Gravel Mining Puts Kiowa Sacred Place in Peril
The Kiowa Tribe has gathered cedar for ceremonies and prayed on Longhorn Mountain south of Gotebo, Oklahoma for generations. That practice is in serious jeopardy as efforts to mine gravel out of the mountain are scheduled to begin by summer’s end, turning generations of sacred usage into rubble.
“This is where we always come,” said tribal historian Phil Dupoint. “This is where our elders used to come. Maybe they were searching for some kind of power... They would go to Longhorn and different places in the area.”
Dupoint says the cedar gathered from the area has a unique scent, different from any other cedar in the United States and Canada. He said medicine people in the Kiowa Tribe would also leave spiritual power for future generations on the mountain.
The mountain being in jeopardy can be traced back to the creation of the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Reservation through the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, which placed the tribes’ reservation in southwest Oklahoma, where Longhorn Mountain is. By 1901, the Jerome Agreement opened the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Reservation to non-Indian settelement, after the KCA familes were allotted 160 acres each.
Sections of the mountain were alloted to Kiowa families, but those lands were eventually sold to non-Indians—five non-Indian familes currently own the Longhorn Mountain area. It is through what Dupoint refers to as a “gentleman’s agreement” that the Kiowa have entered the mountain on the east side to gather cedar.
Mining is scheduled to begin on the west side of the mountain this summer. A blasting permit was issued by the Oklahoma Department of Mines to the Material Service Corporation, according to Amie Tah-Bone, the Kiowa Museum director. Rock crushing activities will then be under the supervision of Stewart Stone, based out of Cushing, Oklahoma. Calls placed to the Oklahoma Department of Mines and to Stone have not been returned.
Dust from the mining activities on the west side have the potential to impact the area’s environment, ranging from reduction of air quality, damage to surrounding crops and livestock, and killing of the cedar trees on the mountain.
“It’s a hard and complex situation,” said Tah-Bone. “We’re at a disadvantage. It’s not trust land. It’s not federal land. It’s privately owned land, and we don’t have a right to it. We thank the people on the eastern side for their generosity in letting us have access to it. They could throw us in jail for trespassing, but they don’t. We are working on it... and doing everything we can think of to stop it. It might take some time. We want people to know we’re doing the best that we can.”
The Kiowa have been meeting with landowners as well as state and federal officials about the issue. Kiowa officials have also been meeting with the farmers and ranchers in the surrounding region about the environmental impact of the mining. Dupoint and Tah-Bone encourage those who want to help to contact the Kiowa Tribe at 580-654-2300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous attempts to purchase the land have not been successful. For now, efforts to halt construction rest with those who hold the surface and mineral rights to the mountain—the landowners—and those who are spiritually connected to the mountain.
“Right now, it’s just to work with the landowners,” Dupoint said. “Somewhere down the line, if it’s not them, maybe their offspring. They may feel passion; they may be able to talk with us and give us the opportunity to purchase it back, or they would deed it back to us. We don’t know what goes on in a man’s mind or in his heart.”