State and federal officials meet with Oglala Sioux
KEYSTONE, S.D. - Shadowed by a symbol that represents freedom and democracy
for some people and oppression, genocide and broken promises for others, a
healing process has begun.
Mount Rushmore attracts more than 3 million tourists annually from around
the world, but Lakota people who have lived in the region for hundreds of
years do not feel comfortable coming to the sacred He Sapa to see the four
A meeting intended to create a partnership between tribal, state and
federal park officials brought Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecelia Fire
Thunder to the monument for the first time in 28 years. The partnership
would encourage education, jobs and cooperation between government and
private entities and the tribes - a goal of new Mount Rushmore
Superintendent Gerard Baker, Hidatsa, from North Dakota's Fort Berthold
"The four guys represent oppression, genocide, colonization and historical
trauma. They don't represent things that are good to us; many of us don't
come here," Fire Thunder said. She said as her son drove her to the meeting
she thought how the monument represents freedom to some, but not for the
Lakota or many other tribes of the region.
Just a few short miles down the road from Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse
Memorial, which Fire Thunder said is symbolizes the courage of the
"This is not a criticism; if you understand what these symbols mean to us,
you will know. As we move from the jails of colonization we must be willing
to live through pain in this state. To form partnerships you have to know
where we are and what we are about," Fire Thunder said.
The parks and other entities draw millions of tourists who only hear or see
the story of a site from what is called "historical times." For example,
Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills is the site of
origination of the Lakota people, yet fails to reference the Lakota people
or any of the other 18 tribes that claim it as sacred. The site's
historical reference, according to Park Superintendent Linda Stoll, is its
discovery by a white man. She said it makes her uncomfortable.
The region's true and complete story - including not just that of each park
or attraction, but also of the first people to experience these places and
what they mean to them -- will eventually be told, with help from tribal
colleges and tribes that could provide interpreters, employees and other
To the Lakota, the entire Black Hills area is sacred. Today, a trust fund
accumulated from the alleged sale of the Black Hills by the great Sioux
Nation has grown in value to more than $600 million. None of the money has
been touched, and nation members say it will just sit there because He Sapa
is not for sale.
Three of the United States' poorest counties are on Indian reservations in
South Dakota, yet the Black Hills is so important to the identity of the
Lakota they will not touch the money.
"If I was more organized I could write a history on land alone," said
Webster Two Hawk, Sicangu and former representative of the Rosebud Sioux
Tribe. "Where there is no more land there will be no more Lakota."
He said the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is trying to hold onto the sacred land.
"When the land is healed we will be healed also.
"For too long we have been talking about each other. Now we are talking to
each other," Two Hawk added.
At stake is not just tourism, even though most of the millions of tourists
who come from all over the world come to capture the essence of Indian
country. Telling the true story is at the heart of the matter.
The partnership gathering is a start, and some will begin to rework the
interpretive message to include American Indian history without any
prompting. It's only a beginning, participants said, but they agreed it was
a good beginning.
The Lakota and Cheyenne consider Bear Butte State Park one of the Black
Hills' most sacred sites, coming to the park to pray, fast and vision quest
- mostly in full view of a curious public. The park has made arrangements
to make the park friendlier to those who pray there.
"For those of us who manage public lands, we manage special lands and we
recognize that as a huge responsibility," said Doug Hofer, director of
South Dakota state parks. "In the state parks, we realize [that] what is
special to us is sacred to someone else."
The entities now in control of lands once known as the Lakota and other
tribes' homeland - lands that became part of the treaties and then taken
away - say those lands will be open and welcoming for the people to return.
However, that may be easier said than done.
Alex White Plume, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said the people
cannot return until they have healed. That process is underway and almost
complete, he said.
"Be ready: we are coming back to the Black Hills. When we get out of our
grief and trauma then we will be ready to come back. I'm tired of
criticizing white people; maybe [whites] are tired of being racist," White