sacred cow sacred hills

The long, straight highway drops into the occasional coulee or river bottom then rises back on to the high, treeless prairie.

The long, straight highway drops into the occasional coulee or river bottom then rises back on to the high, treeless prairie.

With the scorching temperatures lately afflicting the Dakotas you can see the heat waves rising off the road. These cause a localized mirage, briefly distorting the image of any approaching vehicles.

The free ice-water signs from Wall Drugs in Wall, South Dakota, have been a landmark along the road for now over four generations.

They have encouraged hot, thirsty and bored highway travellers to have a look at something other than the seemingly endless sea of browning grass.

The many diversions of Wall can hold you only for so long before the journey west along I-90 resumes.

Soon a black line appears on the distance horizon. It will turn out to be the eastern slope of the Black Hills.

Ponderosa pines give the front slopes their black colour. They hold the promise cool breezes and respite from the prairie heat.

The road turns northwest at Rapid City, a community about twice the size of Whitehorse, and continues along the edge of the Black Hills.

From there on the countryside becomes very familiar, Piedmont, Elk Creek Canyon, Fort Meade and then Sturgis.

First as a youth group leader then as a cave guide I spent a lot of time in the area in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

My appreciation of this area grew as I explored it and learned a bit about its history.

Know as Paha Sapa by the Lakota or Sioux peoples it holds a special place for them. In their way of seeing creation it is literally the centre of the world.

A long war of attrition with a westward expanding nation and then a gold rush drove them from this holy place.

A later day tourist invasion literally reshaped the land, in some cases dramatically like Mt. Rushmore or the Crazy Horse monument.

The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins Monday and runs through August 13th. This small South Dakota town of normally around 6,500 inhabitants is already hopping.

When I first came to the area, the rally attracted only a few thousand bikers. This year for the 66th-annual event, they expect more than 600,000 motorcyclists of every possible description to attend.

Sprawling biker campgrounds make this corner of Meade County the largest community in the Dakotas by far for one week every year.

The enormous infusion of tourist dollars for the state economy makes it a sacred cow for local politicians. What happens, though, when a sacred cow treads on sacred lands?

Bear Butte lies just to the northeast of Sturgis. Multicoloured prayer flags line the trail up to its 1,000-metre summit, while people from three Lakota First Nations have held placards lately protesting the rally’s encroachment on this sacred site.

It seems one entrepreneur wants to build the world’s longest bar adjacent to Bear Butte.

“The mountain is sacred to us,” said George Whipple, executive director of Tribal Land Enterprise an arm of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in a Associated Press release last week.

“Therefore, the cultural and spiritual value of the land was what was significant to us. By keeping with that tradition, we’re also keeping it from being developed into a beer garden.”

“We’re here to defend our sacred site,” Alex White Plume, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, noted in the same article.

“We have to learn to get along, but we also have to have mutual respect for each other and that’s not happening today.”

The Lakota and their supporters including a Christian peacemaker contingent will march from Bear Butte to the Meade County Courthouse during the rally next week in an effort to peacefully make politician and bikers alike aware of their concerns.

Maybe they will encourage a few to voluntarily keep their distance from the offending drinking and entertainment sites.

In any event the roar of the choppers will fade away from this corner of the Black Hills in about 10 days. However the issue there remains.

We know the Lakota drove the Cheyenne from Paha Sapa after the Europeans forced them from upper Michigan and Minnesota.

The Cheyenne, in their turn had forced the Arikara out before them. The Arikara likely did the same to other more ancient unremembered inhabitants of the Black Hills.

Is it just the turn now of the Lakota to fall to this raucous rally of bikers?

Will we ever learn to live in mutual respect and tolerance with people who hold beliefs differing from our own? If we want to lessen strife in the world around us, learning this lesson will be key.