September 8-10, 2017 marked the 4th Annual Black Hills Unity Concert in Piedmont, South Dakota. The Black Hills Unity Concert has been a gathering of thousands of native and non-native people coming together in the name of cultural reconciliation and environmental restoration. Bringing together members of the Pet Oyate (Buffalo Nation), artists (including Prolific the Rapper, Raye Zaragoza, The Cody Blackbird Band, The Peace Poets, and Peter Yarrow), organizers, social justice advocates, and indigenous elders from around the world, the concert has created space to raise awareness of the native struggle for the Black Hills, to pray for the return of this sacred land back to the guardianship of the Great Sioux Nation, and to promote a deep and widespread unity that can restore peace and healing in this world.

Upon suffering beyond suffering, the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. In that day there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom. —Crazy Horse

This 4th and potentially final year followed on the heels of the historic gathering of native peoples and allies at Standing Rock in 2016. The significance of the struggle to protect the water was marked with a healing ceremony for all those who had stood on the front lines last fall in North Dakota. There was an acknowledgement of the historical moment we are in and the strength that will be needed to restore balance with Nature and one another. The symbolic image of the sacred Medicine Wheel was lifted up through song and prayer, highlighting the significance of the number 4 in Lakota tradition as the coming together of the four directions (East, South, West, and North), the stages of life (birth, youth, elder, death) and human races (Black, Red, Yellow, and White).

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The symbol of the sacred Medicine Wheel.
The Black Hills Unity Concert's symbol of the sacred Medicine Wheel.

This coming together in unity across race, across region, and across age was a message that resonated strongly with the delegation of leaders from the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Traveling to the Unity Concert from across the country were Ciara Taylor (Popular Education Project, FL), Jose Vasquez (About Face: Veterans Against the War, NY), Justin Jones (Moral Movement TN), Larry Cox (Kairos Center, NY), and myself (Kairos Center, NY).

The delegation from the PPC joined this sacred gathering to stand in solidarity with the Great Sioux Nation and their call to protect the earth and all of creation. We came remembering the important role that native leaders like Hank Adams and Tillie Walker played in the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign in illuminating the reality that a cruel and unjust system continues to exploit, impoverish, and dispossess our communities.

Native leaders that participated in the 1968 Campaign, like the leaders at the Unity Concert today, refused to let those in power continue to divide our communities. Instead, they challenged our movements to recognize that we are all sacred living beings and, as Robert Yellow Hair said, to acknowledge that “A lot of people have lost touch with being what this Earth is all about. It’s about respect for water, it’s about respect for air, and it’s about respect for languages but, more than that, it’s a respect for each other, because as human beings we reflect a living earth, as Lakota people always say.”

NOW’S THE TIME TO STAND
FOR SACRED WATERS
SACRED LAND
EVERY WOMAN EVERY MAN
EVERY CHILD ON THIS EARTH JOIN HANDS
AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE A MOUNTAIN
A MOUNTAIN
CALL UPON THE LOVE INSIDE AND KNOW YOU’RE BOUNDLESS
BE A MOUNTAIN OF PEACE
BE A CHILD OF PEACE
BE A LION OF PEACE
BE AN OCEAN OF PEACE

—”We Stand” by Kelli Love, One Tribe Movement, Jordan Walker, Moon Cat Preach, featuring Oceti Sakowin Youth Runners & Richard Vagner