America 'called out' to re-examine white supremacy at Mount Rushmore

Patty Talahongva

We can't tell history that way anymore ... it's just unacceptable

This weekend as the president staged a fourth of July rally at Mount Rushmore, treaty defenders took a stand to remind Americans the Black Hills are sacred and the 1868 treaty still stands. About 100 treaty defenders blocked the road leading into Mount Rushmore. The standoff was organized by NDN Collective. This non profit group was founded to build the collective power of Indigenous peoples and help create a world built on justice and equity for all people and the planet. 

Sarah Sunshine Manning is the communications director. She gives us an update on the standoff and what may happen next. 

Here are a few of Sarah Manning's comments:  

"Nick was among those arrested on the highway on Friday, July 3rd in the lead up to Trump's visit to Mount Rushmore. And he was arrested and taken into custody at Pennington County jail right there in Rapid City. While the majority of the other treaty defenders were allowed out on bail and Nick was not."

"Although the NDN Collective team and the legal team attempted to get Nick out on bond, they were not allowing him out on bond. We don't really know why he was not allowed out on bond. But what we do know on what is in the public record is that Nick is charged with four different charges, three of those being misdemeanors and one of them being a felony, ranging from failure to vacate, blocking a highway and then the felony being robbery."

"These are some serious charges. A class four felony could be punishable up to 10 years in jail. What we do know also is that the state of South Dakota, Pennington County jail, Pennington County, they know who Nick Tilson is. In fact our office is just across the street from Pennington County jail. We've sat in the Pennington County courthouse just a bit over a year ago when NDN collective, along with other plaintiffs, sued the state of South Dakota for the Riot Boosting Act."

"We've been here before. So while we can't really say why Pennington County chose to keep Nick and custody, why him among all 15 and others? We have suspicions that he's being singled out."

"During the protest, there was scuffles happening between the national guard that had their shields, their plexiglass shields and at some point in the scuffle, one of those plexiglass shields ended up in the hands of the treaty defenders. Eventually the police officers the national guard got that shield back. And so what we're guessing is that it has something to do with that exchange of the shield regardless of whether or not it stayed in the hands of treaty defenders for minutes. And it ended up back in the hands of the law enforcement. That charge is still being handed down to Nick, of all the other people there, that charge is being handed down to him."

"So in 1868, the federal government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota people who are the great Sioux Nation along with the Cheyenne and our Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho guaranteeing that they would continue to have access to that land and land extending far beyond that. Up to 50 different tribal nations roamed the land of the Black Hills and had access to that land and sovereign right to that land."

"The Black Hills are sacred land to the Lakota and other people other tribal nations to this day to this day they continue to travel to the Black Hills to gather medicine to pray for ceremony to rejuvenate and replenish themselves year after year. And then today, the Oglala Sioux tribe is at the base of the Black Hills. And so the Oglala Lakota continue to have a very close relationship with that land. 

Eventually the gold was discovered in the Black Hills and the federal government broke that treaty along with every other, eventually putting the Lakota and other tribal nations on reservations where they no longer had access to that land."

"A Supreme Court decision determined, that law or that they violated their own laws and issues. I believe it was a hundred million dollar fund to the Lakota, if they wanted to take it in exchange for those Black Hills, the Oglala Sioux tribe, another Lakota of the great Sioux Nation have refused that payment. And now it is up to a billion dollars."

"The land is sacred to them and other tribal nations, and it continues to be, and they're not willing to accept payment for their sacred land."

"An artist was commissioned to carve the faces of four different U.S. presidents into the Black Hills and that particular artist had affiliations with the KU Klux Klan."
"The four presidents that he chose, whether regardless of whatever achievements they made for the white majority, every single one of them had anti-Indian policies. And so for indigenous people whose homelands is the Black Hills they've opposed Mount Rushmore since day one."

"In the 1970s during the American Indian Movement, there were leaders that would continually go protest at Mount Rushmore. There's a scene in a film Lakota Woman where they splash red paint on the faces of the presidents at Mount Rushmore, so that Indigenous people and Lakota people today protest Mount Rushmore and chose to take the stand that they did this past weekend. They're not doing anything any different than what their ancestors have done and that their parents and grant great-grandparents have done."

"In fact, many of those who protested this past weekend and were a part of that road blockade, their parents were there in the 70s. Their parents were a part of that, those stands that were taken in the 70s. And so it's not anything that Indigenous people or Lakota people are going to be stopping anytime soon when it comes to protesting Mount Rushmore and fighting for the Black Hills and asking for their land back."

And what I think is also really important and valuable in this time too is that nationally there's this conversation around what is white supremacy and how does it manifest? How does it show up? And how has white supremacy as it pertains to Indigenous people been so normalized that we've been taught to look past it?"

"In an earlier interview before his arrest last week, president and CEO of NDN Collective, Nick Tilson spoke in an interview on MSNBC and shared that Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy. And that didn't sit well with a lot of people. People were really confused seeing president Abraham Lincoln up there who is known for signing the Emancipation Proclamation, seeing all these other presidents who seemingly had these great legacies. And so it was evident there in the resistance to understand why this is a symbol of white supremacy, that white supremacy and colonization have been so normalized and accepted that the vast majority of America can't really see past that white supremacy or racism when it comes to Indigenous people." 

"I think that day is coming and it's really exciting to be in this time where statues are being pulled down, statues of Christopher Columbus are being pulled down, confederate statues are being pulled down, statues that very blatantly show that the white colonizers feel superior to both Black and Indigenous people and feel that they had a right to take our land. 

"Not only are state and local municipalities choosing to take down these statutes before activists pull them down, we also see this movement of national professional teams changing their mascots. And so I think this era of racial awakening of what racial injustice really looks like in this country, America is being called out and called up to really re-examine the many different ways that white supremacy manifests and has been normalized and accepted."

"It's only a matter of time and just this past weekend to the Redskins and the Cleveland Indians have discussed, changing their names. So the wins continue to happen. I think America is at a point where they can't hide from that history anymore. Our younger generations want better from zoomers to millennials. They don't want to believe in this lie of American morals. They want something better. Whether or not we get these changes today or in a couple years, it's inevitable."

"This shared humanity, the shared understanding that, you know, our liberation is bound up with each other, regardless of our background, I think people are catching onto that and it feels good to stand with each other. It feels good to see changes happening the more that we work together. People are recognizing how indispensable it is to work together."

"I think it's so interesting that that is the concern that history is being erased. Indigenous history has been erased. That history has not been brought to light. Only a certain history has been elevated. And there's a way that we can still tell the history of these colonizers and these racist leaders of our past without elevating them to the point of being heroes. I think there are so many other heroes that we can honor today that didn't just usher in wins and justices and great changes for the white majority, but all of humanity, it's totally fine to take down Mount Rushmore. It's totally acceptable to take down statues of Christopher Columbus and Onate and other colonizers, and replace them with some of these amazing figures today who really stand for the values that are of our future and of our present."

"Taking down racist figures does not change history. We have history books. We have ways to tell that story and frame it differently but it's just that when they're elevated to the point of heroes and having statues and monuments, it's framed in a way that's really toxic and harmful to our future in a way that justifies genocide and justifies white supremacy."

"We can't tell history that way anymore. It's just unacceptable. Our current generations won't stand for it. And it's going to continue to harm us as a nation, as a country, as humanity. If we tell history that way."

"The vast majority of land defenders, Indigenous people and our allies that were at that protest wore masks, there was hand sanitizer present. We work, in fact, NDN collective has worked with the Oglala Sioux Tribe securing litigation when Governor Kristi Noem threatened legal action for the checkpoints."

"We work very closely with the tribes and also taking that stand that we did protecting Lakota and Indigenous land was done."

"I think the next things are that are going to happen is that we're going to continue to see this momentum. There's no more hiding anymore. Prior to the advent of the internet and Indigenous people being visible and media, our geographic isolation meant that a lot of people didn't know you existed. They couldn't hear our voices. They didn't hear our perspectives. And that time is long past. Our voices are loud. Our voices won't be silenced and they're just growing and growing. Our younger generations are becoming more and more articulate or becoming more aware of the laws of the colonizers were becoming articulate and are being well adjusted to this world that we're living in. We know how to fight and we don't stop."

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.

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