Monday, December 31, 2007

South Dakota governor moves to protect Bear Butte

South Dakota governor moves to protect Bear Butte
Posted: December 31, 2007
by: The Associated Press

David Melmer Indian Country -- South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds has proposed using state, federal and private money to buy a perpetual easement that would prevent commercial and residential development of some land on the western side of Bear Butte.
By Chet Brokaw -- Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - For centuries, members of the Lakota, Cheyenne and other American Indian tribes have been climbing Bear Butte to fast and hold religious ceremonies.

Colorful prayer cloths hanging from trees line the path to the top of the mountain, which rises about 1,300 feet above the surrounding plain.

But often, and especially in August, the serenity of the site is disturbed by a deafening roar, caused by thousands of motorcycles.

Indians have sought for years to block development of land around the butte into campgrounds, bars and other sites that could interfere with their religious use of the mountain. Now they have an ally in the governor.

Gov. Mike Rounds wants to spend more than $1 million to prevent developers from putting biker bars and other noisy businesses on ranch land near the mountain on the northern edge of the Black Hills.

Saying he wants to protect the beauty and peace of the religious site, Rounds has proposed using state, federal and private money to buy a perpetual easement that would prevent commercial and residential development of some land on the western side of Bear Butte.

Indians working to protect Bear Butte praise the Republican governor's plan.

''Any kind of assistance from anybody in preserving the butte is welcome,'' said Gene Blue Arm, a Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member who has sought to limit development near the religious site.

''It's good of him,'' Blue Arm said. ''I think it's a good deal.''

Dean Wink, a member of the Meade County Commission, said he opposes a perpetual easement that would block all future owners from considering other uses for the land. But he said he could support an easement that prohibits development for a decade or two.

''Forever is a long time,'' Wink said.

The governor made only a brief mention of the plan in his budget speech to the South Dakota Legislature, which is being asked to approve an emergency special spending measure for Bear Butte. The easement could help calm some worries about the mountain, Rounds said.

Details will not be available until the legislative session opens in January, but it might cost up to $1 million to get the easement, State Parks Director Doug Hofer said.

Rounds' plan would use $250,000 in state money, to be matched with $344,000 in private donations and a $594,000 grant from a federal program that protects agricultural land, to buy a perpetual conservation easement on some ranch land on Bear Butte's west side.

Named Mato Paha, or Bear Mountain, because it resembles a sleeping bear lying on its side, it was formed by volcanic rock that never erupted and was then exposed when surrounding land eroded.

The butte and the land immediately around it are in a state park that was sold to the state of South Dakota in 1962 for $50,000. Because of the growth of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, land values in the area have skyrocketed.

In recent years, Indians have gathered at Bear Butte and nearby Sturgis during the rally to protest motorcycle noise, loud concerts and alcoholic consumption near the mountain.

The 2007 Legislature rejected a measure seeking to ban the issuance of liquor or beer licenses within four miles of the boundaries of the state park after lawmakers said they did not want to interfere with private property rights.

Wink said he expects the Legislature will have a good discussion on the governor's easement plan, but local residents believe the issue should be handled locally.

''They just think the private property rights and local control are more important,'' the county commissioner said.

Some also have questioned whether tax money should be used for such an easement, Wink said.

But Blue Arm said the sacred mountain must be protected.

''I'm saying yes to anything to stop further development around the butte,'' Blue Arm said. ''In a ceremony or in prayer, there needs to be a solitude.''

Monday, August 13, 2007

Protest organizers plan smaller Bear Butte presence

Protest organizers plan smaller Bear Butte presence
Posted: August 13, 2007
by: The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - American Indians again plan to have a presence at the upcoming Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to protest motorcycle noise, loud music and alcohol consumption around Bear Butte, but the gathering will likely be smaller. Last year, Indians from around the United States and at least one other country confronted bikers in Sturgis, then walked to the natural land mass outside of town that they consider sacred. For centuries, Indians from various tribes have come to the butte to pray, fast and hold religious ceremonies. They say noise from the bars and campgrounds disrupts the peace, and they want bikers to avoid those places. Alex White Plume, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is again organizing this year's protest with his wife, but without issuing an invitation to other tribes. ''Last year we invited many nations. But this year we want people to come on their own,'' he said. There's a gathering planned in Rapid City and an encampment at the base of Bear Butte on land owned by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe along Highway 79, he said. ''Within 4 miles we want to stop all alcohol sales and loud noise and desecration,'' White Plume said. Efforts to pass such a buffer zone have failed at the county commission and Legislature. Tamra Brennan of Sturgis, a member of the committee organizing the encampment, said it should not be considered a protest action. ''We're not going to do any marches or things like that,'' she said. ''This is not a protest at all. It's strictly a peaceful prayer camp.'' Since the 2006 rally, alcohol licenses for several businesses that operate between Sturgis and Bear Butte during the motorcycle rally were renewed by the Meade County Commission. A license for one place that was at the center of last year's protest was not. Commissioners said they didn't renew the offsite beer license for Sturgis County Line because of unpaid and late payments to construction contractors. The owner, Jay Allen, can't apply for another year. He will be able to serve alcohol that's consumed at the bar, but can't sell it for offsite consumption. Allen also owns the Broken Spoke Saloon in Sturgis. At the June commission hearing, Allen said by telephone that the Sturgis County Line project has been a financial headache, and that some contractors overcharged or didn't finish their jobs. Allen's representative told commissioners that he is selling his Broken Spoke saloons in New Hampshire and Florida and taken on partners at his Broken Spoke in downtown Sturgis.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Broken Spoke owner leaves unpaid bills

Broken Spoke owner leaves unpaid bills Contractors ask Meade County Commission to suspend beer license
By Dan Daly, Journal staff Wednesday, June 06, 2007

STURGIS - Broken Spoke Saloon owner Jay Allen, who built the controversial Sturgis County Line rally venue north of Bear Butte last year, has a new controversy: unpaid bills.
Builders, electricians and contractors who built Sturgis County Line say Allen owes them thousands of dollars each. They haven't been paid in nearly a year, and the debts are causing financial problems for them.

Half a dozen contractors turned out at the Meade County Commission alcohol license renewal hearing Tuesday to ask commissioners to suspend approval of Allen's beer license until they are paid in full.

Commissioners agreed to table the Sturgis County Line license application until Thursday. However, the commission went on to approve all of the other alcohol licenses between Bear Butte and Sturgis.

They approved the licenses despite strident pleas from American Indian groups and supporters of a development buffer or an alcohol ban near Bear Butte. The groups urged commissioners to deny alcohol licenses to all the rally campgrounds and concert venues near Bear Butte.

The butte, also known as Mato Paha, is sacred to the Lakota, the Northern Cheyenne, the Osage, the Ponca and other indigenous groups. They decry what they see as the encroachment of the noisy motorcycle event in an area where pilgrims seek prayer and solitude.

In recent years, the groups have regularly testified before the Meade County Commission about their opposition to alcohol near Bear Butte. They have asked for buffers ranging from seven miles to 1-1/2 miles.

The tone at Tuesday's hearing was much different, in part because they were joined by the angry contractors.

Al Sutton of Al Sutton Electric in Rapid City told the commissioners that he has a lien against the Sturgis County Line property for $15,000 in electrical work plus interest and legal fees.

He said Allen sent him a check for $15,000 shortly before Tuesday's hearing. The check hasn't cleared the bank, and Sutton won't release the lien until it does -- and Allen pays the legal fees and interest.

"Just because he sent out checks and made promises doesn't mean he's cleared it up," Sutton told the commissioners.

Gene King of King's Construction said his company is owed $42,000, and he faces financial problems of his own because of Allen's unpaid bill.

Allen was not at Tuesday's license hearing. He was represented by Lon Nordbye Jr., who told commissioners that Allen is working at a motorcycle event in Ohio.

Nordbye conceded that Jay Allen has had serious difficulties in financing the new Sturgis venue. He said Allen is selling his Broken Spoke Saloons in Laconia, N.H., and Daytona, Fla. He has also taken on partners at his Broken Spoke in downtown Sturgis.

"He is actively trying to resolve the problems," Nordbye said.

Nordbye said five of six lienholders have been paid. With the sixth lien, King's Construction, he said that Allen disputes the amount that King's claims it is owed.

Ann White Hat, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who lives at the base of Bear Butte, suggested that Allen's unpaid bills should be a basis to deny the license for reasons of character.

Bear Butte groups have called on Sturgis bikers to boycott the bars and concert venues near Bear Butte. It's unclear whether that caused financial problems for Allen and the Sturgis County Line.

However, attendance was decidedly light, according to those who were at Sturgis County Line. But its location north on S.D. Highway 79 is much farther from Sturgis than most bikers usually venture.

Contact Dan Daly at 394-8421 or

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bear Butte liquor license dispute headed for state Supreme Court

Bear Butte liquor license dispute headed for state Supreme Court
Posted: January 29, 2007
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota Supreme Court has received an appeal on a lower court decision to not allow petitioners a chance to veto the issuance of a malt beverage license near sacred Bear Butte in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota.

The battle to stop owners from opening huge biker bar venues within sight and sound of Bear Butte grew this past summer and challenges the Meade County Board of Commissioners' policy that allows liquor licenses near the mountain.

Attorney Thomas Van Norman, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the tribal attorney, filed the appeal on Jan. 14 on behalf of the petitioners.

The appeal is in response to the circuit court order that denied petitioners a writ of mandamus that would have compelled Meade County, in which Bear Butte is located, to hold a referendum vote on the malt beverage license issue.

During the first week of every August, 500,000 bikers converge on the normally small community of Sturgis, located just three miles from Bear Butte. Large-venue entertainment complexes located within sight and sound of Bear Butte offer entertainment and encourage the bikers to party.

Entertainment complexes or stadiums that can accommodate some 30,000 people are either being constructed or are in operation nearby.

Bear Butte is considered one of the most sacred of sites by numerous Great Plains tribes. Oral histories point to the mountain as the source of the spiritual life of the Cheyenne, Crow, Lakota, Shoshone, Arapaho, Kiowa and nearly 25 other tribes.

Members of the various tribes pray on the mountain nearly every day of the year. Many American Indian soldiers who are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan pray on Bear Butte before they leave and after they return. Families pray for ill members and many individuals seek visions on the mountain. Bear Butte is also a state park.

During the Sturgis Rally, those who pray assert that noise and other distractions from the music and the non-muffled bikes disturb their concentration and meditation. A camp composed of people from many American Indian nations gathered on the mountain for more than a month this past summer to bring awareness to the sacredness.

Support for the tribes has come from many local ranchers who also see a need to curtail the growth of the rally industry.

The trigger for the rallies and protests came when Jay Allen, owner of a new campground, bar and entertainment complex, applied for a malt beverage license for a new venue to be located just to the north of the mountain. He also owns the Broken Spoke campground and bar, located north of the mountain.

A petition to request a referendum vote on the license was filed with the county auditor within the legal time after the commission approved the license. The auditor certified the petition, but the commission unanimously voted to reject a referendum vote based on administrative decision.

The case was then sent to circuit court, which found in favor of the county.

Petitioners in the case contend that applications submitted by Allen were not treated properly by the county commission. Allen's first application, submitted in April 2006, the petitioners argue, asked for a new malt beverage license to be used at the new venue near Bear Butte. It was issued on June 9.

Also in April, Allen submitted an application for the renewal of an existing malt beverage license at the Broken Spoke. The petitioners argue that both license applications were treated similarly. The renewal was subject to only a check of sales tax licensure and comments from law enforcement on potential calls over problems at the location of the license.

Petitioners argue that a complete background check - required for new licenses - was not completed and that the commission used the same criteria as for a renewal.

In their brief to the state's high court, the petitioners further argue that the circuit court erred in its decision to deny the petitioner's first request to hold the referendum.

They also contend that the county commissioners denied the petitioners their constitutional and statutory rights by refusing to print ballots and hold the referendum vote.

The petitioners pointed out that both the legislative and administrative actions of municipal governments are subject to the referendum process in the state of South Dakota. The county commission denied a referendum based on administrative procedure.

Legal precedence points out that any decisions made by counties or municipalities on liquor licenses are subject to referendum. The law also is clear, the petitioners argue, that the discretionary powers afforded to the county commission is legislative and therefore subject to referendum.

It is not clear whether a new referendum would overturn the county commission's decision to issue two malt beverage licenses to Allen. Allen also succeeded in purchasing a full liquor license from a steak house in the county that has since closed.