The National Trust for Historic Preservation has released the 24th edition of its annual Most Endangered Historic Places, and two sites in particular are significant both historically and spiritually to American Indians.
Bear Butte, Meade County, SD
Sacred ground for as many as 17 American Indian tribes, Bear Butte and the surrounding area are threatened by proposed wind power development and oil drilling, and the area is additionally under a kind of cultural threat due to its proximity to Sturgis, site of the massive Sturgis Bike Rally, which attracts hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists every August. Defenders of Bear Butte have voiced objections to the commercial encroachment on sacred ground by the businesses that thrive during the rally, as well as to such proposals as a concert venue at the foot of the butte.
Bear Butte is hugely significant; the site ProtectBearButte.com asserts that “To Native people, Bear Butte is sacred ground, just as Mount Sinai to Hebrews or the Vatican is to Catholics.” A partial list of reasons why would include:
• Site of annual prayer ceremonies by Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes.
• Site of prayer ceremonies attended by some of the great chiefs in Lakota Sioux history, including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Red Cloud.
• Site of Oyate Kiwsiyaya, or “the Great Reunion of the People,” in 1857, at which the Lakota Sioux, led by Crazy Horse, resolved to resist further encroachment by white settlers in the Black Hills.
Bear Butte was established as a state park in 1961, and today carries four designations designed to protect it: National Historical Landmark (since 1981), National Historical Place (since 1973), National Natural Landmark (since 1965), and Registered National Trail (Bear Butte Summit Trail, since 1971).
Greater Chaco Landscape, New Mexico
The Chacoan people were prehistoric farmers who lived in northwest New Mexico from roughly 700 AD to 1300 AD. Known for multi-story buildings, the Chacoan people were sophisticated engineers and architects; some of their stone buildings, known as “great houses,” contained hundreds of rooms. Their descendants include the Pueblo Indians, among others.
The Chaco Canyon and some of the nearby mesas are protected as part of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The region includes Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins, and is one of just 20 World Heritage properties in the United States. The National Trust for Historic Preservation points out that federal lands outside the park boundaries contain historical sites that are as good or better than those within the park, adding that “it is the natural and cultural landscape as a whole, and not just individual sites, that make this Chacoan region worthy of protection.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation reports that the Greater Chaco Landscape is under threat from various human activities, including energy exploration and development.