Devil's Tower, in eastern Wyoming, became the nation's first national monument a century ago. It has been a sacred site for American Indians for generations. It has also been a controversial site for decades, as rock climbers from around the world have visited the solitary peak to scale its sheer, 365-meter-high walls – often disrupting Native American ceremonies. Jim Kent visited the site for the dedication of a sculpture and education center aimed at bringing peace to all sides of this issue and, perhaps, the world.
The unusual geographic formation that stands like a sentinel on the rolling plains of eastern Wyoming is more than a mountain to American Indians. Devil's Tower, known as Bear Lodge to many Plains tribes, is where the sacred ceremonies and the sacred pipe of the Lakota Indians originated. Oral tradition says they were brought by a beautiful and pure woman dressed in white buckskin, who turned into a white buffalo when she left the Lakota people.
The area holds similar spiritual significance for 23 other Native American tribes. Monument superintendent Dorothy FireCloud says the popularity of the tower for rock climbers became a sensitive issue for the tribes in the mid-1990s, and that's why the National Park Service decided to establish a Tribal Connections cultural and educational center here. "One of the things that we want to do is educate the visitors that come here to the park about why it is the tribes feel that that's such a desecration on the tower, why it is that the name 'Devil's Tower' is not the proper name for the tower... And I think that by educating people as to all those aspects, then they'll get a deeper appreciation for what the concerns are."
A spiritual statue for a spiritual place
At the heart of what will be the cultural center is a new sculpture by Japanese artist Junkyu Muto. Like his other works, "Wind Circle" is dedicated to world peace.
Having the black and white marble carving of a smoke circle at the base of the tower, says FireCloud, heightens awareness of the area's spiritual importance to the tribes. "The tower is the place where the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the pipe and taught the Native American people how to live in a good way... how to do their prayers, the seven sacred rights... you know, the different ceremonies that they practice today," she explains. "You know, the tower is a feminine entity and, based on that, it's like the perfect spot for world peace to begin."
That's why Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred Bundle of the Lakota, chose the tower to call for world peace in 1996. He began holding an annual World Peace and Prayer Day at sacred locations around the world. In 2004, the celebration was held at Japan's Mount Fuji. Fire Cloud says today's ceremony – with the Japanese artist bringing the statue over to join the two cultures together – is like completing a circle.
Sculpting world harmony
Junkyu Muto's father was a World War Two kamikaze pilot who miraculously survived his combat mission. He impressed on his son that his goal in life should be to spread peace. "So, I always am looking for harmony... peace in the world," Muto says. "I have learned many things... how we can make harmony together... this time recognizing Native American people."
The artist followed his father's advice and chose sculpture as his way to contribute to harmony among people. He's created two other World Peace sculptures – one is at the Vatican, the second at the birthplace of Buddhism in India. Eventually, Muto plans to have nine World Peace sculptures across the globe.
In spite of the rainy weather, more than 200 people, including 50 who'd traveled from Japan, attended the dedication of the Wind Circle sculpture at Devil's Tower. Entertainment crossed all cultures, from Native to non-Native to Japanese.
Japanese drummer Sunae Chino says her instrument has traditionally been reserved for men in her culture. So, performing with her mostly female drum group for world peace at the site known for White Buffalo Calf Woman was a coup. "I'm very proud of it. It was a great honor [for] us, all of us, to play in such a sacred place."
Tom Beagle, who's lived near the tower for 70 years, attended the ceremony and said it fostered good feelings. "You know, this could heal a lot of old wounds, maybe," he offered. "Over the past few years some injustices have been done here. Maybe this will help."
Arapaho elder Elvina Old Man agreed. "All the cultures coming together and coming here, you know, and getting together doing, you know, unveiling of that sculpture. I think it's, you know, really important."
As the Wind Circle sculpture was unveiled, Junkyu Muto said his hope is that the feeling of unity it has already brought to those in attendance will spread across the country and beyond.