Friday, August 04, 2006

For Sacred Indian Site, New Neighbors Are Far From Welcome

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.