Bush at Mount Rushmore: The Shrine of Hypocrisy
Teddy Roosevelt deserves a special mention because of his racist attitude towards Indians and others. As Roosevelt wrote in his book "The Winning of the West", "American and Indian" .... wrote, "it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant races of the world."
Newcomb: Bush at Mount Rushmore,'The Shrine of Hypocrisy'
Posted: August 6, 2004
by: Steven Newcomb / Columnist / Indian Country Today
On my office wall hangs a photograph of a Dakota medicine man jailed back in the late 1800s by the Court of Indian Offenses. The Denver public library digital photo collection where I found this image says the medicine man's name was, "Frosted." The photograph shows the spiritual leader wearing government-issued jeans, a denim shirt, lace up work boots, and a hat.
The medicine man's feet are shackled, and a steel chain with a ball at the end of it is slung over his left shoulder; the heavy steel ball is prominently displayed at his waist level in the photograph. The photograph well symbolizes how the white man's "democracy" and "rule of law" came to the Great Sioux Nation. The ball and chain is a perfect metaphorical symbol of the history of U.S. Indian law and policy.
I mention the shackled medicine man because of a photograph of President George W. Bush I saw in Indian Country Today (Vol. 23, Iss. 43). The photograph was taken when Bush visited the "Mount Rushmore National Memorial" on August 15, 2002, where he gave a speech on "homeland security." He is looking directly at the camera so that his face is shown along with presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. According to news reports, this was an intentional effort by the White House to shape public opinion about Bush.
Bush's insensitivity to the fact he was delivering his speech in the Sacred Black Hills of the Great Sioux Nation, and their allied Native nations, was made evident with the following remark: "I mean, after all, standing here at Mount Rushmore reminds us that a lot of folks came before us to make sure that we're free. A lot of pioneers came to this part of the world to make sure that enterprise could flourish."
I'd like to know how Bush's statement about "folks" coming "here" to make sure that "we're free" can be reconciled with the photograph of the shackled Dakota medicine man, and the system of injustice that photograph represents. "Know your audience" is the first rule of public speaking, and it's clear that the only audience President Bush had in mind was a non-Indian one.
I remember walking through the airport in Rapid City, S.D. in the early 1990s, and seeing a video developed by the Mount Rushmore Preservation Fund that was narrated by former President Ronald Reagan (he made the video voice-over after leaving office). Part of the video showed the German people tearing down the Berlin Wall, and Reagan's voice-over referred to Mount Rushmore as the "Shrine of Democracy," an amazing claim about a monument carved from Sacred mountains illegally held by the United States.
The makers of the video clearly intended the granite presidential faces to represent "justice" as contrasted with the injustice of the Berlin Wall. But, from an informed Native perspective, both the Berlin Wall AND Mount Rushmore are symbolic of oppression and injustice. George Washington was responsible for destroying whole Indian towns in New York and the Ohio River Valley following the Revolutionary War. The Haudenosaunee named Washington "Town Destroyer." Lincoln was responsible for the largest mass execution in American history, by ordering the hanging of Dakota Indians in Minnesota. Jefferson, in addition to claiming U.S. sovereignty over millions of acres of Indian lands via the Louisiana Purchase, advocated using trading houses to run Indians into debt and then persuade Indian people to part with huge areas of their lands in order to pay off the debt.
Teddy Roosevelt deserves a special mention because of his racist attitude towards Indians and others. As Roosevelt wrote in his book "The Winning of the West", "American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori, - in each case the victor, horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people."
Roosevelt went on to write, "it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant races of the world." (Thanks to Steve Melendez for bringing this quote to my attention.)
In addition, Mount Rushmore perfectly represents the illegal occupation of the Black Hills by the United States. The monument was built without the permission of Great Sioux Nation and its allied nations, in violation of treaties. According to the 1851 and 1868 treaties of Fort Laramie, the Black Hills are situated within the homeland of the Great Sioux Nation, and are not legally part of "the homeland" of the United States.
Thus, the presidential faces towering over President Bush during his speech about homeland security perfectly symbolize a dark and disturbing legacy of U.S. history. Those faces also represent the illegal occupation and desecration of the Sacred Black Hills. For Bush to give a speech at the site of such a notorious symbol of injustice, without any acknowledgment of the U.S.'s horrible treatment of the Great Sioux Nation and other Plains Indian nations, demonstrates an incredible lack of awareness on the part of the White House of the larger historical context of contemporary Indian issues.
Was it the U.S.'s effort to make the Plains Indian nations "free" by massacring more than 300 women, children, and men at Wounded Knee and then unceremoniously burying them in a mass grave in 1890, and afterwards giving some 28 Congressional medals of honor to U.S. soldiers who participated in the massacre? Was it part of the U.S.'s effort to make sure the Indian nations were "free" by violating and refusing to abide by numerous treaties, or by imprisoning medicine people and thereby attempting to destroy Native spiritual traditions?
Is the President of the United States insensitive to the history of his country's policies toward American Indians? Is he blind to the many crimes his country has committed against Indian nations and peoples in the name of "freedom" and "democracy," such as the millions of buffalo intentionally killed as formal U.S. policy and the billions of dollars in gold stolen from the Black Hills where he gave his speech at Mount Rushmore?
Looking back, perhaps it can be said that Mount Rushmore - the so-called Shrine of Democracy - symbolizes the United States' effort to "bring democracy" to the Plains Indian nations by bullets and warfare in the same way that the United States is now claiming to be bringing "democracy" to the people of Iraq by warfare. The U.S. used deadly force in an avowed effort to "pacify" the American Indian nations, and is now doing the same, as General Kimmit has stated, to "pacify" the Iraqi people.
And, finally, how truly sad and ironic that some of the weaponry used in the current war in Iraq have been named "Apache" and "Blackhawk" and that U.S. military officials dubbed alleged mobile bio-weapons units in Iraq as "Winnebagos of death." How dare they use the name of the Sauk Chief Black Hawk, and the names of the Apache and Winnebago nations in such a manner.
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