[News] Oglala Sioux President says Mount Rushmore should be 'removed': What's behind the site's controversial history
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 29 11:47:05 EDT 2020
Sioux President says Mount Rushmore should be 'removed': What's behind the
site's controversial history
Lisa Kaczke and Jonathan Ellis - June 25, 2020
As President Trump prepares to visit Mount Rushmore next week, a South
Dakota tribal president is preparing a memo of disapproval.
Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner says the president failed to
consult with tribal leaders about the visit to the Black Hills, which the
Sioux consider part of their Great Sioux Reservation, land that was never
ceded to the United States. Bear Runner said Trump’s visit requited
government-to-government consultation between the tribes and the federal
And one other thing: Bear Runner thinks Mount Rushmore should come down.
“I don’t believe it should be blown up, because it would cause more damage
to the land,” he said, noting that Indian artifacts could be damaged. But
there are other methods to take down the monument that would have less
“I agree,” he said. “Removed but not blown up.”
His comments come amid a wave of statues of early U.S. leaders that have
been torn down following protests of racial injustice. On social media,
some have criticized the destruction, which has largely come at the hands
of unchecked mobs as opposed to deliberative decisions by elected leaders.
Protesters initially targeted statues of Confederate leaders, but the
destruction has expanded to leaders and heroes of the Union, as well as
pre-Civil War figures.
When some suggested that Mount Rushmore might be next, Gov. Kristi Noem
Tweeted, “Not on my watch.”
Mount Rushmore carries special significance for Great Plains Indians: It
depicts the faces of four white American leaders who presided over the
founding and expansion of European descended ancestors throughout the
United States. It was built on land that the tribes still claim ownership
to via treaty with the United States.
Bear Runner said the monument was built without any consultation
or approval from Sioux leaders of that era.
“To me, it’s a great sign of disrespect,” he said.
His view isn't universally shared in Indian Country. O.J. Semans, an
executive director of Four Directions, a Native American voting advocacy
group, said that while a lot of Sioux Indians want the monument removed, it
could also serve a purpose to teach the thousands of visitors their story
with exhibits and films.
"Doing that, I think, would get more people to understand the actual hurt
that Natives are going through every time they see those images," he said.
"The atrocities aren't going away."
That's particularly true of Lincoln, said Semans, who is a member of the
Rosebud Sioux Tribe. While Lincoln is revered for ending slavery, he is
viewed among the Sioux as a president who oversaw the largest mass
execution in American history when 38 Sioux were hung in Minnesota during
the Dakota War of 1862. Mount Rushmore, Semans said, should be used to tell
"I'm not saying that those who want to see it removed are wrong," Semans
said. "I can understand how they can come to that conclusion. But I'm
trying to be a realist."
"This is really a learning moment for the people who are in charge of Mount
Rushmore to right a wrong," he added. "Removing a statue doesn't right a
The controversy over monuments and statues has grown so strong that South
Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson introduced legislation on Thursday to protect
“These presidents championed the cause of freedom,” said Johnson, a
Republican. “Those seeking to remove these iconic faces are undermining the
contributions these leaders made in pursuit of a more perfect union.
Removal would do nothing to move our country forward.”
Into this comes the July 3 fireworks display and President Trump, who has
been criticized for disparaging minorities. Several groups led by Native
American activists are planning protests for the visit.
"I'm not really happy that he's coming to pollute our Black Hills," said
Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, a Democrat and the chair of the State-Tribal Relations
Committee and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Mount Rushmore was created to draw tourism to South Dakota and its carving
took place between 1927 and 1941. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum intended for
Mount Rushmore to stand for America's greatness, and it's referred to as
the Shrine of Democracy. However, stories in recent years have highlighted
Borglum's ties to white supremacy
possibly joining the Ku Klux Klan, his Confederate sculpture funded by the
and that the tribes have argued
for generations that the land was stolen from them.
“Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism that’s
still alive and well in society today,” said Nick Tilsen, a member of the
Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of a local activist organization
called NDN Collective. “It’s an injustice to actively steal Indigenous
people’s land then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed
Why the tribes are upset about Mount Rushmore
The mountain Mount Rushmore is carved into is known as the Six Grandfathers
by the Lakota.
The Lakota consider the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa in Lakota, to be the
Great Sioux Reservation where their culture began and it was home to seven
The tribes were given the Black Hills in perpetuity in the Fort Laramie
Treaty of 1868
But miners seeking gold came into the area in an expedition led by Gen.
George Custer in 1874. More miners encroached in the Hills once gold was
found and demanded the U.S. Army's protection.
Although the Lakota and Northern Cheynne were victorious in the Battle of
Little Bighorn in 1876, by the following year, thousands of cavalrymen were
deployed to the area and began what the Lakota called the "sell or starve"
campaign: The Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 cut off all rations until
the Lakota ended hostilities and ceded the Black Hills to the federal
government. By the fall of 1877, the Lakota were under the control of
on reservations, their land confiscated by the federal government under the
Agreement of 1877.
Tribes have attempted to reclaim the Black Hills several times in recent
The U.S. Court of Claims found in 1979 that the Sioux Nation was entitled
to $17.1 million in compensation due to the federal government's seizure of
the Black Hills. The following year, U.S. Supreme Court decided 8-1 that
the federal government had violated the Fifth Amendment and the tribes were
entitled to compensation in United State v. Sioux Nation of Indians
The tribes declined the compensation because it would legally end their
demand for the Black Hills to be returned to them.
Several requests were denied in the early 1980s to return millions of acres
of the Black Hills to the tribes, as well as bills in Congress that would
have returned some of the land.
The effort to settle the land dispute was revived in 2009 and a United
Nations report in 2012 <https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/733435?ln=en>
said that Indigenous land, including the Black Hills, should be returned.
Trump's visit highlights controversy
Tim Giago, a journalist who is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, said he
doesn’t see four great American leaders when he looks at the monument, but
instead four white men who either made racist remarks or initiated actions
that removed Native Americans from their land. Washington and Jefferson
both held slaves. Lincoln, though he led the abolition of slavery, also
approved the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Minnesota after a violent conflict
with white settlers there. Roosevelt is reported to have said, “I don’t go
so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I
believe nine out of every ten are..”
The monument has long been a “Rorschach test," said John Taliaferro, author
of “Great White Fathers,” a history of the monument. "All sorts of people
can go there and see it in different ways.”
The monument often starts conversations on the paradox of American
democracy — that a republic that promoted the ideals of freedom,
determination and innovation also enslaved people and drove others from
their land, he said.
“If we’re having this discussion today about what American democracy is,
Mount Rushmore is really serving its purpose because that conversation goes
on there,” he said. “Is it fragile? Is it permanent? Is it cracking
The monument was conceived in the 1920s as a tourist draw for the new fad
in vacationing called the road trip. South Dakota historian Doane Robinson
recruited Borglum, one of the preeminent sculptors at the time, to abandon
his work creating the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia, which
was to feature Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson.
Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, according to Mount Rushmore
historian and writer Tom Griffith. Borglum joined the Klan to raise money
for the Confederate memorial, and Griffith argues his allegiance was more
practical than ideological. He left that project and instead spent years in
South Dakota completing Mount Rushmore.
Native American activists have long staged protests at the site to raise
awareness among the history of the Black Hills, which were taken from them
despite treaties with the United States protecting the land. Fifty years
ago this summer a group of activists associated with an organization called
United Native Americans climbed to the top of the monument and occupied it.
Quanah Brightman, who now runs United Native Americans, said the activism
in the 1970s grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He hopes a
similar movement for Native Americans comes from the Black Lives Matter
“What people find here is the story of America — it's multidimensional,
it's complex,” Griffith said. “It’s important to understand it was people
just trying to do right as best they knew it then.”
*-- The Associated Press contribute to this report*
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