Rainbows to welcome family home in the hills

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rainbow Gathering — The Rainbow Gathering will officially be held in the Black Hills three miles southwest of Deerfield Lake on Forest Road 294. The gathering can attract from under 5,000 to over 15,000 Rainbow Family of Living Light members. The gathering is proclaimed to be about promoting peace around the Fourth of July. To see a map of the gathering area, go to page 7.  [Submitted Photo]

By Kacie Svoboda

Despite opposition from some Lakota tribal members, the final decision was made to hold the 2015 Rainbow Gathering in the Black Hills National Forest. The spring council of the Rainbow Family of Living Light began deliberations about where to “welcome home” members of the Rainbow Family on June 17 and a consensus was reached on June 19. The exact location will be three miles southwest of Deerfield Lake on Forest Road 294.

Dates of the gathering are officially listed as July 1-7 with July 4 as the main day of the gathering. On July 4, the Rainbows will observe silence from dawn until noon in order to pray, meditate or contemplate world peace in whatever manner they choose. Many Rainbows are expected to leave shortly after that. Due to the controversy of holding this year’s gathering on lands considered sacred by the Lakota, attendance estimates have fallen from the 20,000 range to less than 5,000.

From now until the first day of the gathering, the Rainbows will be moving to the chosen site to start what they call seed camp — the process of setting up a site to handle the basic needs of the thousands of expected family members during the Rainbow Gathering. Kitchens will be set up, trails created, a water source will be prepared and bathroom facilities will be dug. Blogger Karin on MidwestOrNew-EnglandGathering2015.blogspot.com explains the reason for calling these preparations seed camp.

“Spring council is the planting of the seed that unfolds during seed camp (when we build the gathering), and blossoms on the 4th of July,” she said.

Some family members have already been sighted around Hill City. According to the Rapid City Journal, several individuals, reportedly in the Black Hills for the gathering, were arrested on panhandling and drug charges in Rapid City. Law enforcement expects to have further encounters with wayward individuals as more people arrive for the gathering.

According to Capt. Jay Evenson with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department, deputies have been assigned to patrols every day into the evening near the gathering spot.

“We will continue to put more resources into that area as the need arises,” Evenson said.
The Black Hills National   Forest (BHNF) will also be monitoring the site.

“To ensure public and employee safety, and cultural and natural resource protection, Forest Service personnel are on-site daily,” said BHNF supervisor Craig Bobzien.

On Tuesday, June 23, Jerry Cole, executive director of the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce, hosted a town hall informational meeting about the Rainbow Gathering at the Hill City Senior Center. The meeting was open to Forest Service personnel, Pennington County Sheriff's Department representatives and other governmental agencies as well as any interested residents and businesses. Evenson attended and was available for questions.

According to Cole, the purpose of the meeting was to share first-hand information with the public about the Rainbows and the Rainbow Gathering.

“It is true that some of those coming to the gathering may engage in anti–social acts, negative behaviors or even bring drugs and alcohol into camp,” Cole said. “It’s important for all of us to keep in mind that the latter do not represent all in the Rainbow Family.”

Cole encouraged Hill City residents to get their questions answered and decide for themselves how to get ready for these “new visitors.”­


Sidewalk design goes to Washington

By Carol Walker

It is the old “hurry up and wait” routine when it comes to approval of the design for Hill City’s sidewalk project. According to Brett McMacken, city administrator, the plan has been shipped off to Washington, D.C. for review, looking more closely at compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Alderman John Johnson brought it up, simply asking, “How’s the sidewalk project coming along?” Fixing the sidewalks, particularly on the west side of Main St., has been on and off the table for years, but officials were hopeful at the end of last year that if they had the design in to the state by the required Jan. 1, 2015, they would actually be able to let out bids by April or May, begin work in October and complete the work by May 1, 2016. The city was awarded a Streetscape matching grant with the state funding $300,000 and the city kicking in $75,000. The design had to be approved by the state, and that is where the hold-up has occurred.

“The state said we don’t have an ADA ramp, and we said we do have ADA ramps, but they are not near the steps,” said McMacken.

The city engineer tweaked the design, sent it back, but apparently the state still has questions, and wanted it sent to Washington, D.C. for federal review. McMacken is not certain when the city will receive a response.

Johnson also asked about the crumbling street near Tracy Park, wondering when it will be fixed. McMacken said there are two reasons why it will not be fixed any time soon.

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Keystone looks at panhandling law

By Bev Pechan

At last week’s Keystone Town Board meeting, Pennington County law enforcement gave a presentation on keeping the area safe from panhandlers and beggars who are often thieves and commit other offenses against society.

Concerns were recently raised as word of a planned gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light intending to converge on the Black Hills in July reached authorities.

The unorganized hippie group has origins dating back to the grunge movement of the 1970s, and is perhaps best remembered for occupying natural settings with large groups of people who tend to litter and destroy the landscape during their extended stays. Deputy Chris Plawman said he has already encountered some of the group in the Keystone Post Office and sent them on their way.

Following up on applicable laws regarding panhandling and begging, he noticed Keystone had none on record. Plawman then asked the board to consider adopting a city ordinance to address this issue.
Even if it’s too late for this year, he said he feels the community, with so many seasonal transients, needs to have something on the books to deal with situations as they occur.

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Encounters with panhandling

By Kacie Svoboda

It’s official. The 2015 Rainbow Gathering will be held in the Black Hills and according to recent reports, Hill City area citizens will need to be wary of drug use, pickpocketing and aggressive panhandling.

Though I’d certainly heard of panhandling before now, I hadn’t really given it much thought. But with its mention over and over in connection to the Rainbow Gathering, I felt the need to more thoroughly examine the term’s meaning. Aggressive panhandling refers to the practice of accosting passersby on the street to beg or try to sell something with an emphasis on not taking “no” for an answer.

After reading this definition, I was somewhat surprised by the nefarious connotation that has recently been associated with this term as I realized how frequently I had been exposed to aggressive panhandlers.

In third world countries, panhandling is part of every day and the way many families support themselves. One of my first experiences with this was in Mexico any time I went to the beach. In many places along the shore, there were ropes strung across the sand that delineated a resort’s property from the public beach. Panhandlers would line up along that rope and the minute I stepped beyond the rope, I was immediately swarmed by sun-worn, old men and puppy-dog-eyed children trying to sell me the trinkets they had made or packets of Chiclets gum.

These people would follow me down the beach, shouting about their wares — no matter how vehemently I told them “no.” The only escape came when I stepped back onto resort property where resort staff would shoo them away from resort property.

My travels to Asia took the panhandling experience to a new extreme. In the mountain village of Sa Pa, Vietnam, the streets were filled with tiny, wizened women peddling blankets. These women mainly left my traveling companions and I alone — unless they became aware of the presence of money or if we showed any interest in their goods.

At either sign of these, a throng of them would rush up and hold their blankets high above their heads blocking any avenue of escape. The only way to end the maze of blankets was to make a purchase and convince them that the buyer wanted only the one item.

One of my worst experiences with panhandling took place in Cambodia. I was walking down a street in the middle of the day when I passed a family that lived on a tarp on the dusty street. The two children, a girl and a boy aged about 6 and 3 years old came up to beg from me. When I tried to walk past them, the boy — who was completely naked — wrapped himself around my leg and refused to let go. I was forced to stop and carefully extricate myself from his grasp as his family stared.

These children were begging for anything I could possibly give them, making the hand-to-mouth motion — which encompasses not only food, but water, money, shoes, anything. When people have nothing, the list of their needs is long.

One of the most heartbreaking and ultimately difficult lessons I had to learn about panhandling also happened in Cambodia, when a friend and I decided to buy a meal for a little boy who begged on the street outside our hotel every day.

We chose this boy for our “good deed” because he was outgoing, funny and spoke amazingly good English for his situation. We took him to a restaurant we had frequented several times during our stay. Despite our many weeks of patronage, it still took us a few minutes to convince the owners to allow us to bring the boy inside with us.

After he was allowed to stay, he told the waitress he wanted their biggest steak — which my friend and I objected to purely for the digestive issues we knew he would face. The waitress helped us convince him to go with a more traditional stir-fry and rice meal with a Diet Coke, which was non-negotiable for him.

As soon as we were outside the restaurant after the meal, the boy held up his broken flip flop, tugged at his worn shirt, sniffed under his arm pit, turned his big brown eyes to us and begged for shoes, clothing and a shower. It was immediately clear to my friend and I that there would be no end to his needs and we could spend all of our money and not fix his life.

What I gleaned from this situation was what we had been told all along by our traveling guides — that our money would be better spent by donating to charities that could provide the full spectrum of care and advancement that this boy required, instead of on our small gesture that did nothing to improve his situation.

The tactics of dealing with panhandlers gleaned in my travels still serve me well today, as I skirt by the Dead Sea product hawkers at the kiosks in the mall — keep moving forward, don’t make direct eye contact and give a firm but polite “no.” Though I can’t guarantee the effectiveness of these techniques with the Rainbows.


Board prepares for school year

By Kacie Svoboda

The order of business for the Monday, June 8, Hill City Board of Education meeting was handling financial issues and approval of teaching contracts and contracts for various services in preparation for the 2015-16 school year.

The board authorized school business manager Jane Edlund to publish the 2015-16 Hill City School District budget and set the budget hearing for July 13.

The board unanimously approved the Assurance of Compliance Statements, which promise that the Hill City School District will comply with all state, regional and federal regulations outlined by law. Superintendent Mike Hanson was appointed as the official district representative.
The board approved the payment of $1,205.84 in annual dues to the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

The following 2015-16 teaching contracts were all unanimously approved by the board — teacher Kelley O’Brien for $39,505.08 per year, teacher Sarah O’Brien for $43,165.08 per year and Special Education/ Title I/ Title III director Steven Helgeland for $60,500 per year.

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Rainbows meet with tribal leaders

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rainbow bus — Some of the advance party of the Rainbow Family of Living Light were spotted at the Walmart off of Catron Boulevard in Rapid City, picking up supplies. A large gathering of the Rainbow Family will be held in the Black Hills around July 4. The specific place will be chosen at a spring council that begins June 15, though it is currently expected to be near to Hill City.  [Submitted?Photo]

By Kacie Svoboda

On Monday, June 15, Black Hills National Forest supervisor Craig Bobzien gathered together a group of five members of the Rainbow Family of Light and five Native American tribal representatives to promote a dialogue explaining the cultural significance of the Black Hills.

“It’s clear to me with working with Native Americans for many years how sacred the Black Hills are to them,” said Bobzien.

At the meeting, the Native American group — including a tribal elder of the Ogallala Sioux tribe and a tribal historic preservation officer sent by the president of the Rosebud Sioux tribe — made their stance clear. The Native Americans informed the members of the Rainbow Family that they did not want the gathering held in the Black Hills. The Rainbows responded by assuring that they would have respect for the land.

“At the meeting, they didn’t come to an agreement,” Bobzien summed up. “But at least they now know who each other are and have the opportunity to discuss more if they choose.”

Bobzien set up the meeting to predate the Rainbow Family’s spring council to be held on June 17 north of Deerfield Lake near Castle Creek. During this council, the Rainbow Family will officially decide where they will have their annual Rainbow Gathering, which is held in a different national forest every year and brings thousands from all over the country to celebrate peace over the Fourth of July.

This spring council could take one day or several days for the 100-500 attendees to reach a consensus. The interested members of the public are also welcome to attend and voice their opinions.

According to Bobzien, the Rainbows are likely to camp where the Native Americans have camped in the past due to their locations next to water and inviting nature. “I wanted to increase understanding before the spring council was over and the decisions were made,” he said.

Bobzien hoped this would help steer the Rainbows away from culturally significant areas. Bobzien has been preparing for the possible gathering, attending prep meetings with other states and organizations.
Though no official decision is made until after the spring council, several sources report that the Black Hills is unofficially to be the gathering’s site, particularly in the Hill City area. Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Jerry Cole has spoken to several of the scouts and the advanced party members of the Rainbow Family that have come to learn about the area and attend the spring council.

“It’s not official, but I’d say it’s about 95 percent decided that it will be in this area,” said Cole.

Cole has scheduled an official meeting between city and chamber officials and members of the Rainbow Family on June 23 at the Hill City Senior Citizens Center at 6:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

According to Capt. Jay Evenson with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department, once there starts to be a large influx into one area, there will be more patrols placed there. These patrols will aid in traffic control and look to prevent criminal activity and environmental damage, though he believes the group’s focus on peace will rule out the expectation of violent crime. “I think their goal is to have a peaceful gathering,” Evenson said. “But every time you get a large group of people together, there is a chance you’ll get something you wouldn’t expect.”

Cole echoed that sentiment, “Along with this group comes some bad element. But when you have any type of group, you have that small percentage that is here for nefarious reasons.

Cole identified the issues of panhandling, dumpster diving and petty theft as the major issues he anticipates from this “bad element,” though he did say he had heard there was a particular tribe of the Rainbow Family that is self-regulating and attempts to deter those who would take away from the gathering’s message of peace.

“In real life, one was an engineer, one was an accountant and one was a mid-wife — so my impressions of the scouts were just like my impressions of somebody who had been camping in the woods for two weeks,” Cole said.

Cole stressed that the Rainbow Family, like with any group, has a variety of people with a variety of reasons they attend these events.

“I think we treat them like any visitors to our community and if something goes wrong with one person we need to treat that person as an individual and not label the whole group,” Cole concluded.

The final decision of the location of the 2015 Rainbow Gathering is expected to be announced within a few days of their June 17 meeting.


Father’s CCC experiences affect the next generation

PROUD SON — Dennis Fernau, left, sits beside Melvin Fernau, his 99-year-old father, last Saturday at the Civilian Conservation Corps open house in Hill City. Dennis said he learned how to work hard from his father who served at a CCC camp at Orman Dam in the 1930s. [PN?Photo/CAROL WALKER]

By Carol Walker

At age 99, Melvin Fernau has heard “Happy Father’s Day” many times over the years from his only son, Dennis. Now both men live in and around New Underwood and Dennis picks up his dad’s mail and stops in to see him every day.

The two men attended the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum Open House in Hill City on Saturday, talking with people who stopped by to learn more about life in CCC camps established in South Dakota and the nation.

Melvin was assigned to the Orman Dam CCC site from 1938 to 1941, and the group was tasked with renovating irrigation ditches and culverts for the irrigation system. In the winter many of the men were in Newell using forms to create concrete tubes to replace the old wooden ones.

“They found out he was allergic to the concrete, so they had to train him to do something else. He learned how to do electrical work and eventually became a radio operator,” said Dennis.

Melvin had already completed high school, but many of the men had not, so the camps offered educational classes and also vocational training three evenings a week. Melvin learned electrical skills, was able to help rewire the barracks and became proficient in Morse Code.

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