August 28, 2008

No tipis at Mt. Rushmore?

Does Native American exhibit belong at Mount Rushmore?Heritage village, which opened this summer, is a cluster of three tipis off the Presidential Trail walkway, where five days a week, Native Americans work as cultural interpreters, practicing traditional arts and answering visitors’ questions about their history and community. Baker’s efforts to use Mount Rushmore to raise cultural awareness this summer also have included a performance from the Faith Temple gospel choir, a Germans from Russia dance and heritage display, a Lakota hoop dancer and a Sons of Norway crafts and history demonstration.

Baker certainly has some local people raising questions about what he is doing with the Mount Rushmore site. No one questions whether an education in Native history is important for Black Hills visitors. But they dispute that it belongs at Rushmore.

Air Force veteran and Hermosa resident Lance Bultena said the new Native history display doesn’t fit in with the “theme” of Mount Rushmore, which he sees as a celebration of the nation’s constitutional ideals and the great presidents who established, preserved and expanded the union.

“I think it’s more of an appeasement to make them feel like they’re a part of it, which I can understand everybody wants to be a part of it,” he said. “I really don’t see that as a necessity or enhancing Mount Rushmore.”

Rapid City’s Angie Schilling saw the heritage village this year and didn’t think it necessarily belonged. She thought, “Ah, well, we’ve got to add something Indian into every part of what we do.”

But it was Baker’s apparent feelings about Mount Rushmore that really upset Schilling.

When Baker was quoted as saying his favorite part of Mount Rushmore was “the back” because “that’s the way it was” before the carving, she got mad.

“It’s just disrespectful,” she said. “That structure, if you will, it portrays our pride in our heritage, and our founding fathers, and everything that we hold as American citizens, and for him to say, my favorite part is the back,” she said, makes her wonder, “Are you proud to be an American? Or are you ashamed to be an American, when your Native people were held under subjugation?”

Comments like these bother Baker, who like many Native Americans has a complicated and multifaceted relationship with the monument and the government, which in this case is his employer. On one hand, it’s one of the two places his family said he should never work when he started his career with the park service, the place Native activists such as Russell Means call the “Shrine of Hypocrisy” (a spin on the Memorial’s “Shrine of Democracy” title) to describe the carving of American presidents into the sacred hills taken from Natives in treaty backpedaling.

On the other hand, Baker joins patriotic Americans when he speaks about “the four great presidents that gave us this land,” referring to the nation as a whole. Baker said he is always trying to learn more about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, reading books about their lives and studying their thought and philosophies.

“This should be a place for people to come and reflect on who you are as an American,” he said.
Comment:  The tipis seem fine to me. Like many aspects of Indian culture in our society, they provide an opportunity to ponder. For instance:

"Those presidents sure founded a great country. But wait...what are those tipis doing there? Oh, yeah...founding a great country meant forcing the people who were here first onto reservations. Wow, that's heavy.

"And yet, the tipis are standing right under the nose of the presidents. What's up with that? I thought we got rid of those Indians long ago. You mean they're still here? Wow, that's even heavier.

"Presidents founded country...Indians already occupied country. Brain can't cope with cognitive dissonance. Must reevaluate previous beliefs. Must...think!"

These naysayers should be thankful that the rangers at Mt. Rushmore doesn't teach all the anti-Indian things the presidents said and did. (At least, I presume they don't teach anything negative.) For examples, see Fun 4th of July Facts plus individual pages on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

As far as I'm concerned, Native culture belongs everywhere Native made their mark on the country. Which means everywhere in the United States except maybe Hawaii. (The people of Hawaii can celebrate Native Hawaiians instead of American Indians.)

For more on the subject, see Best Indian Monuments to Topple.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
BUT -- but -- but, that is how Indian City, USA, was founded here in Anadarko, OK, back in the 1950s. It so was authentic that NBC used it as a central portion of a Sunday afternoon presentation about the 'Land Runs' in Oklahoma. At that time, the facility hired Natives to 'live' in the various reconstructed villages and recreate how they lived back then. It worked then, and why would anyone object now? Truth is truth...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Erecting tipis in Anadarko isn't the same as erecting them at the base of Mt. Rushmore. People are objecting to their location, not their existence.

So your comment missed the mark, as usual. Try again.