The new Tribal Connections site at Devils Tower National Monument interprets Devils Tower as place that is sacred to many Native American tribes. The site’s central feature, the Wind Circle sculpture – also called the Sacred Circle of Smoke -- was created by internationally renowned Japanese artist Junkyu Muto as the third in a series of seven “peace sculptures” planned for significant sites around the world.
Two other peace sculptures have already been erected – one at the Vatican in 2000, and the other at Buddha Gaya, India (where the Buddha attained enlightenment) in 2005. The sculpture erected at Devils Tower therefore extends the artist’s special recognition of sacred places.
Junkyu Muto, who lives in Italy, was tremendously impressed when he first viewed Devils Tower. Thrilled by the sight of it, and fascinated with Native American culture and traditions, he was inspired to carve a sculpture for exhibit at the base of the tower. It would be a “peace sculpture,” a gesture of international good will. He would carve it out of carrara marble – the world’s finest -- and he would donate it to the National Park Service. (An international philanthropic organization is contributing about 80% of the funding for the project.)
Devils Tower’s Superintendent, Dorothy FireCloud, was very receptive to the idea. Last year the park submitted a Centennial Initiative proposal to get Centennial Challenge matching funds for Muto’s peace sculpture. Since the sculptor was donating the sculpture to the National Park Service, the Centennial Challenge funds were to be used only for transporting the sculpture to the monument
Documentation for the park’s August 2007 Centennial Initiative proposal can be viewed at this site.
The Wind Circle sculpture, which is of white marble with a black base (see accompanying photo), stands an impressive 12 feet tall. The artist designed it to evoke the image of a puff of smoke from a sacred pipe.
Initially, the sculpture was to be called ”Circle of Sacred Smoke.” The name was eventually changed to Wind Circle, a less controversial descriptor.
Devils Tower, which attracts about 400,000 tourists a year, is loaded with sacred meaning for about two dozen affiliated tribes of the northern Great Plains. According to their oral tradition, this is the place -- historically known to many Indians as Bear’s Lodge/House/Tipi -- where a sacred woman, White Buffalo Calf Woman, delivered the sacred bundle to the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota nations (the three major Sioux subcultures or dialects). This is the place where White Buffalo Calf Woman taught the people how to perform the seven sacred ceremonies (prayer rituals). This is where White Buffalo Calf Woman taught the people how to live in a good way. She also gave them a sacred pipe, and before she left, she promised to return. And then she turned into a white buffalo.
Last Saturday (September 6th), which was unfortunately a rainy day, about 250 people gathered at Devils Tower for the opening of the interpretive site (called Tribal Connections) at which the sculpture is now displayed. It was quite an event for all present.
Tillie Black Bear, Rosebud Sioux tribal member and director of the White Buffalo Calf Society, told the White Buffalo Calf story. Among the speakers on hand was Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred Bundle of the Lakota delivered by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. (You can imagine what a powerfully emotional experience this must have been for him.)
Entertainment was provided by tribal dancers, tribal drum groups from the Pine Ridge and Northern Cheyenne reservations, local entertainers, and Japanese entertainers (the Wa-On Taiko drummers, singer Mine Matsuki and radio celebrity Reiko Yukawa).
Traveler trivia, no extra charge:
1) Junkyu Muto’s father was a World War II kamikaze pilot who somehow survived his combat mission;
2) The park was actually designated Devil’s Tower National Monument. However, the apostrophe was unintentionally omitted from “Devil’s” when the proclamation was published. The clerical error has not been officially corrected, and almost certainly never will be.