While the country is busy talking about a Kentucky Fried Rat and making memes of Rachael Dolezal’s habitual blackface, another sort of alarm and cultural appropriation is flaring up in the Black Hills. Yes, the sacred Black Hills, a place under constant threat for its resources since 1874. This time the Lakota are fighting off a different kind of enemy: The Rainbow Family of Living Light.
First, a short lesson on the Black Hills.
In 1776, the same year the United States formed back on the eastern seaboard, the Lakota conquered the Cheyenne and took over the Black Hills territory. They called the hills Ȟe Sápa, “Black Hills” being a literal translation of Pahá Sápa for the black appearance the isolated mountain range has from a distance on account of the trees that cover them. These hills extend from the approximate areas of western South Dakota into Wyoming in the heart of Indian Country. They have become a central part to the culture of the Lakota people.
In 1868, nearly 100 years after the Lakota secured the Black Hills territory, the US government signed the Fort Laramie Treat of 1868. This treaty exempts the Black Hills from ever being settled by whites (well, non-Indians). However, in 1874, after George Armstrong Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, European Americans swept into the area in a gold rush after having discovered gold there. The US government’s response? Oh, forget the treaty, there’s gold! Lakota people, you will now be relocated.
The Lakota have fought for decades to uphold the treaty that gives them the rights to their sacred territories. But history repeats itself. They have been currently battling against the Keystone XL Pipeline that threatens to tear through their hills and pollute their territories beyond the pollution already caused by tourism, mining, and the lumber industry that has taken over these parts. How is any of this legal, you might ask? Well, quite frankly, it’s not.
Like most of the issues (especially environmental) that we have in Indian Country. The US Government has no honor when it comes to upholding international treaties (and tribes are sovereign nations, so that is exactly what these treaties are). Furthermore, the government ended its treaty making and refuses to resume it. Congress ended treaty-making with tribes in 1871, despite their sovereignty allegedly continuing to be acknowledged. The last treaty made was with the Nez Perce and was broken just a few years later, leading to the Nez Perce War. But enough about treaties. Let’s move on with the new enemy threatening to invade the Black Hills.
So now, who is this Rainbow Family?
People are allowed to be free and believe what they would like to believe. However, cultural appropriation is where Freedom of Speech has its limitations. The Rainbow Family of Living Light is an example of where this freedom becomes harmful, disrespectful, and out of line. To sum it up quickly, I would describe and generalize this self-proclaimed “tribe” as being a cult-like group of “free”, “loose”, and often marijuana-smoking non-Indians/Pretendians playing at “being Indian”. Sadly, the first time I became introduced to this group was at an actual Native gathering. (Even in Urban Indian communities, you have to be weary of the “Indians” and the “Elders” who try to lure you into faux-Indian groups, customs, and ways.)
Wikipedia defines these people as a “loosely affiliated group of individuals committed to principles of non-violence and egalitarianism” who “put on peaceable assemblies/free speech events known as Rainbow Gatherings”. According to therainbowfamilytribe.tribe.net, their beliefs are more than just this: “We also believe that Peace and Love are a great thing, and there isn’t enough of that in this world. Many of our traditions are based on Native American traditions, and we have a strong orientation to take care of the Earth. We gather in the National Forests yearly to pray for peace on this planet.”
But how does one base their traditions on “Native American traditions” when we are so diverse…and when “outsiders” aren’t exactly on the “inside”? That’s just it: they don’t. They bastardize what they think is our “tradition”. Yes, cultural appropriation.
If you look at photos from the gatherings, you will see a lot of naked people covered in mud, dancing, singing, doing whatever – and also smoking an enormous pipe/bong of what is most certainly marijuana. Internationally, even, these people gather. You will see photos of cult-like circles upon circles, usually with a Plains-style tipi in the background.
But there are more consequences than just cultural appropriation; there are also financial problems. The Forest Service Incident Management team costs federal taxpayers considerable amounts of money, allegedly because they must monitor these gatherings and the Rainbow Family refuses to pay what they owe for the permits to operate in these National Forest Lands. The Burning Man festival is not connected to these gatherings, but attendees at that festival are charged as much as a few hundred dollars to buy a ticket to attend – a cost that goes directly to securing the $750,000 permit for operating in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada each year. That is the same permit that the Rainbow Family refuses to acknowledge and pay, according to sources I have found.
The environmental impact of these gatherings is often great, including unpaid medical bills and local animal control agency costs for treating dogs in attendance. The Rainbow Family does pick up trash after events, but this does not include open latrine trenches, compost piles, fire pits, and other significant damage that occurs from their large, rambunctious occupation of protected lands.
Ironically, there were also three non-fatal stabbings in a 2014 Colorado gathering and one fatal shooting in a 2015 Florida gathering. Yeah, “non-violent”.
And what does this have to do with the Black Hills? You probably guessed it by now. Finally, here’s what’s been going on:
The Rainbow Family wants to gather at the Black Hills.
Yeah, you read that right. The culture appropriating semi-Pretendian tribe with recent violence and historic environmental damage wants to freely occupy the sacred and protected lands of the Lakota people.
Needless to say, the Lakota have said No. Online groups have been formed to gather supporters and petitions have been made because the Rainbow Family doesn’t seem to get the picture. They argue they have Freedom of Speech rights. On cantetenza.wordpress.com, a letter was shared which expressed the seriousness of the Lakota people’s refusal to allow the Rainbow Gathering to come. This is the Lakota’s issue notice of complaint that denies the Rainbow Family entry to the Black Hills:
The gathering may have well over 20,000 people, so this unwanted trespassing will certainly risk desecration of holy lands and interruption of Lakota ceremonial practices.
Yet, these “peaceful” people will not listen.
Instead, they have responded with lies of being Indian shamans, and some have even given death threats to Oglala Lakota Lance Brown Eyes and others who have spoken out. Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself: https://redpowermedia.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/rainbow-family-of-light-member-threatens-to-kill-native-americans-video/
Other comments have been received through various boards, including this person’s response to a Native trying to reason with him:
The bottom line is, these people have no right entering and desecrating this territory. This goes beyond just their typical cultural appropriation. They are not welcome, they should not be granted access, but then again neither should the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Lakota deserve respect for their wishes of keeping their land sacred and unharmed.
If you wish to support as an ally, Cante Tenza asks to write or call to these people:
U.S. Forest Service Black Hills director Craig Bobzien phone (605) 673-9200, fax: (605) 673-9350, email to firstname.lastname@example.org