidents which are now commemorated in historical plaques along the highway. In 1874, Indian fighter George Custer visited Bear Butte, two years before making his infamous "last stand" at Little Bighorn. Chief Crazy Horse also spoke there, calling on his people never to sell the land.
Native Americans in the area are offended by the drinking and debauchery at the foot of their sacred mountain, but they have grudgingly tolerated the motorcycle rally for the about 60 years it has been going on. Now they are furious that an Arizona biker and developer wants to turn the biker party scene into a year-round presence, with a sprawling biker bar and campground within two miles of Bear Butte on it’s currently undeveloped north side.

"We’re trying to defend this mountain that’s sacred to our people for many generations, but we’re fighting against millionaire developers," said Victorio Camp, 31, a Pine Ridge reservation resident who grew up doing vision quests at Bear Butte. "This mountain is a place where spirituality comes from. It’s a place where we gather medicines and do ceremonies. It’s hard to go up there and pray when you have 100,000 motorcycles driving by."

Developer Jay Allen started out as a participant and leather vendor at the Sturgis rally. He was a regular at the Broken Spoke Saloon in a former Sturgis lumberyard. He ended up buying the bar in 1993, and then opened a chain of Broken Spokes in Florida, New Hampshire and South Carolina. For his new 600-acre development, he made clumsy efforts to reach out to Native Americans. He announced plans to call the complex "Sacred Ground," and feature an 80-foot statue of an Indian, a tipi village and an "educational center" about Native Americans – many bikers do feel an affinity with Native Americans and want to learn more about their culture. (Some bikers also oppose Allen’s development, and testified against his application for a liquor license at a public hearing.)

Local tribes did not appreciate Allen’s gesture, however, seeing it as a case of adding insult to injury, especially considering the history of the area.


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