Should the Presidential carvings on Mt. Rushmore be removed?
Mount Rushmore, originally known as Six Grandfathers, was sacred to the Sioux people. The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the United States and the Sioux promised an area of land, including the area where Mount Rushmore is currently located to the Sioux. This treaty, however, was soon after violated by the United States when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, which led to a gold rush and Congress seizing the area.
In United States v. the Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court decided the Sioux were due compensation in return for the stolen land, but the Sioux made it clear they do not want money; they want the land returned. To this day, Native Americans call upon the United States to honor the treaty and return this area to Sioux control.
The United States had no right to put carvings on this sacred mountain. Carvings, which depict white leaders of the country who took this land from the Sioux, makes it all the more insulting. Washington and Jefferson were both slave owners. Roosevelt is known for his quote, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
The case for the removal of monuments featuring slave owners and racists, which has been a hot topic lately, is relevant here as well. These are not people who should be celebrated, and they indeed should not be celebrated on sacred land promised to Native Americans.
In recent events, angry mobs have increasingly defaced or destroyed statues they see as offensive to their values. Not unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, they seek to erase images of history forged in art despite a lack of consensus on the subject.
Mount Rushmore’s images represent much more than four merely great, accomplished, and respected Americans. Each representation portrays through symbolism our highest ideals, as well as accomplishments. These include stability, security, liberty and natural rights, opportunity, as well as a social evolution, which always seeks to expand the blessings of liberty to as many Americans as is possible. The US has thousands of examples of symbolism in sculpted stone that convey significant meaning and values to millions.
Some may disagree with that interpretation, as befits a free society. Disagreement, however, confers no right to destroy art that inspires and creates meaning for others. Erasing history at the demand of an angry mob only empowers them to pursue more destructive tactics. Many do not realize that politics, like history, moves in cycles. Those holding influence now will eventually lose it. That which they have done unto others may be done unto them.
Finally, Mount Rushmore has value not just to Americans, but to art itself. The world mourned the loss of Afghanistan’s immense Buddha statues. That art gave posterity beautiful imagery built on religious and cultural ideas. It helped the world to understand the importance of these figures in the lives of particular people in a specific point in time. Instead of tearing down monuments, build more of them. Let future generations see how America’s notions of justice has evolved.
- The four presidential faces of Mount Rushmore were chosen by Gutzon Borglum: George Washington to represent the birth of the United States, Thomas Jefferson to represent growth, Theodore Roosevelt for development, and Abraham Lincoln to represent preservation.
- Between 1927 and 1941, the 60-foot high faces were shaped from granite rock, and represent one of the world’s largest pieces of sculpture, as well as one of America’s most popular tourist attractions.
- To many Native Americans, “Mount Rushmore represents a desecration of lands considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux, the original residents of the Black Hills region who were displaced by white settlers and gold miners in the late 19th century.”
- In 1877, the US took over the Hills through the 'Sell or Starve' Act, which cut off rations to the Sioux people if they did not give up their land.
- Mount Rushmore has become a symbol of America - of freedom and hope for all cultures and backgrounds.