As of late, the emblems of empire are under overdue scrutiny, and many of our society’s graven images are being removed by a populist uprising of wokeness and sensitivity to the implications of relics and idols of our sordid history and oppressive ways. In essence, the chickens of social hypocrisy have come to roost as an activated public is heralding a renewed outcry: Tear those idols down!
Not everyone of course is in accord with the theory that it is past time to cleanse public places of the graven images of empire. But then there never has been a social revolution which was uncontested. As each person has their own view on such matters, I am more than willing to assert my own personal perspective. My view is simple and straightforward. Tear every statue down, and where practical; plant a tree.
But as the various monuments are being scrutinized as to the merits or otherwise of the individuals whose images have been engraved and erected, it seems to me that the fate of one such emblem of empirical rule should be exclusively decided by a specific demographic of our diverse culture. For this particular monument was a desecration of Mother Earth by the nature of its very construction, and its very existence is an eyesore to the people whose homeland has been violated by its uninvited presence. I refer of course to the monument of the four US Presidents whose images have been engraved into the side of the Paha Sapa (aka “Black Hills”) in the Lakota region (aka “South Dakota”); most commonly known as the Mt Rushmore National Memorial.
The construction of this monument; known to some as “The Shrine of Democracy”, but to the late Lakota elder Russell Means as the “Shrine of Hypocrisy” was an act of vandalism against Mother Earth. This mountain was desecrated by the carving of graven images into its side as though natural rock should be utilized as a canvas for patriotic propaganda. The mutilation of any mountain would have been offensive to the Lakota people, who regard themselves as relatives with all living things, but the desecration of the Paha Sapa was even more so egregious since those particular hills are sacred and instrumental to their religious practices. Additionally, the Black Hills belong to the Lakota nation as recognized by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868; a mutual agreement which has never been rescinded by the Lakotas; though the US government violated the terms of the treaty when Custer’s men found gold there in the 1870’s. In essence, the Mt Rushmore National Memorial is a vandalism against nature and a violation of the religious and sovereign rights of the Lakota nation.
Among those whose images are inscribed onto the side of the Black Hills are George Washington; known to non Indian Americans as “The Father of Our Country”, but to indigenous American Indians as “Town Destroyer”, who ordered the genocide and scorched earth warfare that led to the destruction of 40 Iroquois villages and to death by exposure and starvation of thousands of men, women, and children in the late 18th Century. And Thomas Jefferson; who declared the Doctrine of Discovery, which says that anyone from a Euro-Christian country can legally steal land from non Christian people by merely planting a flag and proclaiming “discovery” and therefore ownership, as the law of the land of America. Likewise Abraham Lincoln who mandated the largest mass lynching in the history of this hemisphere when he called for the mass execution of 38 native Indians in the early 1860’s. And of course the extremely racist Theodore Roosevelt who regarded nine out of ten Indians as better off dead, who claimed that the most vicious cowboy had more moral principle than the average Indian, and who by Presidential edict stole thousands of acres of land on the Rosebud Reservation from the Lakota people for white settlement.
The fact that these particular faces are inscribed into the side of the Paha Sapa; literally looking down on the Lakota people, is an ultimate “in your face” expression of dominant self assumed superiority with an air of apathetic cynicism for the land and lives of the Lakota people. The lack of regard for Mother Earth and lack of respect for the American Indian is as clear as the noses on each and every face inscribed into the side of the sacred Black Hills.
To at least attempt to understand the perspective of the Lakota people with regards to the so called Mt Rushmore National Memorial, consider the following thoughts of the late Lakota Holy Man John Fire Lame Deer concerning the matter:
“It means that these big white faces are telling us ‘First we gave you Indians a treaty that you could keep these Black Hills forever, as long as the sun would shine, in exchange for all the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana. Then we found the gold and took this last piece of land, because we were stronger, and there were more of us than there were of you, and because we had cannons and Gatling guns, while you hadn’t even progressed far enough to make a steel knife. And when you didn’t want to leave, we wiped you out, and those of you who survived we put on reservations. And then we took the gold out, a billion bucks, and we aren’t through yet. And because we like the tourist dollars, too, we have made your sacred Black Hills into one vast Disneyland. And after we did all this we carved up this mountain, the dwelling place of your spirits, and put our four gleaming white faces here. We are the conquerors.’
One man’s shrine is another man’s cemetery, except that now a few white folks are also getting tired of having to look at this big paperweight curio. We can’t get away from it. You could make a lovely mountain into a great paperweight, but can you make it into a wild, natural mountain again? I don’t think you have the know-how for that.”
(Peter Matthiessen, “In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse”, 1991, p xxxix-xl)
In conclusion, although I personally have my own thoughts as to the preferred fate of the vandalism against nature most commonly known as the Mt Rushmore National Memorial, I hasten to submit that my sentiments as to this matter are completely irrelevant. As are those of all non American Indians. The fact is that since this Shrine of Hypocrisy is a violation of both Mother Earth and the sacred mountain of the Lakota people; and since the Paha Sapa is unable to speak for itself, then the right to decide the fate of the four faced inscription into the side of the sacred Black Hills should be solely that of the Lakota people themselves. Since white people have already done enough seemingly irreparable damage with regards to the Paha Sapa, then the least we should do is to both humbly and respectfully acquiesce completely and unreservedly to the will of the Lakota people, and to they alone, as to the fate of the Mt Rushmore National Memorial.