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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?



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

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

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.

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."

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:


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 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?

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

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