What Do We Do About Mount Rushmore?

Low Angle Photo of Mount Rushmore

Our nation is in the midst of a moment where statues and monuments celebrating our racist past are being reevaluated and taken down. However, some on the political right have begun calling into question the validity of this conversation. Conservative media personality Meghan McCain wrote in a tweet that we’re “one week removed from entire cable news panels debating whether or not we should blow up Mount Rushmore.”

Coincidentally, as the Washington Post reported, President Trump is planning a massive fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on July 3, despite a decade-long ban on pyrotechnics at the iconic spot because of concerns about public health, environmental and safety risks.

All this has further sparked a debate of the lens with which we should view the landmark, as Native American groups have held demonstrations against the President’s visit.

Why This Matters: The Black Hills on which Mount Rushmore is carved was land that was designated for the exclusive use of Native peoples through a treaty in 1868. After gold was discovered there, the United States government broke its treaty with the Sioux which ultimately culminated in the Wounded Knee massacre.

The Sioux have worked for decades to reclaim this land, and their plight cannot be ignored. We need to have a national discussion about the appropriate future of Mount Rushmore.

Go Deeper: You can read about the history of how Mount Rushmore came to be. Its chief architect, Gutzon Borglum, was a known racist and Klan member. The monument was only completed in 1941, so it’s hardly a bedrock of American cultural pride.

Trump’s Controversy: Native American activists and tribal leaders have called for the removal of Mount Rushmore and see President Trump’s Independence Day celebration there as a glorification of its sordid history.

Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner explained,

“I don’t believe it should be blown up, because it would cause more damage to the land,” he said, noting that Indian artifacts could be damaged. But there are other methods to take down the monument that would have less environmental impact.”

Axios reported that Bear Runner said President Trump failed to consult tribal leaders about his visit to the Black Hills, which the Oglala Sioux consider part of their Great Sioux Reservation and land that was never formally ceded to the United States.

So ultimately, why does Mount Rushmore even exist? As we discuss how to handle confederate monuments, the United States government should also sit down with Sioux tribes and begin a dialogue of what can be done about this monument that sprung from a dark history. 

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