Communities Divided Over Rainbow Gathering

Jun 24, 2015

James Swan, founder of the United Urban Warrior Society, threatens to remove the Rainbow Family from the Black Hills while at a public meeting in Hill City on Tuesday, June 24.
Credit Chynna Lockett

The Rainbow Family is planning a gathering in the Black Hills in July and some members have already arrived.  The group is often referred to as hippies.  Thousands of them come together once a year often on a piece of National Forest land.   A public meeting in Hill City gave local community members a chance to question the Rainbow Family about their upcoming event. The meeting became heated when several in attendance walked out.

“I’m going to ask you to move your chairs and to sit in a circle,” says Jerry Cole the Executive Director of the Hill City Chamber of Commerce.

Cole opens the meeting by asking roughly 20 of those gathered to sit in a circle. About halfway through the meeting, James Swan, a Lakota, and Founder of the group United Urban Warrior Society became argumentative.  He then threatened to shut down the Rainbow camp if they stay in the Black Hills.

“Let’s go guys; they don’t want to hear what we have to say. You’ve got 48 hours. We’re going to put our warrior camps up tomorrow afternoon and on Thursday we’re going to give you and eviction notice. And if you don’t leave we will,” says Swan.
“Are you threatening our children?” asks a crowd member.  
“We’re threatening all you guys. We’re going to move your ass out,” says Swan.

Swan previously wrote a letter to Rainbow Family warning against trespassing on Lakota treaty land. While Swan’s group is opposed to the gathering, other Lakota people say they welcome the event. A member of the Rainbow family who only goes by the name Finch responded after Swan left the meeting.  

“We are doing our very best to be respectful to the land and to the people that we are visiting and we have an indigenous camp that we’re setting up there. We’re working with Lakota that area in our enactment and they’re going to use the space as a workshop space for cross-cultural exchange. For teaching us how not to culturally misappropriate and teaching us about the black hills and the land that has been stolen for them,” says Finch.

A Rainbow Family member speaks during the public meeting
Credit Chynna Lockett

While those like Finch say the gathering will still take place other members of the Rainbow Family say they are boycotting the event until tribal members invite them. The Rainbow Family Gathering is scheduled near Deerfield Lake July 1-7, 2015.