Longhorn Mountain is an important place to Kiowas, not just because they’ve been going there to pray since being in Oklahoma, it’s in the way that they pray using the sacrament they believe is unique to that mountain, cedar. And now, its habitat is in danger.
Compare it to the incense used in Catholic Church, the goal is the same, to cleanse, to honor, to make pleasing to God. Members of the Native American Church (NAC) believe the same thing, but in addition, they believe the smoke actually carries their prayers up to the Creator. This makes that smoke, from burning the flat leaf cedar on the coals of a fire, an essential part of their spirituality. Phil R. Joe Fish Dupoint, tribal historian at the Kiowa Tribal Museum and a member of the NAC, says the cedar is special on Longhorn Mountain.
“It has its own unique specific fragrance. I mean, I've been throughout the United States, been in different parts of Canada,” said Dupoint. He has smelled the cedar used by different tribes in their ceremonies. “But Longhorn just has its own unique scent, no other place in the world can you get it but here.”
Dupoint said they’ve tried to transplant it “but it just doesn't seem to take or grow.” Dupoint went on to say that he doesn’t know why this cedar was put here for the Kiowa’s use.
“My only answer for that is you just have to ask God almighty himself why he singled out the Kiowa and why he gave it to the Kiowa,” Dupoint said. “And for all these years that we have been in existence down here in this area, it’s basically the cedar that we use in our traditional ceremonies, different things that we do here. It’s just always been here.”
Longhorn Mountain was part of the Kiowa Reservation. 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.
This is what happened to Longhorn Mountain. Kiowa families that fell on hard times sold the only thing of value they had, and that was their land. Then it passed out of Indian hands.
“So now, there’s nothing Indian about it. It doesn't belong to Indians, any Kiowas or any Indians no more,” said Dupoint.
The mountain itself is now split between two owners, one on the east and one on the west, and never the twain shall meet. The east side owners are in sync with the Kiowa Tribe. Owners of the west side have leased out their half to two gravel companies. The first gravel company came to the tribe and tried to explain what they would be doing, but this raised red flags.
“They weren't specific and they didn't really explain themselves the way that I guess they were intending to. Because when they notified us they said, ‘okay we're going to go through Phase I’, so if there's a Phase I there’s usually a Phase II & there’s usually a Phase III, that's what got our concern” Dupoint said.
And that wasn’t the only problem, or the only gravel company.
“Well the people that own the property on the west, they signed a lease with another gravel company, I guess you'd call them. They're wanting to come down and they're going to start taking half of Longhorn Mountain they were saying in July, starting mid-July,” Dupoint said.
“So by doing that...all the dust and all the rock and maybe the blasting and all that may have an effect on the east part, “Dupoint said.
Not being the owners of the land, the Kiowas don’t have any legal recourse, but that doesn’t mean they will stop looking for a way to halt the gravel companies said Dupoint.
The Kiowas aren’t interested in breaking the law but want access to the cedar central to their spirituality. Other indigenous peoples face similar struggles. A Mayan pyramid in Belize was knocked down to make gravel for building a road, and the Ogalala Sioux are trying to secure Wounded Knee grounds from outside buyers . Indian Times will update this story as events occur.