Indigenous leaders call for the closing of Mount Rushmore: ‘first step for addressing the harms of colonization’

Leaders of indigenous tribes in the Dakota’s are calling for the United States government to close down Mount Rushmore, or at least re-envision the landmark as a symbol of “oppression,” and return millions of acres of land to their tribes.

“It should be turned into something like the United States Holocaust Museum,” says Phil Two Eagle. “The world needs to know what was done to us.”

Two Eagle is Sicangu Lakota and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. He directs the tribe’s treaty council office, which fights to claim sovereignty over lost homeland. He is part of a growing movement to force the U.S government to return land they claim was “stolen” through broken treaties.

Indigenous leaders across the Dakota’s see now as the perfect time to push their movement further as Joe Biden nominated the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland. Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, oversees 450 million acres of federal land, all of which lies on current and former indigenous territories.

“Having Haaland heading up the Department of Interior is a game-changer,” says Krystal Two Bulls, director of NDN Collective’s Land Back campaign. “It opens the door for beginning the healing process. Returning our land is the first step toward reparations.”

NDN’s mission, according to their website, is to “Build the collective power of Indigenous Peoples, communities, and Nations to exercise our inherent right to self-determination while fostering a world that is built on a foundation of justice and equity for all people and the planet.” an initiative demanding that governments honor their treaties with Indigenous people.

The battle over Mount Rushmore, which lies in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, dates back to 1851. The Lakota tribe, which describes the Black Hills as sacred and “the heart of everything that is,” fought decades-long battles against European colonists and American expansion, which led to the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. The treaties established a 35 million acre “permeant home” for the Great Sioux Nation that occupied the entire western half of South Dakota, including the current home of Mount Rushmore.

Those treaties were eventually broken upon discovering rich gold deposits in the Black Hills, causing a flood of colonists to swarm the areas, in a blatant violation of the treaty.

“We are poor because our resources were stolen from us, and those resources made others billions of dollars,” said Red Dawn Foster, an Oglala Lakota and South Dakota state senator representing the Pine Ridge reservation. “But our connection to the Black Hills is not a monetary one. Our main concern is that the land not be desecrated, and we be allowed to resume our role as stewards of the land, that is our purpose as Lakota.”

Foster said the Sioux tribes are lobbying the U.S. government for a “transfer of stewardship”, so the Black Hills would no longer be managed by the Forest Service or Park Service but by the Great Sioux Nation.

A petition sponsored by NDN Collective requesting the closure of Mount Rushmore and the return of public lands in the Black Hills currently has more than 44,000 signatures. Since being sworn in in March, Haaland has directed the Dept. of Interior to transfer 18,800 acres of federal land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where the land will be held in trust for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.