My great-grand­fa­ther carved Mt. Rush­more

It’s time to re­move this vi­o­la­tion of sa­cred land

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Kim­berly Ford Kim­berly Ford is a writer and editor in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

On the 4th of July of our na­tion’s bi­cen­ten­nial, when I was 7, I went with my beloved grand­mother to cel­e­brate her father’s most no­table work, one of the world’s most fa­mous mon­u­ments, a landmark that had come to stand for Amer­ica. My great-grand­fa­ther, Gut­zon Bor­glum, carved Mount Rush­more. While her­alded as a mas­sive artis­tic achieve­ment, there was crit­i­cism of the mon­u­ment even when it was un­veiled in the early 1940s.

There was also a grand­fa­ther and an un­cle who chose not to join us be­cause, I had in­ferred from hushed voices, they might have op­posed the sculp­tor’s ego­ma­nia, his lack of pro­por­tion, even to the ques­tion­able aes­thet­ics of a man — ca­pa­ble of stun­ning bronze and mar­ble stat­ues — carv­ing four pres­i­dents’ faces into the side of a moun­tain.

Most im­por­tant, fam­ily mem­bers and other crit­ics spoke of vi­o­lat­ing sa­cred Na­tive Amer­i­can land.

In­volve­ment with the Klan

Through the decades there has been more talk, pub­lic opin­ion and doc­u­men­taries re­veal­ing Bor­glum’s in­volve­ment with the Ku Klux Klan and hard ev­i­dence of white supremacy and an­tiSemitism. Two of the four pres­i­dents my great-grand­fa­ther carved owned slaves. In an 1886 ad­dress, Theodore Roo­sevelt, who al­ready had a long his­tory of an­i­mos­ity to­ward Indige­nous Peo­ples said, “I don’t go so far as to say that the only good In­di­ans are dead In­di­ans, but I be­lieve 9 out of 10 are.”

Fam­ily, teach­ers and peers ar­gued that when the mon­u­ment was be­gun, it “was a dif­fer­ent time.” Some sug­gested that my great-grand­fa­ther’s ques­tion­able al­liances were fis­cal, not ide­o­log­i­cal; they said ev­ery ma­jor Amer­i­can leader owned slaves back when you could. There was men­tion of “sa­cred In­dian land,” often with a rue­ful, nearly con­trite, shake of the head.

The ubiq­ui­tous Rush­more bumper stick­ers, cof­fee mugs, ads and T-shirts of my youth have mor­phed into memes. In one I loved, each fore­fa­ther wore a pink knit “pussy hat.” More re­cently, my In­sta­gram showed the four pres­i­dents in face masks. Even amid deep na­tional di­vi­sion, few mon­u­ments feel more em­blem­atic of our United States.

Yet, as with pa­tri­otic songs and slo­gans and even with our flag — a fuller ap­pre­ci­a­tion of in­come and gen­der and eth­nic and racial in­jus­tices has turned me into some­one who can­not love broadly pa­tri­otic em­blems right now.

For the Lako­tas, South Dakota’s Black Hills have been the site of sa­cred prayer services for in­nu­mer­able gen­er­a­tions. The gran­ite faces look upon the lo­ca­tion of Washun Niya, where Mother Earth is be­lieved to breathe. In 1868, our govern­ment “granted” the Sioux — made up of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes — rights to “ab­so­lute and undis­turbed use and oc­cu­pa­tion” of the Black Hills. A mere six years later, gold was “dis­cov­ered,” and a small por­tion of the Sioux peo­ple ceded the land in ex­change for needed food.

My great-grand­fa­ther be­gan carv­ing pres­i­dents into the Black Hills only af­ter hav­ing de­stroyed (in a kind of artis­tic tantrum) the models he had cre­ated for a dif­fer­ent gi­gan­tic, side-of-amoun­tain mon­u­ment in Stone Moun­tain, Ge­or­gia — one me­mo­ri­al­iz­ing Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Nathan Bed­ford For­rest, who be­came a prom­i­nent leader of the Klan.

This July 3, Pres­i­dent Donald Trump used my great-grand­fa­ther’s work as a back­ground to fo­ment di­vi­sion and will­ful ig­no­rance, a rally on the an­cient sa­cred land of a peo­ple we have per­se­cuted, a rally that fur­ther threat­ens that pop­u­la­tion with pan­demic. All of this speaks to the mon­u­ment as sym­bolic of white male lead­ers who have ut­terly, ag­gres­sively failed enor­mous swaths of peo­ple who lived on this con­ti­nent be­fore them.

Per­pe­tra­tors of geno­cide

To those who say Mount Rush­more should be pre­served be­cause it’s part of our his­tory, I say the four pres­i­dents carved for­ever into the gran­ite speak of the fun­da­men­tal bru­tal­ity of “Western Ex­pan­sion” and “Man­i­fest Des­tiny.” The mon­u­ment says noth­ing — or ev­ery­thing, hor­rif­i­cally — about the strug­gles we Amer­i­cans in­flicted on com­mu­ni­ties that had lived on this con­ti­nent for at least 15,000 years.

At this mo­ment when we are do­ing work as a na­tion to think hard about the hor­ren­dous in­jus­tice of slav­ery and the per­va­sive, sys­temic racism that has fol­lowed, we also need to re­mem­ber the near an­ni­hi­la­tion of Indige­nous Peo­ples. It is time to re­move a mon­u­ment that cel­e­brates the per­pe­tra­tors of a geno­cide, a mon­u­ment that sits on the sa­cred land of the very peo­ple who con­tinue to be so deeply wronged today.

MIKE THOMP­SON/USA TODAY NET­WORK

Kim­berly Ford, in a bon­net, next to grand­mother Mary-El­lis Bor­glum Vhay at Mount Rush­more in 1976.

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