The Unity Concert of the Black Hills Initiative brought thousands earlier this month to gather around one cause. The event would unify many First Nations people, activists, politicians, musicians, artists, and supporters to generate energy enough to create momentum towards re-establishing the stewardship of the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation. The event would also move to heal past wounds historically dealt by all peoples in order to move forward and to focus on healing lands the whole globe over.
This gathering was in response to a 2008 statement from President Barack Obama. In the statement, Obama promised that he would have an open discussion with The Great Sioux Nation if they had come up with a “unified plan for the Black Hills.”
“A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history,” stated Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1980 ruling in favor of the Great Sioux Nation. At that time, the U.S. Supreme Court had awarded the tribes 105 million dollars instead of the land which was owned by the government. It had in fact been ‘owned’ by the government since 1877. The ownership, or seizing of the lands, had occurred after the Black Hills Gold Rush had reached its peak in about 1876. The outright theft of the land had occurred shortly after it had been promised to the Sioux via the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868.
The 105 million has since become more than 1.4 billion dollars.The tribes did not accept those funds. “The Black Hills are not for sale,” they said and the money still sits in the bank.
Many have asked how it is that the poorest people in America today refused such a large sum of money. Aside from the viewpoint that the land was outright stolen from its people, the Sioux think of the Black Hills as sacred. The land is so sacred to them that it is not set apart from the respect, honor, connection, and adoration one would feel for their mother. It is not right to sell your mother. Further, the Sioux believe that land cannot be owned. They can only ever be caretakers of the land. “They don’t want it back to win it,” stated Peter Yarrow in an exclusive interview with Examiner.com. “They want it back to be the custodians of it because in their culture, you don’t own the land. That’s Mother Earth.”
As it stands, much of the land in question is just laying there, latent, not being cared for or used, even though it is owned by our government. It is “a spectacular symbol of and literalization of this cruelty,” stated Yarrow.
Peter Yarrow (of the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary) has been consistently active in the world of social, political and environmental activisms since the 60s. He sat down for an exclusive interview to talk about his involvement with The Unity Concert and to speak to its significance. He is considered a champion among those who work with him and he considers this his life work. He is no stranger to social action and is constantly involved in movements that aim to make change for social and restorative justice, environmental causes, and more.
Q: This event seems groundbreaking and pivotal. What are your thoughts on that?
To me, it harks back to the kind of events that were of signal importance in terms of the movements of the ‘60s, of which I was a part. It’s like the Civil Rights movement, where those of us who performed or presented at the March on Washington in 1963... It set us on a very important course in our lives that [we] really never veered away from.
In the case of the first great legacy of inconceivable shame, there was no apology for a totally genocidal perspective on a way of which we addressed the existence of our First Nations, of our aboriginal peoples. It not only was genocidal but then it was illegal. You could go to jail for practicing your Native American rituals or culture.
Q: Can you speak to the reasoning behind President Obama’s request to come up with a unified plan for the Black Hills?
President Obama, when he was campaigning promised that he would give a sympathetic hearing to the First Nations if they were to come to him with a united plan. The problem is the legacy of this intergenerational drama has caused enormous suspicion, competition, and fragmentation of the perspectives within the Native American community itself. And it’s very fraught with this history, which is part of the post-dramatic reality of what exists there.
Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook has been working with Theresa Two Bulls and Milo Yellow Hair and others for a long time to build up the momentum to agree upon a unified plan. For [example], here are the undeveloped portions of the Black Hills, and how you are going to handle it, how is it going to be distributed and what’s the governance?
Q: How will the Unity Concert move towards the goal in mind?
It’s been very very difficult [and next to] impossible. The idea was a Unity Concert with that in mind of saying the people of European extraction like myself would come in -- and this was a suggestion that I’d made because I had made this particular gesture and seen the effect when I was at the Hanoi Opera House. I spent almost a full decade devoted to stopping the Vietnamese war. I had organized in 1969 with Cora Weiss, my colleague and friend, a march in Washington for half a million people. It had an extraordinary effect.
Q: So, you are working to bring many people together to show that there is support and energy behind this cause, which is a very beautiful thing.
I believe that the spirit of healing can come out of a gathering of this sort and can allow an advancing of the efforts to unify those First Nations and we are in the service of them. We are, who are participating, who are not Native American are here to help and all the decisions as to what happens in this concert which is all framed by ceremony so that it is not only talking the talk about the respect for the indigenous ways but also it becomes an example of that respect.
The hope is that with the energy that is generated by this, in a like manner in which events in the marches in which I participated and the Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam war [rallies], women’s rights, anti-apartheid, certainly the climate movement which is all associated with this.
[We hope to] bring public knowledge to this. This is the work. Participation is really important because spreading awareness [brings about] a sympathetic point of view [to these causes].
Q: How long do you think it will take for the objective to be reached?
It’s an objective that I fully do not expect to be realized in its entirety just as the Civil Rights movement. It’s only brought us so far. We have virulent violation of rights of African Americans in the criminal justice system. . . . Ferguson is just one tiny example. We have a huge industry of warehousing and young black men effectively destroying their capacity to enter society with anything near an equal basis with caucasian young men and the numbers are extraordinary.
I don’t expect in any way that in my lifetime I will see a full resolution on this.
Q: So these are some of the first steps in the direction of the goal or cause. Please further explain your role in these efforts.
What we would like to do is help these First Nations, leaders and people to bring their case to Obama who really could be the best chance of real movement in this direction for a long long time because it’s quite likely that a Republican would not listen to this litany of history and request for change with sympathetic ears. [Maybe you get somebody like] Hillary. You know she’s not going to throw away political capital in terms of this politically-divided nation along partisan lines [but she has to] take her picks but it could be a legacy issue for Obama. There’s a great and extraordinary chance if the movement can be crystallized.
Q: So, now is the time, it seems. How do you know for sure?
Other people who watch [might say something like] “You’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re doing.” People who haven’t lived through the reality of the movement would look upon this with at least skepticism if not ridicule. [They might call it a ] Don Quixote pipedream...but it’s not.
I’ve seen these things happen. I saw the entire culture surrounding the place of women in society alter. It’s just reality. I've seen what these movements have done. And I know that an event of this kind is the beginning.
The Black Hills in a certain way is like Washington DC. At least to the Great Sioux Nation. And it’s not only about the protection of these sacred sites there in the Black Hills but all sacred sites. And we have people coming from all over the world that have heard about it and checked in.
Q: So you are a major factor in bringing many people to the cause who would not have known of its importance. Who are some of the key players who are doing this kind of work as well?
I got an email from Suzanne Hunt who is the one who came up with the idea of this. She is one of the essential people along with Bethany to work with Jyoti...it’s a big group now. They have people coming in from Australia, from Hawaii, from Maine, from New York, from California, from North Carolina, Colombia, London. It’s amazing! It seems as if it’s captured the imagination of folks who have this in their heart but have not seen a vehicle for moving in this direction until this concert and that’s what it takes.
Q: So this is not just of limited scope, not only focused on the situation in the Black Hills. It seems that the connections you and those you are working with are finding the universal links that are really drawing people together. What are some of the other main ingredients that are drawing people to the cause?
This is worldwide implication in terms of the respect for sacred sites and indigenous people and restorative justice so that there is a truth and healing and reconciliation that can come. And music is a very powerful manifestation of people’s thoughts, not their intellect,
necessarily. You can hear somebody sing [and even if] you don’t understand a word, you can be really moved. When people together feel that together, they can then participate together, just as they did when people sang with Peter, Paul and Mary. [For example] “If I Had a Hammer” was a big hit. People knew the song [there was a link between all of us by way of the music. When this happens, this link,] then the extraordinary can occur.
In conjunction, of course, with the extraordinary, [for example the] “I have a dream” speech, the music and the speeches; We’re talking about something that can have extraordinary repercussions and we are all feeling that people are saying that this is the moment. This is the moment in the world. This is the moment when we are facing the destruction of the planet if we do not change course, we are doing this in the face of irreversible catastrophic climate change. That is the path we are on and we need to change it. And in order for us to address this, one of the things we must do is restore our hearts and in order to do that, we need to have restorative justice where truth and forgiveness and reconciliation around the issues of America’s original, upon its (so-called being discovered) by Columbus, original massive destruction of a culture with an avowed policy of genocide.
Q: Are there going to be politicians and people from DC there? Congress, Policy makers, etc.?
It’s a possibility. Bethany [Yarrow] was working with Faith & Politics on a non-partisan basis. They have this biennial Faith & Politics pilgrimage that retraces the steps or the path of the Selma to Montgomery March. They had 200 people flying in on a plane that’s donated from Washington DC and there are 15-20 members of Congress on it and they provide a safe dialog space for members of congress to talk frankly without -- with kind of an understanding -- they have weekly meetings, that this is a safe place to express yourself, and not get hammered for it later.
There has been outreach to Senator Bill Bradley, who introduced a bill for the return of the Black Hills and we’re not sure whether that will be. There were others, another member of the Senate who has really been a champion of this issue but I don’t know if there’s been a confirmation of that. They’ve been working on it. We don’t know to what degree political people will come. We didn’t have at the marches generally office holders but historically it’s really an important identity in grassroots. The heart and soul of this really is the grassroots coming together. That’s the identity.
Q: How long have the talks been happening specifically for the unity concert?
My memory is that they started a year ago at the waterfall house that my daughter has been a part of. It may be that it was six months. It’s been constant. It takes a long time and a huge amount of work to build the kind of momentum that this has developed and it’s not just about having the concert. There’s a very clear recognition that after that that’s when the work begins because then you have to harness that new energy and then you have to develop a plan or concept that can be developed that can then be presented to the president.
Q: How are you going to get this proof of unification in front of the president?
My sense is that we are looking at a real possibility as a legacy issue that President Obama can say “I moved the ball down the court...or across the court.” In this direction, providing the momentum in later games. That would be extraordinary. That’s the hope.
We’ve got people in Washington that are strategizing how to approach the president, with whom to approach the president [and] what kind of ways to executive privilege that changes can be made to come not just for the plan of unification but a plan in terms of the actualization of the request.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
We’ve all seen the videos. Christopher Walken loves to dance and man, oh man, can he! The man can also act! From the 50s and forward, Walken has been wowing us with his dance moves and his acting across many different roles. “Pennies from Heaven,” is just one celebrated example of memorable movie moments with the actor. Others are too numerous to count. Decades later, and many movies later he is still going strong, with first appearances of photos announced Sept. 24 from the upcoming “Peter Pan Live!” event on NBC. Walken will sing and dance as Captain Hook alongside Peter Pan (Allison Williams).
Before Christopher Walken had become a well-known actor, he had been immersed in theater training that focused on dance. Then, in film, whether scripts called for it or not, it seemed that he would find a way to sneak in a dance move here and there. Remember this mashup of film scenes that showed fifty of those dance moments?
The man is a veteran in film and has even made appearances in the past with song. He told “Entertainment Weekly” that he’s not really the greatest singer but he’s taking some cues from a hit musical from the past. “The songs are done almost like patter. Think of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.” But if Walken’s singing voice is anything like it was inthis 1988 performance of “You Can’t Take that Away from Me,” it should be good enough. That, paired with his charisma and dance talent, seems to be a great formula for the character of Captain Hook.
Not having enough breast implants does not bode well in a world that is obsessively focused on beauty. According to NBC news, breast implants that were approved by the U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration and that were easily available in the past are now difficult to find and too expensive to make available to Venezuelans.
Self-esteem is of large importance to the people of Venezuela and with that comes looks. The country is reported to have one of the world’s highest plastic surgery rates and breast implants are very popular and mainstream. Breast enhancements are so much a part of the culture that in the not-so-distant past, women were able to enter raffles hosted by pharmacies, workplaces and political campaigns that allowed them chances to win breast implants,reported CBS News. In some people's eyes, getting breast implants is akin to going through a right of passage.
CNN Money reported some statistics -- just last year, there were 85,000 cosmetic breast enhancements. The only countries with higher breast enhancement numbers are the U.S, Brazil, Mexico, and Germany.
Some women are so desperate to receive breast enhancements that they are working with their doctors to purchase subpar models that are made with less care and safety in mind and are the wrong size. These subpar breast implants are not as safe as those from the U.S., reports state.
CNN Money reported that many women who have had mastectomies are being many times affected. Not only are they not able to receive implants but medical shortages are also affecting their well-being. Chemotherapy is monetarily out of their reach, as are prosthetics, which are not only expensive but scarce.
“It’s a culture of ‘I want to be more beautiful than you.’" That’s why even people who live in the slums get implants,” one surgeon related to the press. With the current shortages, even those with lots of money will make riskier decisions on their health. How strange to us it seems to think about demonstrations just last spring that featured signs speaking out against food shortages, currency devaluation and the rising price of breast implants.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
The perpetrators of a violent Philadelphia hate crime were tracked down via Twitter and Facebook, after photos and surveillance video of the suspects had been released, reported NBC Philadelphia, Sept. 17. Police were getting bombarded with communications regarding the suspects’ identities. Many tips were being passed along through social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
The release of the video and photos had aired the same day that a 10,000 dollar reward from a local restaurant had been offered to track down the suspects of the violent, and as BoingBoing reported, “savage” attack of a gay couple.
Reports state that the couple was beaten after being asked about their sexual orientation by some in a gang of 10-15 twenty-somethings. After the couple told the mob they were homosexual, men and women in the group proceeded to shout out lewd and degrading comments and to punch the couple, holding them down so they could not escape. The couple suffered blows to the head, face and body.
The members of this group who committed said hate crime were described as “clean-cut, well-dressed” and “preppy-looking.” Someone from the group stole one of the victim’s bags which contained his wallet and cellphone.
When police arrived on the scene, the whole group took off running. After the event, police posted the security video of the incident on YouTube which was quickly picked up by a Twitter user named Greg Bennett. Bennett posted the video in his feed and then was later sent a photograph which he also posted. The photograph had come from an anonymous “friend of a friend of a friend,” who had responded to his video post.
There were hundreds of retweets as a result of Bennett’s posts. It seemed that the details were all in the clothes the people in the photograph were wearing. The surveillance video may have been fuzzy or grainy but the similarities were too many for them to be coincidences alone.
Within mere hours, the restaurant in the photograph had been identified by another Twitter user and then through Facebook’s advanced searches, Bennett checked to see if there were any check-ins to the restaurant. There were! There was also a lot of hate speech on some of those pages in regards to homosexuality.
Many of the suspects in question have been interrogated by police but none have been arrested, let alone charged. The suspects are reported to have found or are hiring lawyers.
Greg Bennett is not totally sure if his action and the action of others on social media has indeed solved the crime. He has, however, received credit for the deed from his local authorities.
On Sept. 17, Bennett posted on his Twitter a note of thanks that also related his hope that the restaurant offering the reward “donate it to the victims for their medical bills.” Others continued sending comments of support and even suggested that someone start a crowdfund for the victims. “There are plenty of people who would donate,” wrote @ENAYALINC. “You guys are new-age heroes,” wrote @jscheringer.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
Time reported, Sept. 17 that among the 21 recipients of the 2014 MacArthur Prize, Alison Bechdel, the woman who introduced theBechdel test, had been chosen. This fellowship is often referred to as “the genius grant” and is given to people who have exhibited extraordinary achievement, creativity and also potential in the arts, humanities, social issues and the sciences.
The cartoonist has won many other awards including Lambda Awards for Lesbian Memoir, Biography and Humor a GLADD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book, a Stonewall Book Award for Non-Fiction and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is always working on her art, it seems. Currently, she is at an artist residency in Italy.
Bechdel told the LA Times that the award money from the MacArthur Prize would allow her to “take some risks, do something new -- to really plunge into” her work. The fellowship money will essentially provide a lot of security for the artist and writer.
The call came as a big surprise. Bechdel said that when she realized that she was receiving the prestigious grant from the MacArthur Foundation, it had set her world to “spinning.” She is only the second graphic novelist to have become a MacArthur Fellow.
In 1985, Bechdel introduced an idea that would change the way many viewed women in film and even fiction. The idea was credited to Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace but became common knowledge shortly after Alison Bechdel featured the idea in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For. The idea states that more often than not, film and fiction feature token female characters who never pass what has become known as the Bechdel or Bechdel/Wallace Test. In order to pass this test, the work in question must feature two women who talk directly to each other about anything other than men for the full length of the film.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
Most of the women who had taken part in the U.N. study reported that they were most commonly harassed by being inappropriately cat-called, stared at inappropriately and touched against their will. These happenings occurred in malls, at the markets, on public transport or even when women were walking in their own neighborhoods. The instances of harassment were not dependent on dress or behavior of the woman.
Two lady filmmakers in Egypt, Tinne Van Loon and Colette Ghunim, decided to speak out on what is being called an epidemic issue in Egypt. They have started working on an anti-harassment documentary called “The People’s Girls: which consists of narratives from three individuals; “Esraa, an activist against sexual harassment, Abdullah, a tuk-tuk driver, and an Egyptian lawyer.” The three narratives offer different viewpoints concerning the issue of sexual harassment in each of these people’s lives.
Tinne Van Loon and Colette Ghunim very graciously accepted an interview and took the time to talk with Examiner.com this week. Below follow their statements and information about their upcoming documentary.
Q: What kind of responses have you been receiving from your campaign?
Many Egyptian men and women have been extremely supportive of the project. They feel this is a major issue in Egypt that needs to be addressed, and many women have used our Facebook page as an outlet to share their stories privately, because they often are too afraid to speak out. People from around the world are also engaging in complex discussions on sexual harassment, as well as donating to our Kickstarter campaign to help fund the full documentary. This confirms that the issue resonates beyond just Egypt, even though it is one of the countries most affected. Of course, just as with any controversial issue, the video has sparked heated arguments, bringing the topic of sexual harassment to the forefront of Egyptian social media.
Q: Why do you think sexual harassment and assault has increased over the last few years in Egypt?
Many Egyptian women argue that sexual harassment has been an epidemic for at least the last 10 years, but that it is only being recognized as such recently, since after the revolution more women are daring to stand up and speak out against this phenomenon. The report by UN Women last year really provided the proof of the epidemic nature of this issue. They interviewed thousands of women and men across the country and found that an appalling 99 percent of women have been sexually harassed in their lifetime, and that about half of all women deal with sexual harassment on a daily basis. Partly because of this new data, the Thomson Reuters Foundation named Egypt the worst country for women in the Arab world.
In the years since the revolution, sexual harassment has unfortunately become more widespread, due to the lack of police presence in the streets. This gives harassers a sense of immunity. They can easily get away with it. Luckily since President Sisi has taken power, the police presence in the streets has increased and more harassers have been brought to justice, though we still have a long way to go.
Q: Are more women walking alone in Cairo? What happens if there is need to protect themselves and they do?
Women often go out public alone, just like they do in Western countries: running errands, going to work, to school, to meet up with friends, etc. And unfortunately it is also when she is out alone, that she faces the greatest risk of getting sexually harassed. Luckily, most of the instances of sexual harassment include only staring, comments and lewd catcalls. According to the report released last year by UN Women, where they asked which forms of sexual harassment women have been exposed to in their lifetime, 87.7 percent of women report being subjected to whistling and verbal abuse, 62 percent report having been stalked in the street, 59.5 percent said they have been touched, and 29.3 percent said a man has exposed his private parts or hinted to it. (note: multiple answers were allowed in this question in the study, that’s why the percentages don’t add up to 100 percent).
I have personally been exposed to all of these forms of sexual harassment, and while being touched in the street can be as simple as a man going out of his way to “accidentally” stroke his fingers on your arm or the side of your leg as he passes you on the sidewalk, it is not a violent crime, but it is most certainly unacceptable and a violation of my rights.
More and more often women are gathering the courage to speak up when they are faced with sexual harassment, and luckily more and more often bystanders are taking her side and helping her. The fact that the woman being sexually harassed gains the support of the bystanders is a fairly new phenomenon, due to the media attention in recent years. It didn’t always used to be the case, as victim-blaming is still enormously common.
Q: You’ve mentioned in one of your interviews that though this is epidemic in Egypt, it is not a problem isolated in Egypt alone. What would you like to say to women in patriarchal societies worldwide in lieu of this issue of harassment that is seemingly pandemic?
I really believe that women worldwide have to stick together. It’s so disheartening to read the comments on articles written about our video, where even women are blaming victims of sexual harassment and assault. If women can’t even support each other in this issue, who will? I think it’s also very important for all women to understand that they need to stick up for their rights when they notice that they are being violated, I know this is much easier said than done, and I know I struggle with this myself at times as well, but a lot of Egyptian women have reached their boiling point in the years since the revolution and have become a lot more outspoken. I’m really inspired by them. Many of them even challenge the status quo more than I do. It is their stories that Colette and I are making the focus of our full documentary, “The People’s Girls”, so that these brave women can inspire women worldwide.
5. Have you spearheaded other projects?
I am also the founder of Everyday Egypt, which is a collective of Egyptian and foreign photographers we started on June 8 of this year, the day President Sisi got inaugurated. We chose that as our launch day because once again all of the media attention was on Egypt, yet all eyes once again were only on the political situation. We aim to provide a feed of normal everyday life images from the country. Our goal is to show life beyond the headlines, to emphasize that life continues beyond the protests and revolutions, and to break the many stereotypes that exist about Egypt, and the Middle East as a whole.
The project is part of the greater Everyday Projects movement headed by Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill who started Everyday Africa in 2012.
Q: How did the documentary start taking shape? Where did the dialogue for it begin?
Based on my personal experiences of being harassed in the streets, and the countless stories of my friends, I decided I wanted to document this phenomenon. Back in December 2013, I published a call for people to come and interview to speak about their experiences and thoughts on the issue. In a five-day period, about 20 people came forward with their stories.
After seeing this clip, Colette suggested we join forces and make a narrative documentary on this issue together.
Q: What is happening in the workforce as more women assert themselves and find jobs?
Women in Egypt have always been a part of the workforce, the fact that women are working and gaining higher education is nothing new. There is a common misbelief in the West that Egyptian and all Arab women are oppressed and practically locked up at home, not allowed to drive cars, or not allowed to leave the home without a male relative, not allowed to wear whatever they want ... I think the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the news cycle around that is largely to blame for this misconception. Women in Egypt have for decades been able to do basically anything a man can do.
They go on to reach degrees in higher education, they can work and have a career, they can reach high leadership roles. Unfortunately of course, there are also societal pressures for women to focus on getting married and starting a family. These pressures are very similar to the ones women in the United States felt a few decades ago.
Q: What do you hope the documentary will accomplish?
We’re hoping that after our documentary gains momentum, people who previously did not consider sexual harassment a big issue, will realize the immense impact it has on all levels of society, and that we will be able to break the stereotype of the victim being to blame. We hope to inspire more women, in Egypt and beyond, to feel empowered to stand up for their rights, and react to the harassment they face.
Q: What is the next step after the documentary is completed and has been distributed?
After the documentary is finished, we will hold screenings in collaboration with women’s rights organizations both in Egypt and abroad, to have the film serve as a discussion starter.
This weekend, Sept. 13-14 thousands will gather in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a first time event called the The Unity Concert for The Black Hills Initiative. The gathering will “mark the beginning of a vital unification process” that aims to give back guardianship of the Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation as per the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. But the event doesn’t just aim to do that. The thousands that are brought together will bring music, art, prayer, ceremony and the open-hearted initiative to push forth in movement of a restorative activism that will grab the attention of National and International leaders to begin making changes that will also help save the planet.
Organizers Bethany Yarrow (Bethany and Rufus) and Jyoti (Center for Sacred Studies) sat down for a phone interview with Examiner.com on Wendesday to introduce some of the key players of the concert this weekend and to inform about the movement that stems from it. Their campaign includes some of the major movers and shakers in the worlds of environmental activism and restorative justice, as well as legendary figures in entertainment who work with ‘earth initiatives’ that inform and speak against issues such as anti-fracking and mining.
Q: Who are some of the key players and organizers of the Unity Concert?
Bethany Yarrow, myself andSuzanne Hunt, are some the Unity Concert’s lead organizers along withPeter Yarrow[Peter, Paul and Mary] who has picked up the piece about calling in the entertainers. We have an organizing team that came together in the beginning who are representatives of the work that they’ve been doing for ‘earth initiatives’ against fracking and mining. Then of course, we’re standing up and behind Paha Sapa Unity Alliance [with support fromUplift and the Center for Sacred Studies] which is right now leading the way throughLoretta Afraid of Bear Cook,Theresa Two Bulls, andMilo Yellow Hair.
Q: How long has the planning for this pivotal and historical event taken?
We put this idea [for the Unity Concert] in front of everyone and said let’s really do this and let’s see how we can really stand behind our Native brothers and sisters as they stand up for the earth. But it wasn’t really until February because of all the holidays that we were able to really start the organizing in earnest.
Q: So it seems that this event has been put together very quickly. Why now?
This has been put together very quickly but as we all know, really, there’s not a lot of time left. Obama is only in office for a short time more. The clock is ticking. The point is really to get this to Obama because he’s the first president in the history of the United States who has said he is willing to meet with leaders about the Black Hills Issue if we are united and have a unified plan.
We also know that the clock is ticking on this earth. We don’t have a lot of time to stand up and really save the planet. This is really being seen right now as the grounding prayer. In the heart of America and the heart of everything that is -- for the whole next wave of the climate movement, in the climate march in New York City and beyond.
Q: The advent of the Unity Concert really feels like a heartening thing. There are so many crazy things in the news; the unequivocal evidence pointing towards climate change, for example, that people just seem to be ignoring. Is this a motion to get people to pay attention and stop shutting themselves off?
That’s part of what this is about for me. People are sleeping and we’re trying to do everything we can to shake them awake. I’m saying, Wake up! My grandchildren need you to wake up! The Earth needs you to wake up! Your heart needs you to wake up! We believe that Mother Nature herself is part of what’s pushing the motion forward [for Unity].
When we open this doorway over the weekend, we really believe that the Great Sioux Nation is leading the way for the sacred sites to go back into the hands of all First Nation people, globally. So that those original people that carry the ceremonies, that keep those sites fed and active can meet on their sites again, doing what they did in the original days so that natural order can return once again to this planet because the Earth needs it to be that way so she can prepare for how we walk these next steps.
Q: How can those who align with the Unity Concert messages participate even if they are not able to physically be at the event?
Q: What has been the response to the announcements. Obviously it has been huge. Thousands are reported to attend.
What’s been so remarkable is the response that we’re getting globally through organizations, through individuals, through different Nations, and through high officials in some of those nations. We have people coming to the concert [who] are sending messages that give weight in this concert from the Aborigine in Australia, from Nigeria, from Colombia, across many different tribes, across the United States, and in to Canada -- all [of these people are] participating with us in some way. And all of that came together in this very short amount of time.
Q: What are plans forward after the event has reached its end?
For us, we want to stay behind this prayer, for our First Nation people and for the Earth. [This is also] part of what my sister Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook, who is working really hard with a woman named Rachael Night with Namati [are also doing]. Namati is an organization out of San Francisco; They are a group of attorneys that go into other countries and have a really good track record of helping First Nation people to get their territory and their sacred lands back.
We’ve been working with them for a couple of years now and they are the ones who have started to design some of the steps that might help, [and] give some suggestions to the elders that will meet [for a ] four day meeting after this event that will go right in to the elders that have been invited here. [Those elders] will then go into a meeting with Namati and with the Paha Sapa Unity Alliance to start crafting what are the next steps to get a draft for the management plan done so it can get in the hands of President Obama in a timely way -- so he can sign off on it -- and then make this his legacy. I’m hoping his heart will open and he’ll see what this will mean.
Q: Can you explain some of the core happenings of the event?
They’re going to be putting in motion some ceremonies to really forgive and heal some of this horrible history that we’ve all shared; Peter Yarrow and many of the artists are coming so they can make a statement and say ‘please forgive us for the unconscious acts that have gone on.’ The holy elders are coming to do ceremony so they can wipe some of the pain away that has been held for generations; atrocities that should have never happened, treaties that were broken, words that were broken.
Q: What needs to be done? Will this gathering of people make it happen?
As we write in some of the articles that Bethany and her brother have kind of put together: We don’t believe the heart of this Nation can come back to itself until it rights these wrongs, until it honors the treaties, until things are put back in right order. [When that happens], the heart of this Nation can come back to itself which we pray will make it more conscionable so that consciousness can arise here. We [all of us] take a big part in a lot of the things that are happening on the planet that are not okay. So, this is what we want to say to everybody: It’s time to unite. It’s time to step up all Nations together for the Earth and for the generations that are coming.
Q: Closing statements?
Join us through the live feed. Everybody can be a part of it. If people can’t be here on the grounds with us at Elk Creek, then they can be with us in their homes and in their hearts. They can also join us [by helping our crowdfunding campaign]. Many of us have put our own funds up to ensure this would keep going on because of the timeliness of it. If people go on the website, there are ways they can support and follow this event.
Q: Are there plans for future events after the Unity Concert?
Many are telling us that this may become an annual experience. We don’t know. People are already calling this a movement.
We’re just here taking it in to our hands to see what we can do in the best possible way to put things back into right order, to open up our hearts and our consciousness, again. We have to quit sleeping. Because my grandchildren are being handed a nightmare. I want us to wake up and when we do, we’ll realize where we are and we can turn around and hand them a living dream.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com