A man of great vision departs Mount Rushmore Memorial
By Tim Giago
The Native speakers and exhibits soon became two of the most popular features at the Memorial much to the chagrin of many white residents of Rapid City and the surrounding region. These are our Hills and our presidents on display and the Indian things Baker is bringing to the Memorial do not belong there, was the biggest and probably the most ridiculous complaint.
When Baker was re-assigned to be the first ever Assistant Director for Indian Relations for the National Park Service, a post the NPS recognized as extremely important, the reaction by the local partisans was as expected. Wrote Scott Odenbach of Spearfish, S. D. in the local daily, "Native American cultural diversity rather than the Memorial's intended purpose: celebrating the lives and ideals of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln," seemed to be the main focus of Superintendent Baker. On Baker's new assignment Odenbach wrote, "Isn't this an example of the job description finally catching up with the job functions performed?"
Wrote James Reichert of Rapid City, "That's great! Now maybe we can keep Mount Rushmore safe from terrorist activities. And can we ask his replacement to move the tipi down the road to the Native American monument? It is inappropriate for a superintendent to impose his personal values upon a national monument."
We suppose Mr. Reichert was talking about moving the tipis to Crazy Horse Memorial, which is down the road and it is evident that he never once considered the proven fact that the Native exhibits are extremely popular with visitors to the Memorial and that the majority of Native Americans living in this region find the addition of these exhibits by Mr. Baker to be one of the best things that ever happened at the Memorial.
The local white folks should have known that Mount Rushmore was sculpted even while the ownership of the very land where it stands was involved in litigation between the United States and the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. In other words, the United States allowed Gutzon Borglum to carve on the mountain while the land was a part of a lawsuit to determine ownership. About the illegal taking of the Black Hills by the United States, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, "A more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history."
After the whining dies down and after all is said and done, Gerard Baker, will be admired and respected by not only the Native Americans of this region, but also by thousands of non-Natives, as the single most important superintendent ever to grace that job position at the Memorial. He had the vision to see beyond the racial prejudice that has permeated this region for more than 100 years and to implement the Native culture and traditions into the daily activities at the Memorial in hopes of opening a new sensitivity of this regions diversity, but by also creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding between all races.
Same with the other presidents. The whiners may not realize it, but they're all guilty of anti-Indian actions.
Would you study a California mission or the Alamo or Ellis Island without noting its origin or history? I.e., the context that made its time and place significant? Probably not.
Same with Mt. Rushmore. It isn't a context-free monument like the 2001 monolith, floating serenely in the vacuum of space. It's located on stolen Indian land and that's part of its story.
For more on the subject, see No Tipis at Mt. Rushmore? and America's Shrine to Hypocrisy.