Lakota Gather Peacefully at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, But Still Insist that the Black Hills Belong to Them

The Lakota insist that the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore National Memorial belong to them. Photo by Jim Bower via Wikipedia.

In 1970, Indians led by United Native Americans (UNA) organizers occupied South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial for more than a week and asserted the right of the Lakota (a Sioux tribe) to reclaim the Black Hills. On August 29, the 38th anniversary of the occupation’s onset, a small group of Lakota peacefully gathered at the memorial’s amphitheater to share cultural experiences and commemorate the historic event.

The historical roots of Native American displeasure with Black Hills developments like the Mount Rushmore National Memorial run very deep. The Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota were sacred to the Lakota and other plains Indians long before rapid economic exploitation of this landscape got underway with the gold rush of the 1870s.

It is highly germane that this incursion was illegal, and that Indians were wantonly killed or driven from land that had been treaty-promised to them in perpetuity. The Indian viewpoint is now, and for over a century has been, that the Black Hills were stolen and should be returned to the Lakota. (The UNA website link provided above portrays this viewpoint quite stridently.)

In the 1960s and 1970s, some Native American groups became quite confrontational as they asserted perceived rights to reclaim lands taken long ago by chicanery or outright theft that was condoned (if not sanctioned) by the state and federal governments. Primarily to get media attention and perhaps sway public opinion to their side, Indian groups held demonstrations at various state- and federally-owned sites. Some sites, including a few national parks or parks-to-be, were even occupied for a time. Among these were Alcatraz Island (occupied for 18 months in 1969-1970 and now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area) and the Mount Rushmore Memorial (occupied for 10 days in 1978).

Many of us older folks have vivid memories of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which was responsible for the 1972 seizure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, DC, and 1973’s 71-day standoff at Wounded Knee, a historically-significant town on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This latter incident, a particularly ugly one, led to some shootings and several deaths.

Native Americans and Native Hawaiians have recently begun to reassert more often and more vigorously their tribal or ethnic claims to various national park lands as well as their desire for more respectful treatment of their cultural history in park exhibits, programs, and other features (including park names). Regular readers of Traveler will recall that we’ve recently reported on native people issues at Badlands National Park, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Haleakala National Park, and Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Lakota culture is already on display at Mount Rushmore five days a week at Heritage Village, a cluster of three tipis off the Presidential Trail walkway. Native Americans work there as cultural interpreters, practicing traditional arts and answering questions about Indian history and culture. community. The park's superintendent (himself a Native American) has taken some heat from critics who believe that the Indian exhibit at Mount Rushmore is inappropriate and provocative.

Event anniversaries of special significance offer tribes or Indian organizations opportunities to gather at meaningful places to share cultural experiences, express solidarity, and draw public attention to their continuing claims for land restoration and more respectful treatment. This past Friday, August 29, was just such an occasion.

On that date, a United Native Americans-sponsored contingent staged a small, brief, and peaceful gathering in the amphitheater at Mount Rushmore to commemorate the UNA occupation of the memorial in 1970. Exercising his First Amendment rights, Quanah Parker Brightman, whose father Lehman Brightman (a Lakota) organized the occupation in 1970, had obtained a permit for the event. The gathering drew about 30 Indians, lasted four hours, and featured some speeches, ceremonies, and special musical performances.

Lehman Brightman himself was among the speakers. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with his Vietnam-era rhetoric, this is a man who, while a Ph.D. student at Berkeley in 1970, had this to say to a Time magazine reporter:

"It's time that Indians got off their goddam asses and stopped letting white people lead them around by their noses…….Even the name Indian is not ours. It was given to us by some dumb honky who got lost and thought he'd landed in India."

Get the picture?

Acting Chief Ranger Mark Gorman reported that the UNA-sponsored event at Mount Rushmore did not disrupt park operations or interfere with normal visitor activities.

As far as the Lakota and their supporters are concerned, whether this gathering and similar events will have a long term impact on Mount Rushmore’s management – and perhaps its ownership? – remains very much an open question. Should it be?


You'll be hard pressed to find one treaty that the US goverment has honored in the past 200 years with ANY Native American tribe, regardless of content and motivation. This country was "settled" by homesteaders in the name of Eminent Domain, with little or actually no regard for peoples already in place across the land. And ever since that expansion the rights, property and even some of the people themselves have been literally stolen by consent of those empowered in Washington. I guess being a thief never goes out of style, politically speaking.

It's a bit after the fact, but what would the current reaction in the world community be to, say, our government backing away from signed agreements with the G8, UN, OPEC, and the like? Oh wait a minute, we haven't paid UN dues for decades, or supported their "peace keeping" efforts, beyond that is, our rhetoric. And we're on record as saying that OTHER nations should lead the movement to reduce fossil fuel emissions, on the grounds that we are currently lacking the internal mechanisms to do so "economically". And here I thought the world-wide disdain for our citizenry was unjustified. My bad.

I recommend that we give the land back -- to whoever the Indians took it from.

When are we going to finally come to terms with the reality of US history? This constant denial of the aggressive history inflicted on Native Americans, which includes early attempts at biological warfare, genocide, stealing, lying, cheating and rape of a once pristine land; impedes our progress and relations more than any other single factor, in my opinion. This country is stuck. Truth, acceptance of reality and amends is what a responsible, intelligent government practices; how long is the US going to look the other way (perhaps it continues to do so because many of the above horrors are still in practice by the US today.) Total amends may never be possible, alcoholism, the disease of greed and the complete disregard for nature is rampant now. However, an attempt to face the truth about the errors of the humans who arrived from Europe and began their outrageous Eminent Domain may at least heal some of the deep wounds that ALL the people of this land suffer whether they are conscious of this or not. I think the Mt. Rushmore Monument is a hideous reminder of the numerous crimes committed against the natural world and Native Americans. The US's huge adolescent ego must surrender to wisdom or our continued demise is almost certain.

Recommended reading: Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. Very moving and well written book.

I recently visited Mount Rushmore, and it was moving in all the ways one would expect. However knowing its history and the history of American Indians, particularly in the Dakotas, it is hard to feel at peace with the atrocities our government has committed in order to obtain Paha Sapa- it amounts to nothing short of genocide.

I have been to the Black Hills a number of times, and I cherish it's beauty. We have it as a result of a grave injustice. That is the truth of it. Is there not some way to share administration / responsibility for that area to acknowledge the Lakotas spiritual heritage and hold that land in trust as the treasure that it is. Restrictions on some areas or holy times. Showing some respect to them.and their culture. The pages of history are written in blood, but maybe we can edit them with peace and honor.

I read this site all the time. You do a good job of keeping people informed.

Damn right the Black Hills belong to the great Lakota Nation...without a doubt! Plus, Custer had it coming with those giant mosquito sticks. My dear white mother was born in the Dakota's in the early 1900's and testifies about the horrible brutality that the Lakota's suffered under. Slow cruel systematic genocide mark with grave indifference by many Americans during that period. The terrible winters were especially cruel and bitter which decimated much of the Lakota Nation. The sacred land of the Black Hills in part is the soul of the Lakota Nation and will always be. Long live AIM!

The U.S. doesn't really have to give the Indians anything. This has been proven historically, to everyone's satisfaction. It does not have to accord them human rights, and it does not have to honor treaties it signed with them. It has violated both, and gotten away with it.

However, the U.S. and it's citizens do have an epochal opportunity, to rise to a standard of behavior that is more in keeping with the self-image to which they would like to become accustomed. By doing something right in those situations where possibilities still offer themselves, we could do ourselves a huge favor. We could make a step in the direction of becoming what we like to think we are, but in fact are not.

Don't think of it as an Indian-issue. Think about the better principles that form the foundations of your country. Think about the core values that guide your personal life.

Looking at it that way makes it pretty simple, really; we will all be much better off, following through on what our principles & values tell us is right.

Whatever it costs us will be repaid over & over, forever, in a coin that never depreciates.

Perhaps we oughta tear up the treaty and re-commission the Calvary. Then finish the job.


Thank you. Nothing I could say would more-clearly & convincingly expose the core problem we face ... it's not the Indians, it's ourselves.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, ANCSA, offers a useful model for moving beyond the 19th C. removal-oriented policies that still influence our stance with Native-issues across much of the conterminous States.

ANCSA is of course far from perfect, but points in a direction that leads away from an engrained confrontation with & marginalization of (the remnants of) Native groups.

It hasn't made the news much yet, but the energy industry and the U.S. government are gearing up for a new mining boom in the Black Hills, this time for not for gold but instead for uranium. Defenders of the Black Hills is trying to get the word out to people:

Hello: This is the only comment on this board that I totally agree with. We cannot change what happened in the past; we can only go on from today. There has to be some means of accommodation that shows respect for the Lakota sacred gounds as well as share the beauty of the land. I know that I would support such action. Thanks again for your comment.

First, it's cavalry not Calvary. Capital-C Calvary is the hill on which Jesus was crucified. Cavalry is a group of soldiers on horseback. I made the same mistake until my first Chief of Interp pointed out the difference to me.

And I don't think Ted was calling for a return to arms. As for tearing up the treaty, the federal government has essentially done that by refusing to abide by its terms. Anonymous mentions "finishing the job" and that is the "job" of total annihilation of native populations (which I dispute was our country's intent), which was never completed. Today, there are about two million American Indians north of the Rio Grande. Estimates of pre-Columbian population in the same area fall between two to ten million, so the modern population equates to the lower end of the pre-contact estimate. Now compare Jewish populations in Europe pre- and post-WWII.

We must be careful before tossing a morally loaded grenade like the word "genocide". Applying a mid-20th century term to historical actors is problematic at best. As the above numbers show, American Indians were not completely wiped out of North America. Additionally, American Indians played a role in their own fates; they did not submit to concentration camps to be numbered and gassed. They made treaties, traded, conducted warfare, intermarried, and so on. We ought to lay down labels of blame and instead try to understand the complex set of events Columbus set into motion. What happened here was not genocide; it was a lopsided war with one side possessing superior technology and the other side having no immune system to smallpox and other diseases inadvertently introduced by Europeans.

Ted claims that the U.S. (the federal government?) doesn't have to give American Indians anything, and Kelly brings up a federal threat to the preservation of the Black Hills. While I agree that it is too late for reparations, our government ought to own up to its past legal obligations and transfer all federal lands in the Black Hills to the Lakota. We can't usurp private land, and if we did, we'll, we'd be recreating the same historical process that brought us here. But we can open our eyes to the federal government and its laundry list of lies and broken promises.

Given the federal government's long history of treachery and deviousness, I don't know how anyone can trust it to manage our public lands today.

Keep in mind, this park is not the only one with this type of problem.

Frank C, you do bring up interesting points but off the topic a bit...wasn't the "Trail of Tears" a form of slow genocide? In my opinion it was!

It certainly was (is) a form of genocide. Frank, by your definition, the Holocaust wasn't genocide because only 2/3 of all Jews in Europe were killed (and an equal proportion of Roma). In North America, over several hundred years, native populations were wiped out by the most conservative estimates by 85% of people and by the least conservative by as much as 98% from pre-Colombian totals. And, yes, it was often the policy if not to wipe out the entire population to wipe out their entire way of life.

Genocide has a couple of definitions that have generally been accepted - one by the UN and one by the man who coined the term Raphael Lemkin. By both definitions, what has happened to indigenous peoples in North America constitutes genocide.

No two genocides are alike, but you don't discount the term by noting what's different about different types and setting the one to the exclusion of the other.

Not that many years ago, I gave a Columbus Day presentation in Washington, DC, on this issue as it related to the war in Iraq. You can still download the slide presentation by clicking on this link (pdf).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Anon, I was responding to other comments whose authors' used "genocide" cavalierly.

The Trail of Tears is a dark stain on the federal government, but I do not believe it was a form of genocide. The Choctaw signed a treaty to give up their land in exchange for land in Oklahoma territory before embarking on their Trail of Tears. (Of course the federal government reneged on most promises, and the Choctaw sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War). As for the Cherokee, they initially traded with Europeans, supplying them with deer skins and reducing the southern deer population by 1.25 million in the 18th century. The latter half of the 18th century saw Cherokee numbers decline by 75% due to disease, not genocide. The relocation of the Choctaw was voluntary and the deaths along the way were the result of a harsh winter and federal incompetence, not a systematic "one-sided mass killing in which a state or authority intends to destroy a group". The Cherokee in George were forced to move, though. I don't consider it an attempt at genocide, because instead of removing the Cherokee to Oklahoma, the government could have killed them in mass, and the 4000 who died tragically on the trail pales in comparison to those who died previously due to disease. The Cherokee Trail of Tears is example of the federal government and the office of the presidency overstepping constitutional authority to violate the property rights of a sovereign nation. When one uses the morally loaded word "genocide" to describe the entire history of interaction between European settlers, Americans, and American Indians, one is merely judging and does a disservice to historical inquiry and understanding.

Disease v. genocide is a false distinction for a lot of reasons; I'd argue that disease is actually an argument for genocide, not against it. And, I'm not talking about smallpox blankets, which was certainly a minor part of it. I'd argue that disease was something that Euroamericans understood was happening, understood why, and not only did nothing to stop it but actually celebrated when entire areas were wiped out - calling it a gift from God. Disease was considered a happy part of the process of genocide - to that extent, it was intentional and part of the process.

Smallpox could have been stopped and minimized. Settlement could have been stopped knowing the consequences of disease, but it wasn't. In fact, it was celebrated as a divine gift. It is not distinct from genocide; it was part of the process. Whether by direct annihilation or forced assimilation, indigenous culture was believed to be inferior, land grabs were justified because of this distinction (in fact, John Locke's famous book, which justifies property rights, uses indigenous people as a critical example of misuse of land), and so genocide was justified. That disease was such a big part of it doesn't change that it was genocide.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim, on this issue, I'll agree to disagree. But yours is the minority viewpoint among historians:

While no mainstream historian denies that death and suffering were unjustly inflicted by a number of Europeans upon a great many American natives, most historians argue that genocide, which is a crime of intent, was not the intent of European colonization while in America. Historian Stafford Poole wrote: "There are other terms to describe what happened in the Western Hemisphere, but genocide is not one of them. It is a good propaganda term in an age where slogans and shouting have replaced reflection and learning, but to use it in this context is to cheapen both the word itself and the appalling experiences of the Jews and Armenians, to mention but two of the major victims of this century."

Therefore, most mainstream scholars tend not to use the term "genocide" to describe the overall depopulation of American natives. However, a number of historians, rather than seeing the whole history of European colonization as one long act of genocide, do cite specific wars and campaigns which were arguably genocidal in intent and effect. Usually included among these are the Pequot War (1637) and campaigns waged against tribes in California starting in the 1850s.

More on the genocide debate on Wikipedia. (Keep in mind that David Stannard was the loudest voice behind the genocide charge, and Stannard's Ph.D. is in American Studies, not history. Stannard is not considered to be a mainstream historian.)

I recommend reading renown Native American historian James Axtell, who wrote Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America. On pages 261 to 263, Axtell details three major problems with using "genocide" to describe the interactions between American Indian tribes and Europeans:

1. "...'genocide' is too loosely employed whenever an historical European kills or even contributes to the death of an Indian, in total disregard of the accepted definition of the word."

2. ". . . it is historically inaccurate as a description of the vast majority of encounters between Europeans and Indians."

3. "The final problem with 'genocide" as a description of, or even analogy to, the post-Columbian loss of Indian life is that the moral onus it tires to place on the European colonists, equating them with the Nazi S.S, is largely misdirected an inappropriate."

I hope you get a chance to read this scholarly book; it will undoubtedly answer your call for evidence for the above three claims.

In the meantime, what did you think of the other aspects of my comments (not including the "genocide" debate)?

I really think that Washington and Jefferson would cringe to know that their faces are carved in stone on a remote South Dakota mountain. As for the other two I wouldn't give one hoot if the sinister and insane megalomaniac Teddy Roosevelt and his dictatorial forbear in Constitutional abuse, "Honest" Abe, were both blasted from the face of this ridge in a solemn purging ceremony broadcast on national TV.

The whole rotten edifice smells to high heaven of state worship which the founding fathers knew was a dangerous and slippery slope towards that evil plague of the Old World: idolatry. To hell with Mt. Rushmore, it was comic when it was built and is now nothing more than a tragic reminder of being ruled by seemingly larger than life masters in DC. With war looming and financial collapse creeping ever closer upon the national horizon it would be a fitting break with the past to pulverize this monstrosity into dust as a show of good will towards all those peoples that this nation has aggrieved and offended with its blustery arrogance and simple minded nationalism.

Frank, we will have to agree to disagree for now - because I think there is plenty of evidence to suggest that everything that happened does meet the accepted definition(s) of the word. Ward Churchill may otherwise be unpopular, but the case he makes in the long essay in his work A Little Matter of Genocide is very convincing, and you'll find that for all of Churchill's needless hyperbole, he makes a very scholarly case connecting what happened throughout history to the accepted definitions of the term genocide.

I don't give much credit to historians, who think by virtue of being historians, that they are therefore justified in making moral judgments about what actually happened for better or for worse. The same historians excuse slave owning founding fathers and say we need to make moral judgments based on the times and cut people some slack. We don't need to be historians to see the history and apply it to the definition; we certainly don't need to be historians to see what happened and to see that it was wrong on every level - whatever word we happen to give it. I would like to say on point 3 that it's pernicious to treat the Holocaust as the protype genocide of which nothing else could compare. There are some who would argue that the Holocaust is the only genocide that there was and has ever been, which would make the word "genocide" a completely useless word. Of course, there are horrors of the Holocaust that are unique in history and have never been repeated, but that's not what genocide means.

As for the rest of what you said, genocide aside, I agree wholeheartedly that the United States has no business with the Black Hills, but as those who really know me know, I don't believe the United States has any business being anywhere. I guess that I haven't been thrown in prison for saying that - perhaps because I still pay my taxes - suggests that there is some measure of hope. But, if you read accounts of what happened in the Twin Cities and in Denver during the two conventions, you'll wonder how far we are removed from all dissent being squashed in this country. We all in some sense have no business being where we are; I guess the question is what we can do now. Even when it comes to the Lakota, it's complicated because there is a divide between the traditionalists and the tribal government. So, instead of working within the stark borders that people set up, we need to figure out instead how to build community from the ground up. Perhaps, that simple and seemingly harmless kind of radicalism that I advocate is one reason my harsher words about this country (and the holy NPS included) are allowed to be safely ignored. Without community, we have no power.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Sorry for putting it so bluntly, but anyone who thinks American Indians didn't suffer from genocide is ignorant or lying. I can't even imaging that anyone in this day and age can believe such nonsense.

That one poster has so infuriated me, I find myself incapable of reasonably discussing the topic at hand. I will have to return later to do so.


My travels through the National Park System:

anyone who thinks American Indians didn't suffer from genocide is ignorant or lying

Quite the opposite. The ones who have done the most research on the Native American history are the ones who don't subscribe to labeling 500 years of European/American/American Indian interaction simply as "genocide". Again, most historians do not use this term to describe the complex interactions that took place in North America.

We ought to look at the subject dispassionately and consider the evidence. Barky, I respect your contributions to NPT, but your emotional response demonstrates why we ought to be careful when using morally loaded vocabulary.

Jim, I'm glad to see we agree that the US government has no business in the Black Hills. This is the crux of the issue.

Beamis, I couldn't agree with you more. I think giving the Black Hills back to the Sioux would accomplish the ends you described, and I think Washington and Jefferson, two of the humblest presidents we've had, would applaud them.

After coming back a few days later to read the other comments and opinions posted, I find it so tiresome that there is an academic argument taking place about semantics, and although it is important to prove points, I think it is beneficial to stretch beyond academia (and I am an academic) in order to find a new way of thinking about an issue. I do appreciate that people are commenting- this is a discussion that is quite overdue. People cannot be expected to agree on the subtleties of language and its uses and abuses, but it seems perhaps that this is a distraction. The fact is, word it how you must, that the US government and the european peoples who settled here early on, made some serious and grave errors in judgment and action that have caused great harm to all concerned, including the settler's descendents! What can the US do in the present that will show respect and an attempt at amends to the Native Americans for this? I believe Ted mentioned ANSCA. I would like to hear what Native American organizations think would be helpful in amending the harm done.

Whether or not one chooses the word genocide to describe the actions of the European settlers, traders, politicians, Indian Agents, etc. is a moot point. The evidence contained in a multitude of historical records is fairly clear regarding the knowing behavior of certain groups who sought to gain an advantage in the American continent. Smallpox was not a "minor" cause, albeit the intentional trading in disease-laden blankets, robes, etc. may have been responsible for a fraction of the deaths to Native peoples. Just by virtue of interaction between Europeans and Natives, the former of which had developed a demonstrated resistance to the virus after many long decades of exposure, the latent virus was, inadvertently or not, transmitted from white immigrants to the indigenous peoples who previous had no record of infestation, and thereby were as vulnerable to a massive, highly contagious outbreak as the current population in this country would be today. Genocide, if you prefer to confine the definition to an intent to eliminate a specific group of people, was accomplished quite effectively, with some tribes experiencing a death rate as high as 90%, based on the best information available as recorded by the Native people during the 17th-19th centuries. The artwork of the time clearly indicates the deaths of numerous people inflicted with the tell-tale "body rash" attributable to one of three sources; smallpox, measles and plague. Any one of these vectors would have been sufficient to devastate a population with little or no genetic resistance. But again, if you confine the definition to "intent", then need you look beyond the Trail of Tears, the Navaho Death March, Sand Creek, Wounded Knee (although the initiation of hostilities in that instance is debatable, pending the source), and other instances in Minnesota, Arizona, California, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, etc. etc. etc. to distinguish a pronounced pattern of systematic hostility driven solely by the desire to acquire valuable lands for mineral and timber exploitation, agricultural "development" and the ever popular political gains to be derived from an expansion of settlement?

On the issue of Washington and Jefferson, both make genocidal comments on indigenous tribes as well. Washington is often seen as less so because he chose to negotiate with tribes as sovereign nations rather than force war on them. However, for Washington, letters show this was a practical consideration more than anything bordering on respect for the tribes. Washington had promised all this land for the veterans of the Revolutionary War, but the problem was that this land was controlled by indigenous tribes. He had two choices - he could start another war or he could negotiate. He figured it would be far easier and less costly to negotiate, to take by treaty for far less blood than what could be taken by war.

•“For I repeat it, again, and I am clear in my opinion, that policy and economy point very strongly to the expediency of being upon good terms with the Indians, and the propriety of purchasing their Lands in preference to attempting to drive them by force of arms out of their Country; which as we have already experienced is like driving the Wild Beasts of the Forest which will return as soon as the pursuit is at an end and fall perhaps on those that are left there; when the gradual extension of our Settlements will as certainly cause the Savage as the Wolf to retire; both being beasts of prey tho’they differ in shape. In a word there is nothing to be obtained by an Indian War but the Soil they live on and this can be had by purchase at less expense, and without that bloodshed, and those distresses which helpless Women and Children are made partakers of in all kinds of disputes with them.”–George Washington, Letter to James Duane, September 7, 1783,

Jefferson was extremely hostile toward indigenous people and said outright that he would annihilate every single Native American if they attack the United States and not succumb to treaty making:

•" ...if ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe we will never lay it down tilthat tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the war they will kill some of us; But we will destroy all of -them. Adjuring them, therefore, if they wish to remain on the land which covers the bones of their fathers, to keep the peace with a people who ask their friendship without needing it, who wish to avoid war without fearing it. In war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them.”–Thomas Jefferson, “To the Secretary at War [Henry Dearborn],”August 28, 1807,

And, as has been noted, Lincoln and T. Roosevelt were not any better.

It's not for any of us to say what the Lakota might do with Mt. Rushmore, but I cringe every time I have seen the monument. It must be the ultimate branding of the conquest of this country over the land that I can imagine. I guess it would be like putting a temple to James Polk in the Grand Canyon.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Good research Jim! We must not let bona fide historians distort or de-sanitize the rich cultural history of the great Lakota Nation...even if means using the word "genocide" to it's most appropriate means.

Jim Macdonald;

My kudos & thanks too, Jim, for your impressive research on the Indian-policies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Most compelling.

Ted Clayton

The Jefferson quote above is taken completely out of context. Here's the entire quote. Some important omissions:

. . .we wish them to live in peace with all nations as well as with us, and we have no intention ever to strike them or to do them an injury of any sort, unless first attacked or threatened. . .

Let them then continue quiet at home, take care of their women & children, & remove from among them the agents of any nation persuading them to war, and let them declare to us explicitly & categorically that they will do this: in which case, they will have nothing to fear from the preparations we are now unwillingly making to secure our own safety.

Jefferson uses the word "war" nine times in the full quote. Jefferson wanted peace with the Indians, not war. But if any tribes were persuaded by other nations (here Jefferson refers to England) to declare war on the United States, those tribes would suffer the consequences (Jefferson is saber-rattling). Jefferson was certainly not talking about the elimination of all Indians here. And Jefferson certainly didn't intend to eliminate every American Indian.

As for not allowing trained, "bona fide" historians do history . . . that's appalling. How many NPT readers, if the topic were switched to global warming, would argue that even though there is a broad consensus among scientists that climate change is happening, that we ought to ignore those scientists, or that scientists are "distorting" global warming?


With all due respect, the fuller context of the quote does nothing to change the force of it. It's not particularly different than the saber rattling we see by any President who claims to want peace. Peace is always cheaper.

Is it that common when saber rattling to claim that all of a people should be annihilated who rise up in war?

If you want more for Jefferson, there are plenty of assimilationist quotes, which are no less egregious.

As for the so called consensus among historians, which there isn't on this question, the issue is whether it's appropriate for historians to be making moral judgments. When historians are doing nonsensical things like ranking American presidents and making moral defenses of historical actors, then they are no longer doing history. They are doing things that any person can do who can justify the moral principles to the historical record. This is an especially touchy subject for me because my own academic background is in both history and philosophy, and one thing that drove me from pursuing history further was the maddening tendency of many historians to engage in moralizing as though they were engaging in history.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

The quotes below are from Frank C's original post:

We must be careful before tossing a morally loaded grenade like the word "genocide". Applying a mid-20th century term to historical actors is problematic at best.

The word "genocide" did indeed come into use during the 20th century, but that does not mean it cannot be used to describe actions prior to WWII.

As the above numbers show, American Indians were not completely wiped out of North America.

Neither were the Jews, nor the gypsies, nor any of the other socio-ethnic groups targetted during the Holocaust and other, similar events. Saying that a particular race was not completely eliminated as a reason not to use the term genocide is lame at best.

Additionally, American Indians played a role in their own fates; they did not submit to concentration camps to be numbered and gassed. They made treaties, traded, conducted warfare, intermarried, and so on.

Quite true, absolutely. The problem is only one of technology, however. The intent of American governments, both colonial and federal, was to drive away the natives and claim lands. They were only so successful because of lack of the means to make the job complete. The level of crimes that were perpetrated by Europeans on native populations were no less immoral simply because they didn't have the means.

We ought to lay down labels of blame and instead try to understand the complex set of events Columbus set into motion.

It is far too late to lay blame on anyone. At this point in time, the past is simply series of facts to be decoded and understood. The problem is with the trivialization of horrendous events. Our nation has many, many blemishes, and to excuse them away with semantics is disingenuous

What happened here was not genocide; it was a lopsided war with one side possessing superior technology and the other side having no immune system to smallpox and other diseases inadvertently introduced by Europeans.

Laying aside the fact that some military commanders used smallpox as a weapon (in well-documented incidents), the very idea that a lopsided war eradicates a race of people is the very definition of genocide! Every genocide committed on the planet can be traced back to a lopsided war! This is true of the Nazis or the Hutus or the Khmer Rouge (in which case, it was intelligentsia who was targetted for elimination). Superior military forces systematically killing the weaker people -- the definition of genocide.

I suspect the historians you are mentioning are only looking at the Holocaust as the sole, representative incident of genocide. Or that they are unwilling to have any shadow tainting American history.


My travels through the National Park System:

Barky, the most successful government run genocides are usually perpetrated upon their own subjects. On this infamous list Chairman Mao comes in at #1 with a figure estimated to be between 40-60 million dead Chinese with "Uncle Joe" Stalin a distant second with around 35-40 million dead Soviet citizens of many different ethnic varieties. This makes Hitler's Holocaust appear to be quite the pittance on the world stage of 20th-century mass killers.

Stalin's famous quote on genocide still rings as true as the day it was uttered: "One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic."

I suspect the historians you are mentioning are only looking at the Holocaust as the sole, representative incident of genocide.

The main historian I'm quoting from is James Axtell, who is a noted historian who taught at William and Mary. He uses Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassonhn's ("The History and Sociology of Genocidal Killings", "Genocide: A Critical Bibliographical Review", and "The History and Sociology of Genocidal Killings: Analyses and Case Studies") definition: "a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator. [Emphasis original.]" Excluded from this definition are victims of a two-sided war or natural and unintended disasters and victims of individuals acting outside state authority. Using "genocide" to refer to warfare is a contradiction in terms.

Or that they are unwilling to have any shadow tainting American history.

Historians such as Axtell try not to focus on the "lightness" or "darkness" of the past, and maintain a professional detachment, what Axtell terms "a lack of personal interest in the evolution and [ultimate outcome] of past events [emphasis original]". He also cautions against the reduction of Indians to "passive victims", which they most certainly were not, because it denies "them an active role in the making of history, theirs and ours together." The ultimate goal is true understanding after an extensive examination of all the historical evidence.

that a lopsided war eradicates a race of people is the very definition of genocide

First, you said "Saying that a particular race was not completely eliminated as a reason not to use the term genocide is lame at best." But then you go on to state "eradicat[ion] a race of people is the very definition of genocide". Which one is it? Can't have it both ways now.

At any rate, it is clear that some, as I have been in the past, are too close to maintain a professional detachment, so I am at the end of my rebuttals on this particular subtopic.

Whatever our disagreements on semantics or the interpretation of complex historical events spanning 500 years, I hope that the Sioux can someday regain control of all Federal lands in the Black Hills, including Mt. Rushmore.

Historical Video: Indians Invade Mount Rushmore-1970

Also, Check Out This Web Link:

Black Hills FOX News - News Stories
29 Aug 2008
Ceremony at Mt. Rushmore remembering Native American protest

Thirty-eight years ago this Friday, a group of Native American activists occupied Mount Rushmore, protesting what they called the monument's desecration of Native lands. Friday, a ceremony was held at Mount Rushmore to commemorate that occupation in 1970. The event included religious rites, along with speeches by the descendants of the activists who occupied the site. The people who conducted Friday's ceremony say the battle is not yet over. They will not rest until the monument comes down. Quanah Brightman says, 'We've come here today to show that the Indian resistance is still alive and well. We've also come here today to pay tribute to the women warriors and to the men and the elders of all the people who took part in that historic occupation.' In August of 1970, after eluding authorities, a group of young Native Americans reached the top of Mount Rushmore, where they unfurled a large flag with the words: SIOUX INDIAN POWER. The occupation was largely peaceful, and the occupants later left voluntarily.

- reported by: Al Van Zee

MadonnaThunder Hawk-Speaking On The Mount Rushmore Take Over and Reunion That Will Take Place August 29th 2008. Take a Listen and Support The Women of The Red Power Movement.
KPFA RADIO Archives August 6th 2008 Bay Native Circle 2:00PM-3:00PM
http://www. kpfa. org/archives/index. php?arch=27714

{Madonna Thunder Hawk BIO }
Community Organizing in Native America

MadonnaThunder Hawk (Two Kettle Lakota) is a veteran of every modern NativeAmerican struggle, from the occupation of Alcatraz to the siege ofWounded Knee.

One of the original members of the American Indian Movement(AIM), she is a long-time community organizer with a range ofexperience in Indian rights protection, cultural preservation, economicdevelopment and environmental justice.

Thunder Hawk grew up during the 1940s and 50s on the CheyenneRiver reservation in South Dakota. She came of age in a societydominated by poverty, alcoholism, government schools and restriction ofNative American tradition and ceremony.

On the reservation, traditions could only be passed on secretlyand all traditional items and clothing were hidden. Rituals such as thesun Dance were performed underground in secrecy. Madonna becamedisillusioned with a life of few opportunities. She left thereservation in the 1960s and moved with her three children to SanFrancisco. Amid love beads, civil rights actions, and anti war slogans,Madonna found a home in a culturally diverse climate of openness andsocial activism. Here she began a lifelong commitment to the survivalof her cultural heritage and traveled throughout the U.S. as anadvocate of Native American Treaty rights. Madonna then returned toSouth Dakota and raised her family there.

Thunder Hawk was a co-founder and spokesperson for the BlackHills Alliance which blocked Union Carbide from mining uranium onsacred Lakota land. She co-founded Women of All Nations and the BlackHills Protection Committee (later the HeSapa Institute). Thunder Hawkcontinues to be an eloquent voice for Native America.

Dance is also important in her life as a means ofself-expression and cultural celebration. Madonna designs traditionalregalia for her children who dance on the Powwow dance circuit. Usingnew fabrics and contemporary sewing techniques, she produces regaliathat are complex and colorful. She also designed for the TNT productionof 'Crazy Horse


The American Indian Holocaust, know as the "500 year war" and the "World's Longest Holocaust In The History Of Mankind And Loss Of Human Lives."

Your support is needed to bring about Chief Crazy Horse State Park in South Dakota. Help UNA change the name of Custer State Park to Chief Crazy Horse State Park.

Change Custer State Park To Chief Crazy Horse State Park Petition

Information below tells how President Lincoln and Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey set out to exterminate Indians from their home land.

"Largest mass hanging in United States history" 38 Santee "Sioux" Indian men Mankato, Minnesota, Dec. 16, 1862 303 Indian males were set to be hanged

America's racist history was about more than water fountains and bath rooms or where you sat on a bus.



National Holiday For Native Americans Petition:

Mike Graham, Citizen Oklahoma Cherokee Nation
Founder United Native America


H.R. 2824 was introduced June 21, 2007 by Congresswoman Diane Watson. This bill proposes "to sever the United States' government relations with the Cherokee Nation" because of the tribe's recent constitutional amendment to limit citizenship to those who descend from Indians listed on the U.S. census of 1906 known as the Dawes Roll.

Stop the federal governments Termination of the Uinta Ute's Indian's

"Get A REAL Education"

Electing Native Americans To Office:

American Indian Contributions to the World Main Page