The Unity Concert for The Black Hills Initiative

[guest post by RFC Communications Director, Amber Black]

"Idle no more! We will stand together forever. Stand up for what is right. We will unite! Sing, dance and pray. Idle no more."

These words were woven into an a cappella song by a First Nations artist that rang out from a brightly lit stage, late on a cold, Saturday night, in a campground in The Black Hills of South Dakota…a place sacred to the Sioux Nation. The people who heard the words from their tents and campers, and from picnic tables and chairs and blankets in the surrounding fields, had come from as far away as Germany, Australia, England, Ontario, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Florida…and as close as Rapid City and the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations.

Those convened at the Elk Creek Resort in Piedmont, SD on September 13-14, 2014, were there for The Unity Concert for the Black Hills Initiative (www.theunityconcert.com). The free event was an unprecedented gathering of Native and non-native elders, artists, activists and allies. Participants had come together to support an initiative by the local tribes to sway the U.S. government to return control of The Black Hills region to the Lakota people, from whom it seized the land in the late 1800’s in violation of legally binding treaties.

Attendees included local, national and international leaders working to combat fracking and uranium mining, oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, promote indigenous knowledge and cultural pride among First Nations youth, preserve and grow the last genetically pure wild buffalo herd, and other progressive causes. In addition, dozens of tribal and spiritual leaders, musicians, and poets ranging in age from 11 to their mid-80’s - including Buffy Sainte-Marie, Arlo Guthrie, Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook, Peter and Bethany Yarrow, Theresa Two Bulls, Jyoti, Joanne Shenandoah, Supaman, Paul Winter, David Amram, Earth Guardians, Xavier Rudd, Lyla June, Nahko Bear, Nataani Means (son of Russell Means), and many others – entertained, informed, energized and inspired attendees over the two days of the festival.

RFC Board of Directors Chair, Rafael Rodríguez Cruz, and I also were there. Throughout our three days at the site, we volunteered for the event’s production team, and shared information formally and informally about the RFC’s support for activist families and young activists who’ve experienced repression because of their organizing.

Rafael and I met a group of Lakota men from the Rosebud Reservation, some of whom are parents, who have encamped in the path of the proposed KXL pipeline and are vowing to stay as long as needed to prevent it from crossing their land. We got to know environmental and indigenous rights’ activists from across the country and around the globe. We chatted with many of the artists (all of whom had donated their time to participate), and presented RFC information from the main stage and at a workshop held in the tipi that served as the performers’ and elders’ green room throughout the event.

The concert’s slogan, “The time is now to stand up in unity for our sacred sites and our Mother Earth,” refers to the effort to bring widespread awareness of and momentum to the local tribes’ resolution to continue rejecting the U.S. government’s offer to pay them off in exchange for them giving up claim to the land. Instead, they insist on the return of the illegally occupied Black Hills region to the people from whom it was taken. The event was a powerful, tangible expression of that unity, and it was an honor for the RFC to be there to stand with the activists from both the immediate area and around the world, who are struggling for justice, peace, and a healthy planet.

A webcast with videos of the concert is available at www.upliftconnect.com, and more information, photos, etc. are at www.theblackhillsarenotforsale.org and in the photos on the RFC’s and The Unity Concert’s Facebook pages (albums are viewable even if you're not a Facebook user).

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