Monday, September 24, 2012

A Native Perspective on Mount Rushmore

If you were to stand in front of one public monument in your community and talk back to history, which monument would it be? What would you say?

I really like this short video of a Lakota man in front of Mount Rushmore, listing the anti-Indian sins of each of the presidents memorialized there. The narrator, Leon Matthews, has a great conversational style, along with passion for the subject. I also like the loose production values--the sound of the wind on the microphone and the children talking in the background. One could argue with some of the history (Lincoln also pardoned 265 Dakota who were sentenced to death after the Dakota Uprising). Still, this heartfelt and largely correct rejoinder makes us question the appropriateness of a monument to four agents of American empire in the heart of the Sacred (to the Lakota) Black Hills. Mathews has a YouTube channel of similar videos, along with a blog and occasional columns in the Lakota Country Times.

This is guerrilla public history, enabled by the digital age. An inexpensive video camera, a YouTube account, and a compelling message is all you need.

Which brings me back around to the question at the start of this post. What public monument would you reinterpret--either in your community or anywhere else?


J Ott said...

It's not in my community (Seattle), but I used to drive through the Cataldo Mission valley when I was in grad school at Missoula. There are historical markers about the mission, but I often thought that it was such a beautiful place that it must have been important to the tribes that lived there and I would love to know what stories they associate with it.

Often historical markers only identify the utilitarian uses tribes made of places before contact. Sometimes the only significance identified is a battle that was fought, or a village location. I would love to know more tribal history that tells the stories about places that are important just because they are home. I know sacred stories are private, but it would be great to know more about the tribes' senses of place, if that can be separated out from the information they would like to keep private.

Dutchie said...

The first reservation "experiment" at Bosque Redondo is on Lincoln's head as is the Navajo Long Walk so where he gets "bonus" points for the pardons, he loses them for BR. Far more Navajo died due to that policy from 1861-68 than 38.

He should also "thank" Jefferson for the origins of a lot of Indian policies by the US government and the "agent" system.

Larry Cebula said...

J Ott: I have been talking with a native scholar about using Spokane Historical or a new mobile history app to tell native stories about places in the Inland Northwest. If we get something going I will blog about it for sure.

Dutchie: That is exactly the kind of viewpoint we need to get out in the open at our historic sites. Ancestor worship isn't just factually incorrect, it is boring!