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The half moon shone bright on rainy New York City this weekend. The towering buildings stood in for canyon walls, enormous rectilinear buttes under and through which we humans walked and shall continue to walk for hundreds of years to come. Under the same moon, many hundreds of miles to the west, a great mass converged at different sort of energetic center, one whose purpose and resonance is quite unlike the buzzing density of this modern metropolis. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Pte Oyate (Buffalo) Nation called together members and allies for a landmark event deeply relevant to the world of any conscientious American: The Unity Concert for the Black Hills Initiative.
The Black Hills, located in the southwestern corner of the vast and largely barren state of South Dakota, are renowned for a number of reasons. The first and lasting one is that they are known by Lakota to be the center of the cosmos, the meeting place of the Four Directions. The Hills are a forested oasis in the midst of a thousand-mile plain, consisting of a number of large mountainous buttes and the famous Pine Ridge. They get their English name from the appearance of thick Ponderosa pine groves on the mountain slopes when seen from a distance. Their importance to native life in the region led to an 1868 treaty with the American government that forever exempted the Hills from white settlement, but in 1874 illegal prospectors struck gold and before long General George Custer was leading rangers in one of the U.S. military’s most ignominious campaigns, chasing Sioux from their ancestral land and opening the sacred region to the population and desecration that accompanies a gold rush.
The Hills have been subjected to the strange status of tourist attraction in the century and two score hence. From Mount Rushmore to Deadwood, there are no shortage of honky-tonk distractions for visitors, all of which neglect the truth of these magic mountains: they hold a resonance that vibrates far beyond the limited tonal palate of consumerist capitalism that will continue drawing pilgrims for as long as there are pilgrims to be drawn. When one walks on this land, one remembers.
The Black Hills Initiative was begun in a response to the latest threat to this great place: a hydrofracturing company offering 1.3 billion dollars for the right to drill into the mountains. To this point, despite enormous political pressure from state and federal authorities, the Sioux leaders in whom the decision has been vested have refused the money. The Black Hills Initiative has been raising awareness about this struggle, and the Unity Concert was a landmark show of support both within and without the Sioux nation, a critical joining-together of the rapidly growing countercultural festival circuit and the indigenous rights movement to honor the treaties and prevent further damage to the biosphere in the name of short-term profiteering.
The turnout was high and the weather was good; sacred circles were drawn and chants old and new were recited; but this struggle is only now beginning. Members of the Pine Ridge Reservation lived under some of the most blighted conditions in the Western hemisphere, mimicking the struggle of native peoples the world over. Fracking and other forms of extraction continue to escalate in scale all around North America, including the Marcellus Shale in our own backyard. In the words of the initiative, we must continue to come together “For the Black Hills, For the Earth and All Her People.”
For more information on the Unity Concert visit http://www.theunityconcert.com/