Researchers seek health aid for Rainbow youth
By VICKI SMITH Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 06/26/2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.They are a mysterious, almost mythical group, the
Rainbow Family of Living Light, gathering again this summer to party
and pray for peace, many appearing wild and unwashed, barefoot and
bearded, secretive and standoffish.
Their annual pilgrimagethis year to Wyomingis typically preceded by
rumor, anxiety or fear among locals. Yet beneath the scruffy surface
is an opportunity that public health researchers say is perennially
misseda chance to help people falling through the cracks, under-30
types whose risk factors suggest they're a danger to themselves more
than anyone else.
Most are willing to accept outside medical help and counseling, say
scientists Rob Bossarte and Ernest Sullivent, but delivering those
services will require an unconventional approach.
"There's an incredible opportunity here ... but no one is stepping up
to do it," says Bossarte, an injury and violence specialist who
published a report on the group while working at West Virginia
University's Center for Rural Emergency Medicine. He left last week
for a new post at the University of Rochester.
"This might be a single point in time where you can count on this
population being accessible," Bossarte says.
To study the Rainbows during their 2005 gathering in West Virginia's
Monongahela National Forest, the researchers scrapped their white
coats and scientific methodology. They stopped shaving and changing
clothes. They bought hats to cover their close-cropped hair. They ate
the watery soups from the communal kitchens and used the same
slit-trench latrines as the people they wanted to understand.
"Epidemiology is a strange science," says Sullivent. "It's kind of
part detective work. You do what it takes."
The Rainbows, who fight the U.S. Forest Service over camping permits
every year, initially thought the researchers were cops, shouting
coded warnings when they appeared. But the men returned day after
day, chatting with respected Rainbow elders. Slowly, others warmed up.
"They didn't want to talk to us," Sullivent says, "but after a while,
they couldn't help it."
Officially, this year's gathering is July 1-7 near Big Sandy, Wyo.,
about 350 miles northwest of Cheyenne. But every year, the hard-core
and the hard-up gather a week or two early. They are usually the last
to leave, dismantling tarps and tents only when every scrap of food is gone.
They are easy to distinguish from their well-heeled counterparts,
Sullivent says. They do not wear gold rings, expensive watches or
high-priced hiking shoes. They are young, skinny and obviously unwell.
"We're used to seeing the older homeless person, but when you see
that in a 14-year-old, you know something bad happened to them," says
Sullivent, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Bossarte and Sullivent had approached the group, which has met every
year since 1972, with plans to study injury and violence rates. What
they saw quickly shifted their focus.
Many of the young people they met reported physical abuse by a
parent, forced sexual intercourse and use of medication for
depression. Many had run away from home.
At the Rainbow get-togethers, health care comes from within, at
Center for Alternative Living Medicine tents staffed by nurses,
midwives, medical students or physicians. CALM is a loose coalition
of holistic healersfrom homeopaths and herbalists to social workers
and shamansat least one of whom is always on call at the gatherings.
CALM members declined to respond to repeated e-mail and telephone
requests for interviews.
As Bossarte and Sullivent learned, reaching out to Rainbows isn't be
easy. They have little structure, no official membership and no
leaders or spokesmen.
In pursuit of an unspoiled place to celebrate nature, they gather in
remote areas with few resources. And because they reject authority,
they give little notice of their plans.
Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti says her agency has
had few details to work with in the months before the gathering, so
it plans to focus on communicable diseases.
At last year's gathering, officials saw the Rainbows as just another
"group that came to Arkansas to visit," says Ed Barham, a spokesman
for the Arkansas Department of Health.
That changed when someone from the gathering near Fallsville, Ark.,
in the Ozark National Forest showed up at a rural hospital emergency
room with bacterial meningitis. Nurses from Little Rock, about 130
miles away, were dispatched to help.
The Rainbows were cooperative and willing to take the help that was
offered, just as Bossarte and Sullivent concluded. The key to
expanding that, they say, is offering that assistance instead of requiring it.
"This is a group that does not react well when you come in and force
things on them," Bossarte says.
The researchers hope their May report in the Journal of Health Care
for the Poor and Underserved will inspire others to take the next
step and plan outreach efforts.
"I don't think we necessarily need to think of it as this massive
effort to put a hospital in the forest," Bossarte says. "Baby steps
On the Net:
Rainbow Family: http://welcomehere.org/gatheringofthetribes/annual/
Center for Alternative Living Medicine: http://www.infolation.com/calm/
WVU Center for Rural Emergency Medicine: http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/crem/
Locals tense ahead of "Rainbow" gathering
By Scott Fuller
June 27, 2008
RIVERTON Tie dye, tee-pees, and cries for free love and world peace.
If it sounds like an image of the 1960s, residents near Pinedale may
believe they've traveled back in time next week when a large band of
"hippies" hold their annual gathering at a national forest near Pinedale.
Federal officials began arriving in Riverton earlier this month to
prepare for the arrival of the group, which calls itself the Rainbow
Family of Living Light.
Anywhere between several hundred to a few thousand members of the
group are expected, and their arrival has already drawn the ire of
some locals. Civilians and councilmembers alike are concerned over
rumors and speculation which seem to follow the group around the country.
To help aleviate fears, the Rainbow Family participated in a town
hall meeting in Pinedale last week, saying they were a "people of
peace," and asking for a moment of silence.
Still, local law enforcement in Green River has advised the public
not to pick up hitchhikers as members of the group begin to arrive in
the area for the gathering, which is scheduled to begin in full July
1. Residents who are disturbed by the arrival of the group have cited
reports of fires and crime which have arisen in the last week near
the area where members of the Rainbow Family have already assembled
to justify concerns.
Rescue searchers found the pickup of missing 24-year-old Garrett
Bardin this week in the Big Sandy area of Pinedale, not far from
where the Rainbow Family has been gathering in recent weeks for its event.
On Monday, a wildfire was extinguished in Lander after it had burned
a quarter of an acre in the same area where residents had complained
about the behavior of some of the group's members.
Some of the rumors about the clan may not be entirely unfounded. In
February, officials in Florida relocated the group as they hosting a
similar meeting at the Ocala National Forest near Orlando. The group
was forced out, and officials cited some members for minor violence,
drug use, and violation of federal land permits.
Earlier this month, the Boy Scouts of America conceded that the
arrival of the Rainbow Family had forced them to reschedule a planned
forest restoration project.
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso has written a letter to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, complaining the group has not respected
the process of reserving federal land.
"The Rainbow Family Gathering displaced the Boy Scouts of America who
had planned to do an ecological project," wrote Barrasso, as reported
by the Casper Star Tribune on Friday. "In addition, livestock
permittees, recreationists, cabin owners and lodge visitors are
impacted by this gathering. All of these users have completed the
appropriate permit process and worked with the agency to properly
plan their activities."
The group's website stresses that this year's gathering will be
peaceful, and says the group "is an international loose affiliation
of individuals who have a common goal of trying to achieve peace and
love on Earth."
Senator blasts agencies on Rainbow gathering
By CHRIS MERRILL
Star-Tribune environment reporter
LANDER -- U.S. Sen. John Barrasso slammed the U.S. Department of
Agriculture Thursday, calling the Forest Service's management of this
year's Rainbow Family gathering "unacceptable."
Barrasso condemned what he called "the failures of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture" to properly manage the gathering in the
Bridger-Teton National Forest, in a letter he addressed to USDA
Secretary Ed Schafer. He asked the secretary to give the situation in
Wyoming "priority attention."
"The Rainbow Family Gathering displaced the Boy Scouts of America who
had planned to do an ecological project," wrote Barrasso, R-Wyo. "In
addition, livestock permittees, recreationists, cabin owners and
lodge visitors are impacted by this gathering. All of these users
have completed the appropriate permit process and worked with the
agency to properly plan their activities."
The Rainbow Family, on the other hand, was not required to complete
these steps, Barrasso wrote, and "has been allowed to displace all
The senator said in the future that all public land users "must be
held to the same standards and unauthorized users must not be tolerated."
The Rainbow Family has assembled on public lands every year,
somewhere in the United States, since 1972, and the events
occasionally draw up to 25,000 participants. This year's gathering is
taking place in the Big Sandy area of the Wind River Mountains and
will culminate on July 4.
The assembly is intended to be a celebration of peaceful living and
love for the planet earth. It is also, famously, a so-called
alternative congregation featuring craft trading, dancing, drum
circles, Eastern-style meditation and prayer, and where varying
degrees of nudity and drug use are not uncommon.
In an interview by telephone from his Washington, D.C., office
Thursday afternoon, Barrasso said he'd been in contact with some of
his constituents who use cabins in the Bridger-Teton and others who
use the land for recreation. Some residents are upset, he said,
because it seems they are required to live up to a higher standard
than the Rainbow Family is.
"When you visit with cabin owners, you hear about regulations they
must follow," Barrasso said. "They can't put out a hummingbird
feeder. They can't string a clothesline between two trees, or they'll
lose their ability to use these places. Meanwhile, they allow the
entire Rainbow Family to do anything they wish."
Mary Cernicek, spokeswoman for the Bridger-Teton, said she hadn't yet
seen a copy of the letter late Thursday, and because it wasn't
addressed to the forest she couldn't respond specifically to
Asked about the absence of a permitting process for the Rainbow
event, Cernicek said the USDA decided to use an "operating plan"
instead, as a substitute for a permit, which in this case has
requirements similar to those found in permits.
"It's the tool that the department chose to use to manage this
event," Cernicek said. "The operating plan that the Rainbows will be
gathering under does in fact give them limits and requirements that
help us as a land management agency to ensure the welfare of the
resource and the participants."
The operating plan will require the Rainbow participants to restore
the site back to the way it was before they arrived, and will also
include rules for fires, and such things as locations of latrines in
order to protect water sources, she said.
Cernicek also noted that the decision to move the Boy Scouts' fence
removal and wildlife habitat improvement project was made by the Boy
Scouts of America, and not by the Forest Service.
Barrasso said Thursday he was disappointed that local and Sublette
County officials were "shut out" of the planning process, as County
Commissioner Joel Bousman argued last week.
In a previous interview with the Star-Tribune, however, District
Ranger Tom Peters, the official who has been attempting to work
directly with the Rainbow gathering, said it was only a matter of a
few days between when the Forest Service was first notified about the
Rainbows' choice of location and when they began arriving on site.
Policing the event
In his letter to Schafer, Barrasso asked the secretary to "please
submit in writing your department's commitment to offset impacts to
local government and public land users." He requested Schafer's
"personal attention to this matter" to ensure the Forest Service will
immediately "contain the Rainbow Family Gathering and maintain
control of the situation."
Rita Vollmer, information officer with the Forest Service, said as of
last week the Forest Service had assembled an incident management
team in Wyoming of more than 40 law enforcement officers from
throughout the United States, as well as police dogs and
administrative personnel, to police the event.
And as of last Friday the agency had already installed rotating crews
of officers to police the gathering around the clock, Vollmer said.
Resource advisers are also on site, she said, working with the
Rainbows to "help manage and protect resources in the area and to
minimize impacts to the local environment."
The incident team has set up a local magistrate court, Vollmer said,
to process arrests and citations issued during the event.
In his letter Thursday, Barrasso indicated he felt these measures
haven't been sufficient.
"Given the state of the current situation, it is incumbent upon your
agency to commit personnel and resources to minimize conflict between
the Rainbow Family and other public land users," Barrasso wrote.
Environment reporter Chris Merrill can be reached at
email@example.com or at (307) 267-6722.
Rainbow Family Reunion
JUNE 28, 2008
As American as apple pie is the drive to protest and revolt -- it's
in our blood as a nation of immigrants.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Gathering of the Tribes,
the annual migration of the Rainbow Family of Living Light. It sounds
like a hippie happening, and it is. Homeless kids, war protesters and
the whole '60s vibe define the Rainbow Family, meaning clothing is
optional and that smoke smell is definitely not tobacco. Each year,
20,000 to 30,000 people camp in a different national forest over the
first week of July.
Producer Barrett Golding went to the gathering a couple years ago,
and reported on what he saw:
The Rainbow Family gathers every year, the first week of July. Nearly
20,000 hippies are camping in Montana's Beaverhead Forest. On the
highway, I pass peace signs painted on vans and flowers on buses. I
pick up hitchhikers with long skirts and tie-dye shirts. It's a
100-mile drive from where I live; in time, though, it's around 1969.
An old logging road leads up to a green meadow. To the west is a pine
forest, to the east a grassy hill, and above, several 9,000- and
10,000-foot peaks. The meadow is a mile long, a half-mile wide, and
constantly filled with people. In the trade circle, they barter beads
for bongos and bongs. They eat at Lovin' Ovens, they chant to Mother
Earth, and they crash in teepees and tents. "Welcome home" they say
to each other. "Where are you from?" "Everywhere." "Nowhere." "Why
have you come?" "Love."
They believe corporate culture is killing America, and they believe
the world needs more peace. The gathering is part reunion, part
protest -- 20,000 people off the grid, praying, meditating, getting
along cooperatively. There are mountains, music, naked long-haired
kids sitting in circles, playing flutes and smoking pot.
Rainbow Gathering participant: There's every kind of person here --
thieves and rapists, and some of the most enlightened, benevolent
people in the world.
In the '60s, everything was possible, but nothing was real. The sound
of thunder brings howls from the trees.
Crowd: "The moon's coming up. It's moonrise."
Night falls, and the campfires light. A thousand instruments come out
to play. It's easy to think these people are naive, but maybe that's
what it takes to raise a sound like this to the heavens.
I wander off to find my campsite. As I slip into my sleeping bag, a
beautiful young woman comes up. She asks if I have a spare pair of
socks. I'm from Montana -- of course I have extra socks. I reach in
my pack and give her a pair. She wanders back into the dark.
At sunrise, no one is speaking. All morning, there's silence,
meditation. This is July 4th, their prayer for peace. By the time the
sun hits high noon, everybody's in the meadow. A mantra begins...
Like the psalm, it makes a joyful noise.
Are these people for real? Yeah, they are. They know what it means to
make a community within America, but also what to do without it.
Nearly 20,000 of them can live for a week in the woods, cooking,
singing, staying healthy, filtering water and burying feces. That's
real. Some stay longer to clean up. A month from now, you'll hardly
know anybody was here.
On the way home, just a few miles down the highway, a cop pulls me
over. Do you have any weapons? No. Do you have any drugs? No. He's a
kid, probably just deputized for the week. Do you have any drugs? he
asks again. I say: "Do a lot of people answer 'yes' to that? They
just hand over their drugs? You catch a lot of criminals that way?"
Get out, he says. I'm gonna search your car.
"I don't want you to search my car." You don't have a choice, he
says. But I know the law: "probable cause," versus illegal search and
seizure. But by now, two state troopers are here, hands on their
guns, saying it's a matter of officer safety.
Ten miles away, 20,000 have gathered to pray for peace. Ten miles away.
But I've come down from the mountain and I'm back in America -- land
of the free, home of the brave, and three guys with guns bothering
one with none. I've left the gathering, and I've come back home.
I'm back home.