Courtesy David Braun
A dancer performs at a previous Black Hills Unity Concert. This year's event will take place August 28-30.

Star-Studded Black Hills Unity Concert to Focus on the Sacred

Darren Thompson

On Friday, August 28 indigenous community leaders, renowned musicians representing both the Native and mainstream music industries, as well as thousands of concerned citizens from all walks of life will gather in the Black Hills for a weekend of ceremony, workshops, empowerment, and unity around one often misunderstood matter—the fact that the Black Hills are sacred.

Held just outside Rapid City in Piedmont, South Dakota, the Black Hills Unity Concert is monumental and aims to develop a greater understanding among all peoples on why the Black Hills are sacred to many Indigenous Peoples and why that acknowledgement needs to include the entire human family.

“Our elders advised us to remind people, through example, what the Black Hills were for. In ancestral times no one lived there, they were only visited in times of prayer. They were a place to set aside our differences and pray for all our relations,” Black Hills Unity Concert lead organizer Lyla Johnston Diné/Cheyenne, said. “Reconciling divided cultures and finding a solution to the Black Hills issue lies at the heart of the concert, yes, but it is also much more than that. It is a place for people to put their minds together and pray for solutions to the social, environmental and indigenous issues that we face today.”

Originally started in 2014, the Black Hills Unity Concert has already made its mark on social and environmental issues affecting the many Indigenous Peoples of this hemisphere. It is more than a concert; it is a movement that in its inaugural year, attracted a crowd well over 2,000, and showcases tremendous potential to continue to expand its message to the masses—the Black Hills are sacred and must be protected by the original stewards that find the Hills the “heart of everything that is.”

Performers include hip hop artist and activist Stuart James (Spirit Lake Dakota), hip hop phenomenon Frank Waln (Rosebud Sicangu Oyate), award-winning Native American musician Keith Secola (Anishinabe), award-winning hip hop artist and dancer Supaman (Crow), inspirational Diné musician and poet Lyla June (Navajo), spoken word artist and singer Shawn Little Thunder (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), award-winning flutist and singer Cody Blackbird (Dakota/Cherokee), alternative/blues duo Scatter Their Own (Oglala Sioux Tribe), renowned Native American flutist Darren Thompson (Ojibwe/Tohono Oodham), award-winning Native American women’s a capella group Ulali, and many others. Also joining them will be singer and environmental activist Tina Malia; cello and voice duo Bethany and Rufus; Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino singer and songwriter Nahko Bear; and the astounding and well-known Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

In addition to the music, the Black Hills Unity Concert will host community leaders from 12 Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota reservations to present their solutions to their respective communities’ most pressing social and environmental challenges.

“We feel that we have a sacred obligation to our people to come together in unity. We put forth sacred intentions to help our Great Sioux Nation understand these grounds are beautiful and sacred and they are not for sale. We have to prioritize this for the sake of the face we cannot see yet and for all living and breathing on Unci Maka,” said former Oglala Sioux Tribal President Theresa Two Bulls. “The Black Hills have long been a powerful place to many American Indian people and the Black Hills Unity Concert is a testament of the many people who find the Black Hills the center of all things, but we need everyone to help us to continue this powerful event.”

Speakers at the event will include Lakota oral history keeper Leroy Comes Last (Fort Peck Sioux Tribe), Lakota cultural and language preservationist Ramey Growing Thunder (Fort Peck Sioux Tribe), former Oglala Sioux Tribe councilwoman Barbara Dull Knife, Seventh Generation Oyate Voices Youth Council members Briana and Alex Grey Bull (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), renowned spiritual activist Faith Spotted Eagle (Yankton Sioux Tribe), executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project Julie Garreau (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), executive director of Wiconi Wawokiya, Inc. Lisa Heth (Crow Creek Sioux Tribe), and many more.

“The event is an opportunity rarely offered to much of Indian country’s passionate talent and leadership,” Johnston said. “The ability to learn from each other in way that is inviting to people from all walks of life critical in these times, and I am honored to be a small part of it.”

The once-in-a-lifetime event is hosted at Elk Creek Resort, an all-in-one resort in the Black Hills that nests in the Elk Creek Valley, commonly known as “the Rest of the Black Hills.” It is home to many attractions and features, but unlike many resorts in the Black Hills, the Elk Creek Resort features the Petrified Forest of the Black Hills, which includes a one-hour tour that features the history of the Black Hills from the earth’s beginning to present-day.

They are asking all attendees to register online so they can properly prepare for the size of the crowd and continue to showcase a rare lineup of worldwide talent.

The concert runs from Friday, August 28 through Sunday, August 30. For those who cannot attend, they can still participate by donating online to help cover production expenses for this free gathering

For the complete performance and workshop schedule please visit

Darren Thompson, Ojibwe/Tohono O’odham, is a Native American flute player, activist and educator from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. A frequent performer and public speaker, his commentary on American Indian cultural identity as well as reviews of his music have been included in Indian Country Today Media Network, the Native Sun News, News from Indian Country, The Examiner, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and numerous other media. For more information visit

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