Beer sales get unanimous OK
By Dan Daly, Journal Staff Writer Wednesday, April 05, 2006
STURGIS � After listening to nearly two hours of comment � some for, most against, and much of it impassioned � the Meade County Commission voted 5-0 to approve a beer license for a new Sturgis motorcycle-rally bar and campground near Bear Butte, a sacred site to many American Indians.
Entrepreneur Jay Allen, owner of the Broken Spoke Saloon, bought 600 acres of land north of the butte. He plans to open a new Broken Spoke Saloon and Sturgis County Line Campground on the site for the 2006 Sturgis motorcycle rally. Later, he hopes to open a concert venue as well.
But opposition to Allen’s plan has been intense. Diverse American Indian groups including the Sturgis-based Bear Butte International Alliance and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana oppose the project. The Meade County Commission received 633 letters on the subject. There was even an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times decrying Allen’s proposal.
Tuesday’s commission meeting culminated a day of prayer and protest by Indian groups that began at Bear Butte and ended on the streets of Sturgis.
More than 400 marchers, singing and chanting “Save Bear Butte,” walked in a slow procession behind a Lakota drum group and spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse. The march ended at the front entrance of Meade County Courthouse.
Protesters carried signs that read “The End is Near, Jay Allen is Here” and “Develop Your Mind, Not Sacred Sites.”
Inside, the courtroom-turned commission room had space for only 70 people. Most of the crowd waited outside through the entire meeting.
About 25 journalists crowded into the jury box-turned press gallery as Jay Allen made his case for approval of the beer license � and 20 opponents tried to persuade the commission to deny the license.
Allen’s attorney, Bryce Flint, told the commission that the bar itself would be 2-1/2 miles north of the base of Bear Butte. He noted that other licensed biker bars and music venues, including one across the road from the Sturgis County Line property, are as close or nearly as close to Bear Butte.
Among those who spoke on Allen’s behalf was Sasha Mullins, who works for the Broken Spoke. She described her boss as a big-hearted person who wants to develop a harmonious environment for his employees and his patrons.
Flint noted that Allen’s beer-license request meets both legal tests set down by state law � character of the applicant and location of the establishment. He said Allen, who operates Broken Spoke Saloons at motorcycle events in four states, has been found to be a responsible businessman. Flint also said the neighboring landowners support his right as a landowner.
The Meade County Commission apparently agreed. There was little discussion among the five commissioners before the 5-0 vote. Dean Wink was the only commissioner who spoke to the crowd.
“I’m not convinced that Meade County needs another biker bar,” Wink said. “I do feel strongly � that private property rights have been eroded.” He said Allen’s proposal meets the standards set by the state and the county and therefore deserves a beer license. “I have a problem deviating from the standards we’ve set down.”
The decision came despite a series of passionate speeches from Indian people who talked of the sacredness of Bear Butte and its role in their cultural history. They spoke about the need to preserve the sanctity of Bear Butte so that future generations of Indian pilgrims will have a place to fast, pray and cleanse their spirits.
Speakers compared Bear Butte to Jerusalem, to Mecca, to the Christian Bible and to Mount Sinai.
“Bear Butte is a sacred place, and we need to keep it as our grandfathers (kept it),” said Looking Horse, who is revered in Lakota religion as the keeper of the sacred calf pipe. “When we sit on top of Bear Butte, we communicate with our creator.”
Carter Camp of the Intertribal Coalition to Defend Bear Butte also spoke. His group is pushing for a five-mile buffer around Bear Butte. He told the commissioners that generations of American Indian soldiers who fought for the United States have come home to Bear Butte to heal their spirits. He said every biker that goes to the new Broken Spoke Saloon will go rumbling past Bear Butte. “The location of this could not be worse,” he said.
The Northern Cheyenne Tribe, which traces its very survival to Bear Butte, has been buying land around Bear Butte for years, L. Jace Killsback, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council, said. He said the tribe has about 700 acres set aside, and it is trying to buy more.
Others said they have no objection to Jay Allen opening a biker bar for the Sturgis rally � but not at this location.
The Sturgis County Line proposal also apparently renewed some of the debate in Meade County about the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Jesse Levin, a non-Indian rancher who lives 30 miles east of Sturgis, told the commissioners that she is disgusted by the trash, dust and drunken bikers that she has seen at her place.
“When is enough going to be enough for us in Meade County?” she asked the commissioners.
State Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, who chairs the House-Senate Tribal Relations Committee, also spoke against the measure, as did Bruce Ellison, a Rapid City attorney.
Ellison said the United States was founded on the principle of religious freedom. “We have to figure out a way in which we can co-exist,” he said.
Contact Dan Daly at 394-8421 or firstname.lastname@example.org