» 4th of July/ The Whitewashing of Mount Rushmore
CC: The following is an excerpt from the original article.
"Let me give you an example* of how a big part of the story of Mount Rushmore has been left out of our national dialog.
Mount Rushmore is in the Black Hills region of South Dakota - or, to give it the Lakota Sioux name, Six Grandfathers is in the Paha Sapa. As the Native American activist, scholar, and writer Russell Means explains,
"The sacred Black Hills have two descriptions in the Lakotah language. Paha Sapa and Kȟe Sapa. The white man says that Paha Sapa means ‘Black Hills’. I will attempt to correct their interpretation of my language. The word ‘Pa-ha’ is broken up into two meanings: Pa describes the mountains emerging from the earth. Paha Sapa all together gives you a picture and a description of our sacred mountains as seen from a distance. The Ponderosa Pine gives the illusion of black from a distance and the mountains emerging from the earth. Paha Sapa. Therefore, what you see is holy. The words ‘Kȟe Sapa’ also gives you a description of what the sacred mountains look like close up, with the white stone cliffs, the meadows and the trees and the valleys. Therefore, you know it is holy."
Originally, this region was purchased by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, a massive land acquisition from the French government of 828,800 square miles in the center of the American continent. The Black Hills were (and are) in rugged, formidable country, and for a long time the original inhabitants of the land were left largely in peace. Soldiers and explorers came through the area, as did a handful of settlers, but for the most part white people had little interest in such a desolate (to them) part of the country.
The Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Lakota nations lived in this part of the world, and by the late 1800s tensions between the native groups and the US government, particularly over the construction of the Bozeman Trail as a route to the goldfields of Montana, had erupted into Red Cloud’s War. And believe it or not, the native groups won. The Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed in 1868 and guaranteed that the Lakota would hold the Black Hills, as well as land rights across areas of South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, in perpetuity.
Let me reiterate. The government promised the Lakota that they would be the owners of the Black Hills for the rest of time.
Guess how long that lasted? Six years. In 1874 the Custer Expedition found gold in the Black Hills. And suddenly, the US Government was vastly more interested in this sacred land than they were before.
The story of how the Lakota had their land stolen is long, complex, and infuriating, but to simplify matters let me just say that current tribal lands represent not even a quarter of their original promised allotment, as you can clearly see on this map. Furthermore, within current tribal holdings many actual plots of land are owned by non-natives, and this region of the country contains the many of the poorest counties in America, including the poorest on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
If you want the entire story, as well as the stories of many other tribes, check out Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations, by Charles F. Wilkinson.
Six Grandfathers was a sacred mountain to the Lakota within the Paha Sapa. The mountain got the name “Rushmore” when the young lawyer Charles Rushmore, out west checking land titles for a mining company, asked a guide what the mountain’s name was. “Mount Rushmore” joked the guide.
Naturally, this is the name that we now know the mountain as. Sacred Indian name? Out the window. Stupid joke name? It’s a white man’s name, isn’t it? Let’s call it that on all the maps.
*My examples are often related to Native Americans because I have a particular interest - professionally and personally - in this area. If you have other examples (and there are probably thousands), feel free to mention them in the comments. I’m always excited to learn and to gather new examples for teaching.”
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