Tim Giago: Mt. Rushmore through Native eyes
Memorial Day usually kicks off the tourist season. So far the tourist attractions in South Dakota seem to be holding their own despite the spike in gasoline prices.
For those tourists feeling the pangs of patriotism, a visit to Mount Rushmore should fill that void. It truly is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. One thing to keep in mind when visiting; many Native Americans see those faces on the Mountain in a different way. So if you look at those carvings through the eyes of Native Americans, you may see them as you have never seen them before.
Teddy Roosevelt talked about taking the remaining Indian lands by war. He said, “It is a primeval warfare and it is waged as war was waged in the ages of bronze and of iron. All the merciful humanity that even war has gained during the last two thousand years is lost. It is a warfare where no pity is shown to non-combatants.”
Abraham Lincoln gave the go-ahead to the U. S. Army to hang 38 Dakota warriors in Minnesota in the largest mass hanging in the history of America. Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, signed on to the Louisiana Purchase, a deal that took millions of acres of land from many Indian tribes without their approval, including South Dakota, and in the end, caused misery, suffering, death and poverty that is felt by the Native Americans of this region even to this day. And we should not forget that the man known as the father of this country (at least to the white people), George Washington, ordered the extermination of the Indian people of New England. He was also a slave holder.
Native American activist Russell Means has labeled Mount Rushmore, The Shrine of Hypocrisy. In this instance he speaks for many Native Americans. You must also remember that Native Americans had a history long before the coming of the white man. Most Indians do not consider the signors of the Declaration of Independence to be their “Founding Fathers.”
Another tourist attraction in the Black Hills, a geographical locale that is still claimed by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people, is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Ruth Ziolkowski and her family have made it their life’s mission to complete the carving of Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, started by her husband, Korczak, 60 years ago. Many Indians have watched them cautiously for all of those 60 years. They have done a wonderful job in providing a place for Native American artists and craftsmen and women to display their works during the peak tourist season. They have provided job opportunities for Native Americans. And after many years, Ruth and her family have earned my respect and admiration for the loyalty to the sculptor’s dream. I guess you can count me as a skeptic that has been won over. There are those Lakota that have not.
I know the carving bears absolutely no resemblance to Crazy Horse the man. And that is one of its shortcomings. I have talked to many Lakota over the years and together we have come to the conclusion that the mountain should be renamed Native American Memorial Mountain.
There are those who say that no photo of Crazy Horse was ever taken, so the artist’s version of the man was created in his own mind. Again, people saying this forget that Indians have their own history. There were several great Lakota warriors that knew Crazy Horse including Black Elk. In a letter he wrote in 1904 he described “my friend Crazy Horse” and the man he described does not match that of the carving at Crazy Horse Memorial.
But that should not deter from the artist’s conception of Crazy Horse in that it is an image that should be used as a memorial to all Native Americans. If you decide to visit the Black Hills, place on your feet, mentally and spiritually, the moccasins of the Lakota people and walk with them and see the Hills through their eyes.
Remember that there is a sign you will not see unless you look into the heart of the Lakota people. The sign reads, “The Black Hills are not for sale.”
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing him at P.O. Box 818, Rapid City, SD 57709.
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