President Donald Trump’s plans to kick off Independence Day with a showy display at Mount Rushmore are drawing sharp criticism from Native Americans who view the monument as a desecration of land violently stolen from them and used to pay homage to leaders hostile to native people, Stephen Groves reported for the Associated Press (AP) late on June 25, 2020.
Several groups led by Native American activists are planning protests for Trump’s July 3 visit, part of Trump’s “comeback” campaign for a nation reeling from sickness, unemployment and, recently, social unrest. The event is slated to include fighter jets thundering over the 79-year-old stone monument in South Dakota’s Black Hills and the first fireworks display at the site since 2009. Trump has made no bones about his wish to have his face added to those of four US presidents featured in the monument.
But it comes amid a national reckoning over racism and a reconsideration of the symbolism of monuments around the globe. Many Native Americans activists say the Rushmore memorial is as reprehensible as the many Confederate monuments being toppled around the nation. “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 genocide.” 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 Mount Rushmore sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was a member of the Klu Klux Klan, according to 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.