Eyes on South Dakota for Donald Trump event

(National Park Service)

Mary Annette Pember

Thousands are expected in and around Mount Rushmore for the president's visit Friday, including several groups of protesters

Mary Annette Pember

Indian Country Today

The tiny town of Keystone, South Dakota, immediately adjacent to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, will be ground zero Friday for the flashy brand of patriotism favored by President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Trump is planning to make a public appearance at the memorial during its evening fireworks event. 

The South Dakota Department of Tourism created a lottery system allowing 7,500 people to attend the program, in which fireworks are scheduled to be set off at the monument for the first time since 2009.

A team of officials from the National Park Service, Interior Department and South Dakota state government will make a final decision Friday on whether conditions are safe for the fireworks to take place, the Rapid City Journal reported. 

According to the state’s Department of Tourism website, the memorial will be open only for ticket holders Friday and will closed to the general public. 

The main road to the monument, Highway 244, will be closed at Horsethief Lake to the west and at the junction of Highway 16A to the east beginning at 12:01 a.m. MST and reopened after the fireworks event ends. Events begin at 4 p.m. and will be livestreamed on the Department of Tourism website.

Any overflow crowd will likely be directed to the town of Keystone. 

Those protesting Trump’s visit are being directed to a “free speech zone,” according to Andy Iron Shell of NDN Collective, a nonprofit Native advocacy organization.

(Related: Lakotas to Donald Trump: ‘You are not welcome here’)

Several small groups of Native Americans plan to travel to the memorial to voice their opposition to Trump’s visit, his policies that are seen as challenges to tribal sovereignty and the very presence of Mount Rushmore, which features faces of American presidents carved into a mountain held sacred by many tribes in the region.

At this writing, it’s unclear exactly where the free speech zone will be or how many people will be allowed inside it. Calls to the National Park Service seeking more information about the zone and plans for overflow crowds were not returned. The Park Service oversees the monument. 

Parking at Mount Rushmore is limited, with only 1,400 spaces; parking in the town of Keystone is also sparse.

A woman from Gov. Kristi Noem’s office returned a call inquiring about information for citizens planning to travel to Mount Rushmore to protest. Asked if the governor’s office could provide any guidelines about safe places to protest or any rules surrounding free speech actions in the area, the woman said, “No.” She would not provide her full name.

The Rapid City Journal reports there will be a heavy law enforcement presence in the area, including Secret Service and police from county, state and other federal agencies.

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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

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