Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 17, 2021

Carter Camp: Defending Bear Butte in 2006

Bear Butte: Carter Camp and the opposition to a biker bar in 2006. AP photo.

Publisher's note: Carter Camp sent this for publication in 2006, as censorship in Indian country media increased. It is republished today, 15 years later, to preserve Carter's words for history, and out of respect for his work, those who led the struggle beside him, and his family and friends. -- Brenda, Censored News

By Carter Camp, Ponca
June 14, 2006

Ah-ho My Relations,

Again many things have happened since I last wrote an update on our fight to defend our sacred mountain. The beginning of our gathering is only a few weeks away, and the local county government continues to license and permit booze and concert venues all around Bear Butte. In that respect nothing has changed, we still must come together this summer to stand in solidarity, united in our determination to defend Bear Butte. On a personal level I suffered a mild heart problem which hospitalized me for a while and has restricted my activities somewhat. I'm better now and the good thing is that Debra White Plume, Natalie Hand and Vic Camp have carried on in notifying people and societies of our efforts.

Last month at their annual meeting in Pierre S.D. the Black Hills Nations Treaty Council, Chaired by Chief Oliver Red Cloud voted unanimously to join the Intertribal Coalition in hosting the Gathering of Nations encampment this summer and the "Sacred Sites Summit" August 1-4. We at the Coalition are very grateful that the Treaty Council Chiefs and Headsmen have seen fit to endorse our efforts and to participate in the Gathering. Their leadership and participation gives enormous credibility to our work and ensures other tribes and societies will join us too. In addition the Treaty Council has issued a letter to the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota nations and people stating their support and inviting them to join us this summer in our historic quest to save our sacred mountain, and ourselves.

Recently young men carried the "Sacred Staff" along with the message from Chief Red Cloud and the Treaty Council up to the Cheyenne people on their lands at Lame Deer, Montana, and on to the Arapaho Nation in Wyoming. There they informed the people of our intention to call the People together this summer to make allies, to Council, and to find a way to defend our sacred lands. Everywhere they went among the Cheyenne people and later the Arapaho people they were received with traditional hospitality, they took part in ceremonies and got to speak with various Society men and women. It was good and many people from each nation pledged to support and to be here to stand with us. Soon they will be traveling to other nations and societies to spread the word; however, they won't be able to visit and council with every Great Plains Nation the way they wanted to at the beginning. We'll have to find a way to make sure every nation knows they're needed and welcome. I guess the message is, if you value and love the old ways of the people and if you're unafraid to let the world know it, you, your society and your nation should come stand with us.

Last month I was finally able to make a trip on behalf of the Coalition to visit the "Arrow Keeper" of the Cheyenne Nation and to inform him of our activities on behalf of the Sacred Mountain and to seek his prayers and blessing. I took him tobacco and a few other things and spent the afternoon explaining how the traditional people who live around Bear Butte are sick at heart watching year after year as the Sturgis Bike Rally moved ever nearer and ever louder into the space around our sacred mountain. Of course he had heard of the insult hurled by the developer Jay Allen and how his ugly enterprise threatens all of Bear Butte. I've known the Red Hat family for many years, in fact the present Arrow Keeper's Grandfather, Ed Red Hat helped me in a ceremonial way back in the seventies when I needed it and once my friends and I stood guard for his sacred tipi when it was being threatened by KKK type rednecks in those hard days. We left with his prayers, support and blessings and a feeling of strength because of his words to us.

Although many people and several tribes are supporting us we're still badly in need of money and resources to insure we Indian people live softly on the lands we're protecting. Because we can't live freely across the lands like our grandparents did when the last great gathering was held; we must carry out any and all waste we produce. Even if we live responsibly, the cost will be in the $40,000 range for trash and waste pickup and disposal. That's basic and if we can't live cleanly it will defeat our purposes. If you can help us at all with this fund please do so, it's vital. Owe Aku is taking donations for us, their website is, contact Debra White Plume, her address is on our web site.

I'd like to acknowledge the Oglala Nation for their continued support and the generous donation of TEN BUFFALO! to the Coalition. Also a good Lakota brother named Sonny Hare has donated a buffalo too. It will be good to share traditional food prepared in a good way. Alfred Red Cloud and Wilmer Mesteth will be conducting Native American Church services during the gathering, place and time will be announced soon. Both the Sicangu and Cheyenne Nations have allowed us some camping privileges on their lands, the Sicangu intend to run a shuttle bus from the rez up here to transport their people. I've also heard Cheyenne River is sending busses, we haven't heard if we can use the land they have there. I was also told that a large group of horse riders are planning a "Ride" through several reservations and plan to arrive at Bear Butte on about August 3rd, in time for the "rally". I sure hope they bring me an extra war pony to ride around. Within a few days another meeting is taking place with some brothers from a traditional Cheyenne society and us. So the contacts and organizing are ongoing even if I've been slow in reporting them.

On the bad side Meade County has continued to approve and re-approve liquor licenses (at $500,000 a pop) despite the pleas of Indian people, local residents, and tribal governments for at least some limit. Our lawyers made good arguments and the local coalition of residents, the BBIA, and local ranchers, have had no impact on their decision not to offer any protection at all for Bear Butte. Petitions have been passed, lawsuits filed, testimony given and given once again but everything has fallen on deaf ears.

In fact all of us in this struggle must acknowledge the great work being done on a local level by the Bear Butte International Alliance ( I'm amazed by their energy and dedication to the many-headed struggle by Indian people to defend Bear Butte. They worked tirelessly to gather the petitions to defeat the proposed liquor licenses and to give the people a voice. Their case is still ongoing and their work for Bear Butte continues so if you read this please respond to their needs too. On the good news side our sister, Anne White Hat, founding member of the BBIA has thrown her hat in the ring for County Commissioners! Meade County is big and Anne needs support from everyone who loves Bear Butte. I wish I could vote a few times for her… come to think about it, if the encampment lasts long enough a bunch of us may qualify! I know one thing: the election of Anne White Hat will raise both the morals and IQ of the Meade County Commissioners tenfold. Good Luck Anne!!

"Cultural Genocide". I can't help but think of those words when I think about what they're doing to us at Bear Butte. More so when I read about the Nations of the Southwest and their struggle to save San Francisco Peaks from a damn ski resort's effort to pervert nature, all so rich white people can have fun while destroying another place sacred to our people. This is because our ways can not survive without our connections to our lands. Too much has already been destroyed and we are so much the poorer for it. This is why Bear Butte was preserved in the treaties and this is why it has been fought for by every generation since. At the wasicu latest meetings in Sturgis, at the Treaty Council meetings in Pierre and at meetings and ceremonies concerning Bear Butte respected Elders, Traditional Leaders, such as Chief Red Cloud, Marie Randall and Loraine Walking Bull, verbally bequeathed to us the responsibility of carrying on the struggle they have been in all their lives. They told us not to give up. Be brave and don't falter because it's for the takoja, the grandchildren. What will they have if you quit? they asked.

Genocide must be resisted, are we no less human than the Christian occupier? A few days ago they had a big Christian Prayer Day at Mt. Rushmore, the monument they carved into the Paha Sapa. They guard their sacred places with machine guns year around and triple the security when prayer day comes. I don't question their needs but it does prove that they and their enemies know the concept of "sacred places", just not indigenous, native, Indian sacred places. No way Jay Allen could desecrate a place they love.

"Cultural Genocide". Our ways, our religion, our "culture", our land, water and air, the place our spirits reside, our ancient knowledge, our blood? Which part of the whole can be destroyed to qualify as a mortal wound? Do we have a right to dodge the fatal blow promised by the word genocide? Can we define what is vital to our well being as a people?

We believe the wanton destruction of our Nation's sacred sites constitutes "Cultural Genocide" against us indigenous people all across America. We further believe that it must be resisted by Indian people and all those who support us. We believe only a unified effort by all Nations in America can stem the tide of destruction. This is why we are asking all the Nations to come together this summer, each of us is losing alone. In doing this in an old traditional Indian way, by holding a month-long encampment, we hope to show the world just how serious we take our duty to defend what our Grandfathers and Grandmothers still tell us to defend.

We have prepared a tentative agenda for the encampment and the "Sacred Sites Summit" which I'll put on the web site as soon as our webmaster can get to it. I'll also post it wherever this update appears. Thank you for your patience between updates my relations, as I said in my first letter, our circle will grow and I have confidence our people will heed our call.
Because many people may be reading this for the first time I'm also including the last update. Feel free to share them.
Carter Camp, Inter-Tribal Coalition to Defend Bear Butte

Defending Bear Butte (update #3)
Ah-ho My Relations,
Many things have happened since I sent out the last update from the "Intertribal Coalition to Defend Bear Butte" but one thing has overshadowed everything else. Jay Allen HAS BEGUN CONSTRUCTION on the huge, 600 acre, "biker bar/concert venue" only a few hundred yards north of the Sacred Mountain!!! We have posted some of the pictures on our web site but I warn you they're ugly. He began the construction well before the county granted him the license to sell booze so both he and we knew how the vote would go.
Last Tuesday over a thousand Indian people gathered to pray on Bear Butte and march to the Meade County Courthouse to show the County just how serious a step they were taking when they vote to approve the liquor license for Jay Allen. We were led by Treaty Council Chiefs Oliver Red Cloud and Floyd Hand and many other traditional Chiefs and Headsmen. The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council came to stand with us, as did Councilmembers from Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Lower Brule. A group of Akicita, Eagle Staff Carriers were followed by a group of veterans in camo dress carrying the American Flag and the black MIA flag alongside the Tribal flags. Walking in front of us all in pride and dignity was the 19th generation "Keeper of the Sacred Pipe Bundle" Chief Arvol Looking Horse.
As is always the case as the morning dawned on Tuesday those of us who organized the protest wondered how many people would take time from their weekday schedule and travel from the reservation homelands to stand with us for the sacred mountain. At first the parking lot held a few knots of people standing around talking and shaking hands greeting each other. Then as the ten o'clock starting time came closer more and more cars began to arrive and the lot began to fill. A school bus from Takini pulled in and the energy all around rose. Then up the road came our invited escort of bikers on their big Harleys who had ridden in from Denver. Veterans in their fatigues began to assemble and a speaker system was mounted on Tom Cook's flatbed truck and the drum placed in the middle. Six or eight young men jumped up on the truck to sing an opening prayer song before our honored Sicangu Elder, Lorraine Iron Shell Walking Bull, an honored woman who has been steadfast in her work to defend Bear Butte, offered a prayer to the Mountain for all of us.
After the opening prayers I was called upon to explain the recent history of our struggle and how the gathering was organized. As I looked around I was struck by the singular honor that I was being given to speak at such a historic gathering of Indian people. Our people gathered in a large circle as the prayers began so I was able to look into the crowd and recognize strong traditional leaders and Sundance Chiefs like Rick Two Dogs, Wilmer Mesteth, Keith Horse Looking, Russell Eagle Bear and others. (I shouldn't have begun mentioning names because so many were there that my poor memory will fail to mention some notable people like Rocky Afraid of Hawk and his wife Pam who are founding members of the Coalition.) I say these things to tell you how truly awesome the gathering was to me as I stood facing Mato Paha and a thousand brave Indian people who were determined to save our mountain that day.
It's hard for me to describe the many inspiring talks were given in front of the mountain that morning. Organizers like Debra White Plume of our Coalition and Owe Aku, Anne White Hat of the BBIA and Sicangu Way of Life spoke for all of us who have spent the past year getting ready for this struggle. Alex White Plume, Vice Chair of the Oglala Lakota Nation spoke of his nations determination to defend the entire Black Hills and the Oglala's willingness to take a stand for Bear Butte. The Thunderhawk drum then sang a special strongheart song for Crazy Horse that Chief Floyd Hand requested before he told the people to stand strong no matter how hard it gets. He told us the entire Teton Nations Treaty Council was behind us and that if we stay together we can win. Then Chief Red Cloud spoke to us about how his Grandfather had fought for the Black Hills and drove the whiteman out of them. He said Mato Paha still belongs to our people and that we must fight for her in the name of our future generations. Then Chief Looking Horse came forward to offer a wonderful prayer to and for Bear Butte and all the red nations. With that the hearts of the people soared and we happily began to get into cars for the caravan to Sturgis.
The caravan was led from Bear Butte by our biker allies, followed by a van with our own security men and the flatbed truck with the drum and singers. Following them was a long caravan of cars, pickups, school bus and tribal Elders vans. It was well over a hundred cars and from where I was we could barely hear the drum and singers as we slowly drove into Sturgis. Once in Sturgis we dismounted in the park to march the final eight or ten blocks into town. Now the truck with the drummers went first, then Chief Arvol striding alone in his Headress and Chief's shirt. Behind him were the Eagle Staff Carriers, including me with the Coalition Staff, behind us the veterans marched with the American, Tribal and MIA flags. Then a thousand beautiful people came, the young ones chanting "Save Bear Butte!" "Save Bear Butte!" all the way through town.
The route the local cops had planned out for us went down a small side street and only came on the main thoroughfare the final block or so. However my son Poj Camp was in charge of security and he had mapped out a different route:), at the right corner he turned the lead truck left so now the march was going past the Broken Spoke Saloon and turning right down the main drag! At first I could see every cop grab their mics and report what had happened, the lead cops were already going down the sidestreet alone while the Indian were marching right past the B.S.Saloon! Then we turned down the main street and spread out across the entire street instead of one way, I loved it as now we could then march where all of Sturgis had to see us. As we reached our destination the drum began the AIM song and all the women sang in chorus, Chief Looking Horse began to dance and all the Staff Carriers and Flag carriers danced behind him to the steps of the community building where we were to gather. It was a powerful march and as we made our way into the building I could feel the energy and power of my people, all with one mind and united in purpose.
After a meal we once again assembled to march the final three blocks up the hill to the courtroom where the hearing would be held. The only difference in the march order was we were led by a Cheyenne River police car manned by two young Lakota policemen who were also sundancers and traditional men. As we began the drums sang warrior songs for us and the women trilled their encouragement to be strong when facing an enemy. Once again Arvol led us up to the courthouse door and we gathered in a large circle around him, dancing with our staffs until the songs were finished then whooping in defiance to let the wasicu know we had arrived.
In a way the following hearing was a farce and at the same time a wonderful thing. It was a farce because the outcome was a foregone conclusion. It was wonderful because so many leaders of our people were able to tell the world on the record about our Sacred Mountain and what she means to our Nations. Our rally filled the street outside while seventy of our people were able to fit into the crowded auditorium inside. Elders. Chiefs and Tribal leaders explained for over an hour the history of Bear Butte, her place in our beliefs and ceremonies and how the noisy, drunken biker bar would forever destroy the sanctity of the sacred places upon her. Tribe after Tribe, leader after leader gave testimony, we told them how bad the location was for a beer bar and just what the mountain meant to our various Nations. We told them of ten thousand years of peaceful worship that has taken place on Bear Butte and how the spirits and medicine on the mountain would be threatened by the noise and filth of Jay Allen's proposal. It was wonderful to hear.
On behalf of the bar a lawyer spoke briefly, a town racist spoke, a bar maid testified that Allen was a good boss and Allen testified that he respected Indians. Based on everything they had heard that day the Meade County Commissioners then voted unanimously to give Jay Allen a liquor license. Not one commissioner had ears.
Adding to this alarming development is the fact that the Meade County Commissioners have renewed all the liquor licenses for the other booze and concert venues surrounding Bear Butte. Plus the State legislature refused to even hear the bill introduced by Indian legislators to establish a buffer zone around Bear Butte.
Even though we expected these bad developments they are none the less disappointing and show us all that Indian people will not be heard in the normal channels of political discourse in South Dakota. These actions only serve to make it even more vital that the people gather at the time of the "Sturgis Bike Rally" to show America that if they destroy this sacred place, they also destroy we Indians as a people. We must gather to show them that the destruction of our sacred mountain is an act of genocide against the indigenous people of this land just as the destruction of the buffalo was to our Grandparents.
If you care to help us please visit our web site and sign up for the long hot summer that faces our people. We had one thousand Tuesday, this summer we need ten times that many, I hope you will be one of us.
Carter Camp, Inter-Tribal Coalition to Defend Bear Butte

Read more: Carter Camp 2007, Defending the Black Hills


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