The most sacred of all sites to the Kiowa people of Oklahoma, Longhorn Mountain, is under threat. Much of the western half of the mountain has been leased to Stewart Stone of Cushing, Oklahoma, a rock crushing company that intends to strip mine the Kiowa tribe’s sacred mountain, turning it into the gravel that would be used to pave our highways.
The loss of the mountain would be an act of cultural genocide perpetrated against the Kiowa people.
The sacred cedar burned during the tribes ceremonies is found nowhere else in the world; the unique scent cannot be replicated or replaced. Cedar from Longhorn Mountain is cut from the trees and dried, then used in religious ceremonies as well as in homes for cleansing purposes. Longhorn cedar is used today in every traditional Kiowa home. Tribes from all over the United States use the cedar from Longhorn Mountain, some travel great distances to gather Longhorn Cedar.
For generations, the Kiowa have gone to Longhorn Mountain to attend to their spiritual needs. Whether directly or indirectly, every Kiowa has a connection to the Mountain. It is a place of prayer in times of sickness and death, it is the sacred grounds for the four days and nights of fasting practiced by the Kiowa and other Native peoples. During these fasts, Native people go up the mountain with only a blanket, no food or water, and pray continually for the entire four days.
The majority of the “slick hills” or Wichita Mountains west of Apache and south of Carnegie have been covered with wind turbines. The mountain immediately to the west of Longhorn has nearly been strip-mined to the ground by the rock crushing company Dolese. The natural beauty inherent in this region of Oklahoma is being destroyed, and the sacred places of Native nations are being devastated.
Preparing to be forced out of their homes, many Kiowa members fear health issues caused by the dust and air pollution from the rock crushing as well as the damage caused to their homes due to the dynamite. The tribe deeply fears that it will no longer be able to continue the important practices required in their culture, which are dependent on the mountain. They will no longer be able to practice their culture, their religion, and will be stripped of the ability to pass these things on to future generations.
Most Native American communities have lost control over many of their sacred places. This is due to forced relocation and moving onto reservations. These sacred places have become vulnerable to non-Indian forces, which, focused on economic exploitation, often destroy the sacredness of the place.
Longhorn Mountain was once part of the Kiowa Reservation. However, the Dawes Act broke up Oklahoma’s reservations into parcels of land to individual Indians, creating what the federal government called “excess or surplus lands” that could then be sold to non-Indians.
The sacred places of Indigenous Peoples, like Longhorn Mountain, must be placed apart from everyday things, so that their special significance can be recognized, and rules regarding it obeyed. The sacredness of these places to Indigenous Peoples depends on a particular sense of place that goes back centuries through language and stories. The importance of the natural world or landscape, the rocks, trees, mountains, plains, etc., also includes the connections these places have to the spiritual world.
This is in contrast to non-Indigenous and Western religions which tend to hold their sacred places in man-made buildings and statues or in places where human violence took place. The Gettysburg battlefield has been consecrated by the men who fought there. Churches, mosques, temples, as well as places like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. are also examples of non-Indigenous and Western religions’ sacred places.
These differences in conceiving of sacred places has caused a lack of recognition of tribal spiritual and cultural practices. It also impacts the ability of the community to practice and renew those traditions for a new generation. The Kiowa people have the right to exist, to practice their culture, and to practice their religion. The destruction of their most sacred place greatly undermines these rights.
As Stewart Stone has announced it will begin by the end of this summer, the Kiowa people have strengthened efforts to protect their sacred place. A petition has been launched, urging the Governor of Oklahoma as well as the Oklahoma State House and Senate to protect Longhorn Mountain by recognizing it as a historical and Native American sacred site. The Facebook page, Save Longhorn Mountain, also contains much discussion on how to best advocate for the rights of the Kiowa people and all Native peoples who hold Longhorn Mountain sacred.
The destruction of Longhorn Mountain would be an astonishing loss for the state of Oklahoma. It would also be a particularly severe loss to the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache and traditional Native people from other tribes that hold Longhorn Mountain sacred.
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