Monday, July 21, 2008

Akta Lakota?

"Just like us!" Hotchkiss leaned over and slammed the butt of his rifle against Cuthbert's head. "Not hardly."
"You are right," said Asiginak in Ojibwe. "You are a madness on this earth."

The Plague of Doves Louise Erdrich

Akta Lakota means 'honor the people' and the question for me is, does the 'Crazy Horse' monument do that?
Claire and I did pony up the twenty bucks for admission to the Crazy Horse monument site, although this thing is so huge you can see it almost as well on the highway leading into the town of Custer for free. We toured the Native American Heritage Center at the monument site and it was well done with many beautiful artifacts and Native American artists/craftspeople on site. We watched the film about the history of the project and ooed and aahhed at the night explosions from the 60th anniversary celebration. I was very impressed at the hard work and sacrifice of Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor. This project was initiated by Lakota elders; Henry Standing Bear and several other elders approached Ziolkowski in 1948 to undertake a mountain sculpture that would honor the Native Peoples to whom these Hills rightly belong, according to treaty and federal court decision. An interesting thing about the film is that its as much about Ziolkowski and his family as it is about the project. So is the rest of the place, featuring his work, his home etc. Not that they aren't interesting and all, but this almost seems like the Korczak Ziolkowski monument.
I know that lots of Native Americans feel great pride in this monument and that's a good thing. But if justice had been done from the beginning, they wouldn't need a disfigured mountain, spectacular though it may be. They would have the mountain and all the land surrounding this for hundreds of miles in its natural beauty.
Many Indians do not believe in this project. No surprise, most big projects have their supporters and their detractors. Here is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the newspaper, Indian Country Today

Crazy Horse Memorial: a bitter legacy for Lakota
by Tim Ogia
The traditional and spiritual people of the Lakota look upon the carving of the Crazy Horse Memorial as a desecration of their sacred lands. To them, it is like defiling Mecca, the Holy Land, or the Vatican. Such was not the case in 1948 when Henry Standing Bear believed all was lost. A new generation had yet to rise.

Crazy Horse, the magnificent warrior of the Lakota, was an Oglala like me. He never put his name on a treaty. He never sold out. He, it was said, never allowed his picture to be taken. He would never have allowed his face to be carved upon the side of a mountain in the beautiful hills he held sacred.

Charlotte Black Elk, the great-great-granddaughter of Black Elk (of the Black Elk Speaks fame) is bitterly against the carving. Oliver Red Cloud, the great-great-grandson of Chief Red Cloud, has spoken out strongly against the carving. He has said he truly believes it will not be completed because Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit) will never allow it to happen.

Lakota anthropologist Beatrice Medicine of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the tribe of Sitting Bull, is also vehemently opposed to the statue. She believes the mountain is more of a tribute to the sculptor than to the Indian. She calls the carving "a sacrilege that mars the beauty of the sacred Black Hills."

Avis Little Eagle, editor of Indian Country Today, denounced the carving as a "monument of exploitation." She wrote, "Many promises were made to the Lakota when Korczak began carving in 1948, but few of them have been kept."

The national media and even some publications that profess to be published for the benefit of the American Indian have climbed on the bandwagon to praise Ziolkowski's widow for her determined effort to continue the pursuit of her husband's dream. But nearly all of the traditional Lakota believe the promises made to them for a great Indian university and medical center will never be fulfilled. To Ziolkowski they were a dream, and to many Lakota they will always be just that, a dream.

We Lakota have heard white men make promises for 200 years, and we have also seen those promises turn into huge money-making projects. The white man made the money, and the Lakota were left with the promises. Such is the legacy of the Crazy Horse Memorial.


Allie said...

We saw this film on PBS recently -

I think you'd like it -- it's about the controversy of putting up a statue to "honor" Cortez.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Thanks Allie, I saw the trailer for this the week before but we were up at the 'needles' in the Black Hills while it was on. Sort of ironic since the needles were the first place proposed for Borglum's president sculptures. I read the filmmaker interview and they had an interesting comment about compromise.