Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Monument;or Mutilating Mountains

"Everything we see belongs to us."

'Dear John Wayne'

Louise Erdrich

Everybody in the USA has seen a picture of the presidents carved into Six Grandfathers ,as it was known to the Lakota, or Mt Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There is no denying that these are impressive sculptures on a truly grand scale. And seeing these statues is bound to evoke powerful feelings, akin to a religious experience for many "true Americans". What was the motivation for this monumental sculpture? Patriotism? A desire to rub the Indian's face in our power?


"--it would put South Dakota on the map."
" Many South Dakotans believed that a colossal sculpture would attract thousands of visitors with heavy wallets."
"Historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923 to promote tourism in South Dakota." Wikipedia
That's right, friends, this "Monument to Liberty" was conceived as a tourist attraction. And like most 'patriot' tourist traps in this country hungry for connection to a mythical heroic past, hungry for 'feel good' emotions, it has been incredibly successful. People weep here. Right wingers have orgasms.
You may have noticed that the picture we took of the monument is only GW in profile. There was no way I would pay 20 or 30 bucks to hear all about what it took to deface Mt Eyesore.
Seriously, when you see the sculptures as you are driving, they are quite the work.
My problem is the same one the conservationists had in 1925 when the project was debated in congress, pretty much the same as the Lakota; why deface Maka Inca like this?
Remember, this was Lakota land, declared in a treaty(Laramie Treaty 1868) and found to have been wrongfully taken by a federal court. So we carve white guys in it? The Lakota had a particular horror of digging into Maka Inca, Mother Earth, so for a tourist attraction we bend the Lakota, Cheyenne and all other indigenous peoples who hold these hills sacred over a barrel and stick it up their wazoo?
It could have been worse. They could have carved Custer, Chivington, and Sheridan up there. But how about the faces they did put on the "Monument to Liberty" GW, TJ and AL are shoe-ins,right? Consider, GW and TJ were slave owners and we KNOW Jefferson raped at least one of his slaves. But Abe was the Great Emancipator, no?
Here is what Abe had to say about that:
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume V, "Letter to Horace Greeley" (August 22, 1862), p. 388

Abe also said:
"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois" (September 18, 1858), pp. 145-146.
Probably in tune with his times, but his purpose was to maintain the empire, not to preserve liberty.
TR, as the first conservationist, would likely be apalled at seeing the mountain defaced.
I recommend you read "Skins" by Adrian C. Louis
tomorrow- Crazy Horse monument


Regular_Lady said...

I live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and my family and I road trip to the western United States each summer. We usually visit the Black Hills each summer as we pass through, so I've enjoyed reading your views on the area.

FYI/My PSA: It's $10 per vehicle to enter Mount Rushmore and the pass is good until the end of the calender year. HOWEVER, I believe it used to be $5 and your pass was good for a year from the purchase date. The line is: you don't pay to enter the National Monument, the money is for the parking garage concession. Whatever - you still have to pay something....

When we were there a couple of weeks ago, they were featuring a contemporary Native American band, which was awesome and fun to hear - although, yes, it almost seemed incongruous.

Just from my own experience: I cannot say enough good things about Custer State Park. Lots to explore and great scenery, as you have found. Harney Peak (in the park) is a challenging hike, but the trail and the views along the way (and from the top) are great.

Another favorite area for us is a trip 1 to 1.5 hours west to Devils Tower, Wyoming. $5 per vehicle to enter, not as touristy as the Black Hills of South Dakota, an amazing natural wonder with Native American significance.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Thanks for the info on the price. And I certainly agree about the state park, it is amazing. We may visit Mato Tipila, Lakota for Bear Tower(the name Devil's Tower is offensive to a lot of the Nations) next year. I guess both names derive from the appearance of striations down the side resembling claw marks.
Thanks for the comments!