Native Sun News: Protecting sacred Bear Butte at all costs

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

A Nakota Energy, LLC oil well near Mato Paha on land owned by Mark and Janeen Norstegaard.

STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA — Indian activists are preparing for what might be a real life Avatar.

Competing interests, protection of a sacred mountain and Americas insatiable lust for oil could lead to conflict said James Swan, Minnecoujou, organizer of United Urban Warrior Society.

Swan, who attended a May 18, 2011 hearing of the South Dakota State Board of Minerals and Environment, was ecstatic when a 2010 permit, allowing Nakota Energy, LLC to drill 24 wells within 1.5 miles of Sacred Mato Paha (Bear Butte), was revoked.

“We basically won, now they are only allowing them to drill five oil wells,” he said shortly after the meeting. “We actually got some concessions out of them.”

“Whatever they do, they have to have a Native American representative involved in their decisions, where they are going to put these oil wells now. These oil wells have to be in a position that if you drive around Bear Butte you can’t see the silhouette of them. If they take a tree out or if they build a road they must leave the land as they found it,” he said.

“They are also required to paint their tanks and the rigs to fit the scenario of the environment.”

Then, in a sudden turn of events, it was announced that Meade County Commissioners were exploring legal avenues to reverse that decision. Meade County Commissioners and Indian Activists have been at odds for years, beginning with a proposed gunnery range and more recently the encroachment of biker venues onto their sacred turf.

In the serene setting of Bear Butte Lodge, Swan spoke of this sacred place, a place he holds close to his Chante (heart). The lodge owned and operated by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is located near the base of the mountain. Behind the lodge sits an inipi (sweat lodge) with a small stream trickling by where Swan has visited every weekend for the past several months. He said he will continue to do so as long as there are threats to Mato Paha.

“Little by little Meade County has been pushing and pushing to build more biker bars out here. Now there is the oil issue,” he said.

He said that although Indians have been fighting and complaining about these issues for years, Meade County Commissioners ignore them because, “It’s all based on money and greed. They’re not asking us, they’re not talking to us; they do what they want to do.”

The issue of the Nakota Energy drilling wells near the sacred mountain was kept quiet he said and that the first he heard of it was when an article came out in the Rapid City Journal.

“Every time we bring up an issue, they ask where were your people when we first brought this up. Well, we would have been there if they would have notified us,” he said. “They should have considered us when they made this decision. We are their neighbors.”

Corey Hairy Shirt, caretaker of the Bear Butte Lodge voiced his concerns on the news that Meade County is considering legal action on the recent decision to limit the amount of oil wells allowed near the mountain.

“We place a lot of significance on what we have here as far as the ceremonies. It is really sad that people are coming around this area and moving in on our sacred site. It seems that they don’t really care about what we have here,” Hairy Shirt said. “They keep trying to encroach upon us. To me, it seems that the Meade County Commissioners don’t really care about what happens here.”

“They’ll listen to us, but that’s about it. They’ll do what they want to do anyway,” he said. “It isn’t over. To me it seems like it is a money thing. They are going to continue pushing until they get what they want. Money is a big thing to them. They don’t see the spiritual aspect of what we have here.”

On the other side of the mountain surrounded by the sweet aroma of wild chokecherry blossoms sat a man from Fairview, Washington, who came here to offer his prayers. He had been up on the hill for three days.

“I understand that there are people who want to put wells around this site. Why don’t we just go ahead and put some wells around Washington, D.C.,” said Fred Weissenfluh. “I am not really happy about them putting wells around this place that has been sacred for thousands of years.”

Also camped near the mountain were several families from Oklahoma who come here once a year to participate in their ancestral Cheyenne ceremonies.

Real life Avatar?
Down a gravel road northwest of the mountain sits one of the oil wells. The Nakota Energy well is just an exploratory well to determine if there is sufficient oil for a full-fledged drilling operation.

So what happens next? What happens if they strike oil? Are the Indians prepared? Swan answers in the affirmative.

“This isn’t over; we don’t have anything to lose anymore. They have already taken everything away from us. We are ready to fight if it comes to that. There are people from all over who have said the same thing,” he said.

“If some of us have to make a sacrifice then so be it. The spirits tell me, it’s not a matter of winning or losing, its fighting for what you believe in at all cost, Hoka Hey,” Swan stated on the United Urban Warrior Society Facebook page.

Currently a petition at www.protectbearbutte.com asks for support in requesting that Meade County cease and desist from further action on the Bear Butte oil drilling issue.

A meeting of the Meade County Commissioners to seek legal remedies to reverse the May 18 decision is scheduled for either June 7 or 8.

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at managingeditor@nsweekly.com)

Related Stories:
South Dakota approves development by sacred Bear Butte (5/19)
Tribes oppose oil field development by sacred Bear Butte (4/22)
Native Sun News: Something rotten in oil field regulations (4/21)
Native Sun News: Oil development plan poses threat to Bear Butte (1/12)

Join the Conversation