Our Answer to the Superintendent

June 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Culture, Media, News

TREATY TOTAL IMMERSION SCHOOL

P.O. Box 99

444 Crazy Horse Driv

Porcupine, SD 57772

605-867-1025 www.treatyschool.org email treaty@plateautel.ne

Mr. Vidal Davila, Superintendent Wind Cave National Park26611 U.S. Highway 385Hot Springs, SD 577473 June 2011

Dear Superintendent Davila,

I received your correspondence of May 13, 2011, and I would like to respond in some detail to specific aspects of your letter, the archeological report, and the Special Use Permit conditions that accompanied your letter. Let me say at the outset that the relationship between the traditional Lakota Wiwang Wacipi (Sun Dance) at Washun Niya (Wind Cave) and the National Park Service (NPS) over the past thirty-three years has been cordial, mutually-respectful, and has accommodated the needs of all concerned. Myexpectation is that such positive relations will continued this year, and into the future.

As I consider the history of relations between our Wiwang Wacipi and the NPS, I am reminded that the foundation of those relations is based in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), 42 USC1996 (1978) and its 1994 amendments in H.R. 4155. As I a sure your know, the intent of AIRFA is to ensure that U.S. government agencies “protect and preserve for American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”I also recall the language of the AIRFA amendments in 1994 that “no Federal lands …may be managed in a manner that undermines and frustrates a traditional Native American religion or religious practices.”Further, the amendments state that the Federal agency “shall select [a] course of action that is the least intrusive on traditional Native American religions or religious practices.”Keeping these guidelines in mind, and the fact that nothing in the statutes mentioned above subordinates traditional indigenous spiritual ceremonies to the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 or theNational Registry of Historic Places, I am optimistic that we can reach an amicable agreement that will allow for the successful conducting of our traditional Wiwang Wacipi this year.I hope that it goes without saying that we view Washun Niya (Wind Cave) as one of the most important aspects of who we are as Lakota. We are an integral part of the total environment of Washun Niya, as it is with us. Therefore, if we were to speak of historical or archeological artifacts at Washun Niya, we considerthe entire location to be a living artifact, and we are inseparable, living. dynamic elements in that landscape. In that regard, we have every interest in protecting the physical, cultural and spiritual integrity of Washun Niya.With all of the above as preface, I would like to address some specific elements of your letter, and of the study that you mention in your correspondence.

Prairie Dogs and Prairie Dog Town

Over thirty years ago (or even ten years ago), when we returned to Washun Niya to hold our Wiwang Wacipi, there were no prairie dogs at that location. Only in the past few years has the population begun to expand. I have mentioned that phenomenon several times over the past few years to different NPS personnel and superintendents, with the hope that the NPS would take affirmative steps to control the population. In a sense, the proliferation of prairie dogs resembles the spread of other invasives, such as Russian olive trees or Cotton thistles.If an infestation of Cotton thistles grew in the area that we use for the Wiwang Wacipi, we would not be expected to move in order to accommodate them. The NPS would perceive the thistles as an invasive plant,that is creating an environmental imbalance, and the NPS would regulate them in order to maintain the integrity of Wahun Niya.We view the prairie dogs in a similar light. We did not commence the Wiwang Wacipi on top of the prairie dog town – the prairie dogs arrived after the ceremonial camp. We would hope and expect that the NPS would take that into consideration and would allow us to achieve a solution to this issue, as the AIRF Aamendments require, that is to “select [a] course of action that is the least intrusive on traditional NativeAmerican religions or religious practices.”

Archeological Disruption

As mentioned above, the Lakota and our ceremonies are an integral part of the archeology of Washun Niya.We do not view ourselves as separate or divisible from the historical archeology of the site. We are the living archeology of the area.To illustrate this point, if an archeologist revealed a site where a Wiwang Wacipi had taken place 200 years ago, the site would be considered to be significant and worthy of protection. This is true because the ceremony and the location of the ceremony are integral to the anthropology and archeology of the site. Our ceremony is a direct, continuous extension of that history. We are not hosting a rock concert or a football game that has no deep historical connection to Washun Niya. We are conducting the same ceremonies that our ancestors conducted, with the same significance, and in the same spiritual and anthropological connection to place.Does conducting a ceremony have a physical impact on the location? Yes, just as ceremonies in the past had an impact. That is precisely how archeologists can illustrate that the site was significant, because previous generations left a physical impact on the site. Is the impact of our Wiwang Wacipi enduring and detrimental? There is no evidence to indicate so. Part of our ceremony is to renew and replenish the earth.Did the vehicles from last year leave some ruts in the mud? Yes. Were they remediated by our people after your photos were taken? Yes. Is the area substantially healed today? Yes.

My point is that as part of the living archeology of Washun Niya, it is in our interest to preserve and maintain the physical integrity of the site, and that is precisely what we intend to do. We are more than willing to work with the NPS to ensure that the integrity of the location is maintained.Toward that end, although we would prefer to camp where we have been camping, we are willing to move the camp to the designated area that you have suggested. I also encourage the NPS to investigate methods of removing the prairie dog hazard (which includes plague) from the area in question. I know that the NPS has taken similar measures in other regions of the park, and certainly local farmers and ranchers engage in remedial measures to reduce prairie dog hazards.We also offer a few alternative suggestions, however. For example, your placement of the portable toilets puts them upwind from the cook tent. We would prefer that they be located downwind from the main cooking and eating area.I would also point out that parking along the road actually presents a greater hazard than it prevents. Our suggestion is that we designate a small, strictly-enforced parking area opposite the cook area, and that the only vehicle allowed into the camping area would be the truck carrying the tipi poles. Others would be required to carry their camping equipment by hand. This will prevent the possibility of vehicles getting stuck in the mud, or making ruts, in the event that it rains. In the past,the NPS has provided fence posts and flagging material for the parking. We hope that you would be willing to do so again this year. We are willing to erect and to dismantle the parking markers, and return them to you at the conclusion of the ceremony.We also remind you that during the ceremony, a single pick-up truck will be required to deliver firewood to the ceremonial area, and will be required to utilize the two-track road to do so. We expect that the number of trips up to the ceremonial area for this purpose will be less than ten.

Superintendent Davila, we believe that together, your suggestions, and ours, represent a workable scenario for this year’s Wiwang Wacipi. We look forward to working with you and your staff during the course of this year’s ceremony.

Russell Means

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