December 14, 2008

Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn

"Peace Through Unity" Memorial DedicatedOn Dec.10 1991, the Indian Memorial was authorized by Congress and signed into law by former President George Bush.

Once known as Custer Battlefield National Monument, the law renamed the site Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and also called for the design, construction and maintenance of a memorial to recognize the Indians who fought to preserve their land and culture in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
"Peace Through Unity" Indian Memorial Design CompetitionMemorial Goals:

  • Express the theme "Peace Through Unity."

  • Provide a place where American Indians can celebrate and honor the memory of their relatives--and the women, children, and men who took part in the battle.

  • Express the spirit of the Plains Indians and the Indian Nations that played a decisive role in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, rectifying the history's imbalance of the Indian role and sacrifice.

  • Create a distinguished memorial: size is not as compelling a factor as a design that does not intrude on the environment or compete with the existing monument yet is a powerful statement in itself. To accomplish its purpose, which is solely commemorative, and appeal to all citizens, the memorial must be dignified and powerful.

  • Create a memorial for all time that must be a legacy for future generations. The memorial must honor those who sacrificed their lives, and it must preserve the historic landscape and environment.
  • Rob's review:  I haven't seen this sculpture in person. I just came across it at random. But it was so interesting that I thought it was worth discussing.

    I'd say Peace Through Unity achieves most of the memorial's goals in a striking fashion. Among the things I like:

  • It resembles the well-known ledger style of Plains Indians drawings.

  • It incorporates a woman's role, which is difficult to do in a warrior action scene.

  • Because it's transparent, it creates a ghost-like sense of the battlefield's Indians: gone but still haunting the land.

  • A couple of minor quibbles

  • I have no idea how this sculpture is supposed to represent the idea of "Peace Through Unity." Or why this Pollyanna-ish theme was chosen.

    A better theme would've been something like "Never Again." Never again will the US government attack another nation that didn't attack it first--well, except for Iraq.

  • I would've considered putting this sculpture near a visitor center or other building. To me it seems kind of low-key to be out on its own, on the plain, isolated. After the long walk evident in the photograph, the sculpture may be a little anti-climactic.

    Instead, imagine if you stepped out of a visitor center for your first real look at the Little Bighorn battlefield. That's when you want to "hit" people with the sculpture. It would remind them from the beginning that this was a place where Indians roamed. That the land belonged to them and the settlers and soldiers were mere interlopers.

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


    Anonymous said...

    "Peace Through Unity?"

    Montana is the second worst state in terms of racism for Indians as I have had the extreme displeasure of being stranded there (Butte in 1976) and I almost had to fight my way back to Denver.

    My sources there tell me that not much has changed in 32 years, in fact, the anti-Indian hatred is very much on the increase as more and more Indian people are achieving socio-economic parity with the non-Indian populace - and this is being accomplished mainly through education. The "dumb Indian" is now pretty much a ghost of MT's ugly past.

    Anonymous said...

    I knew Bush had to be behind such a stupid idea. One would think that white people in that area would want to forget how the Sioux and Cheyenne kicked the 7th Cavs. ass. This idea deserves a "shoe to the head" or a boot up the ass.

    J. Kills Straight
    Lakota, Sioux

    dmarks said...

    Melvin: I have a Native friend who moved there. So I now wonder what he is experiencing.

    Anonymous said...

    dmarks -

    The border towns near the various reservations in Montana are notorious for anti-Indian sentiment. The larger cities are a little less racist, especially where there are colleges and universities.

    But, to reiterate, there is no place in the U.S. that is more racist towards Indians than Rapid City, South Dakota.

    I wish your friend well.

    dmarks said...

    He is in Montana's biggest city. Which as I understand has the populaton level of a typical single Manhattan high-rise.

    I've not been to Rapid City, but I've been to Minot, and have heard similar things about Minot.

    Anonymous said...

    Your friend is in Billings then, a city of about 100,000.

    There is a remarkable degree of diversity there to include a sizable gay population* and the town is also a traditional retirement mecca for closeted lesbian schoolteachers.

    *When my second wife and I stopped overnight in Billings in 2001, there was a gigantic gay-friendly motel/restaurant/bar/club right in the heart of the downtown area, "The Dude Ranch."

    Rob said...

    As I said, I think the Memorial itself is good. But I could see giving the "Peace Through Unity" theme the boot.

    I suspect the intent of this theme was to whitewash the US's culpability at Little Bighorn. I.e., the notion that the battle was part of the government's genocidal campaign against Indians. After all, we wouldn't want unsuspecting tourists to learn that Americans were the bad guys and Indians were the good guys in the Indian Wars.