Oglala Lakota president John Yellow Bird Steele told a group of New Age spiritualists who plan to gather in the Black Hills that as long as they respect the sacred site, including Lakota traditions, he does not have a problem with their scheduled event next month, a spokesman for the Oglala Lakota said.
The Rainbow Family of Living Light – a group of hippies and nudists that, since 1972, has held a yearly celebration of “peace, love and alternative lifestyles,” according to its website – met with Steele on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and promised him event participants will act accordingly, Oglala Lakota spokesman Kevin Steele told ICTMN.
Representatives of the Rainbow Family also promised to help the Oglala Lakota rebuild the pow wow grounds on the reservation, Kevin Steele said.
On Monday, the U.S. Forest Service confirmed that the Rainbow Family Gathering will be held in a remote area of the western Black Hills on July 1 through 7. The event could produce upward of 20,000 attendees, according to reports.
Activist and hip-hop artist Nataanii Means, who is Oglala Lakota, told ICTMN he is concerned not all the hippies converging on the Black Hills will treat the land with the respect it deserves. Means said the sacred Black Hills is where the Lakota creation story derives – that the Lakota emerged from the soil there.
“I feel bad for the Black Hills,” he said. “I can’t help but feel, like, exploited for it, feel sad for it, feel hurt. We’re still fighting for the Black Hills. We want our Black Hills, and [we] don’t want them desecrated.”
Means, who recently returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from a sun dance in the Black Hills, added that he is especially concerned that drugs will be used en masse during the event. He suggested the Lakota send its warrior society to the gathering to police the area for use of illicit substances.
“They use drugs to connect to the earth,” he said. “It’s just ugly.”
Event-goers have already arrived in nearby Rapid City much to the chagrin of local authorities. Last week, Rapid City police and sheriff’s officials said there has been a rise in aggressive panhandling and drug crimes, Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal reported. Business owners in the area, however, are readying for a surge in patronage.
Since it was rumored the event would take place in Paha Sapa (Lakota for the Black Hills) roughly a month ago, the gathering has drawn caustic criticism. Native Americans, not only of Lakota descent, have clashed with Rainbow gatherers over the event, arguing the group makes a mockery of indigenous spirituality; that they unabashedly appropriate Native American cultures, and that they will almost certainly desecrate the Black Hills.
In 2014, the Rainbow Family Gathering was held in Heber City, Utah, where, following a stabbing, a death and a drug overdose, authorities said at the time their biggest concern was “drugs and violence.”