The Case Against Mount Rushmore
Trump is going to Mount Rushmore this week, so you know something terrible is going to happen. His visit will be accompanied by fighter jets and a fireworks display, even though fireworks have been banned there since 2010 over wildfire concerns. The governor of South Dakota has bizarrely said there will be “no social distancing” at the event, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Mt Rushmore is not ancient. My dad is older than it. Mt. Rushmore is not sacred. Its a monument to settler colonialism & genocidal conquest. What’s sacred is the ground & rock underneath, the Six Grandfathers, & the Lakota hold title to it under natural law & the US Constitution.
— Ruth Hopkins ⚡️❤️⚡️ (@Ruth_HHopkins) June 29, 2020
But Trump’s Mount Rushmore fireworks event takes place during a broader reconsideration of racist statues and monuments, and this monument deserves a reckoning too. Mount Rushmore represents more than just a “Washington and Jefferson owned slaves” debate. In fact, slave ownership among two of the four guys depicted on Mount Rushmore is not even among the most troublesome aspects of this monument.
THE OWNERSHIP OF THE LAND
Sure, all American land is stolen from indigenous people. But the land on which Mount Rushmore sits, the Black Hills mountain range in South Dakota, was permanently granted to the Oglala and Lakota people under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. But the US government tossed that treaty immediately once gold was discovered on the land. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians that land was indeed stolen from the Lakota, who are now owed an estimated $1.2 billion for it — yet they refuse to accept the money, they just want the land back.
“The Black Hills are sacred to Lakota people, as it is the center of our creation story,” says Jackie Fielder, a state senate candidate and Native American organizer. “No doubt, stealing the Black Hills, murdering 200 women and children at Wounded Knee, and then etching the heads of settler colonizers into those sacred hills is a big ‘F-you’ to Lakota people.”
You mean the Mount Rushmore that’s on unceded Lakota territory that still belongs to them by US Treaty as held up by Supreme Court ruling in 1980? https://t.co/HuNoswLSq2
— Azie Dungey (@AzieDee) June 23, 2020
It’s legally established that the land on which Mount Rushmore sits does not belong to the US government or the National Park Service. But Smithsonian magazine also points out in their essay The sordid history of Mount Rushmore, the monument’s designer Gutzon Borglum was a Ku Klux Klan member, among many other horrible associations on the monument.
It's not disrespectful to criticize #MountRushmore.
You know what's disrespectful? Carving four presidents of a nation that's less than 250 years old into the local Indigenous communities' millennia-old sacred site.
— Lakota Law Project (@lakotalaw) June 25, 2020
THE TROUBLE WITH LINCOLN AND ROOSEVELT
Palefaces like myself generally consider Abraham Lincoln to have been an outstanding president, but natives won’t forget that he ordered the largest mass execution in US history in the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota men. Teddy Roosevelt wrote in his book The Winning of the West that “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.”
Mount Rushmore is not some timeless, mythical thing, it’s only been there for 81 years. (For comparison, the Tadich Grill is 90 years older than Mount Rushmore.) And it is surely not the best use of the mountains of the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“I can’t speak for all Lakota people,” Jackie Fielder tells BrokeAssStuart.com. “But as one Lakota woman, what I desire more than monuments, is the return of the wild buffalo to their traditional grazing patterns, the return of land to Lakota people, fossil fuel projects off of our treaty territories, and a return of the people to our language and traditions.”