This Day in Resistance History: American Indian Movement Occupies Mt. Rushmore
For many Native American nations (Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa), the Black Hills in South Dakota have spiritual significance. Native communities and individuals would have ceremonies in this area and vision quests.
However, as part of the last territorial wars against Native nations, the US government began taking parts of the Black Hills area for mineral extraction. In 1884, New York City attorney Charles E. Rushmore came to the Black Hills to check on legal titles to some properties. On coming back to camp one day, he asked Bill Challis about the name of a mountain. Bill is reported to have replied, “Never had a name, but from now on we’ll call it Mt. Rushmore.”
The Sioux always referred to that mountain area as the Six Grandfathers, but like much of the history of conquest, the victors get to name spaces however they want.
Generating wealth from the Black Hills by extracting minerals was not enough for some and by the early 1920’s, some people were looking to use the Mt. Rushmore area as a tourist attraction. The idea to carve the faces of important figures in US history was initiated by Doane Robinson, who suggested Gen. Custer, Lewis & Clark and Sioux Chief Red Cloud. Robinson sought the consultation of sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was commissioned to create the monument of heroes of the Confederacy at Stone Mountain in Georgia and was known to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Borglum also had other ideas about whose faces should be forever immortalized at Mt. Rushmore. He said, “The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”
The sculpture had been completed in 1936 and at the dedication President FDR made no mention of Native Americans and the tourist site itself had no reference to Native people at the time.
On July 4, 1971, members of the American Indian Movement occupied Mt. Rushmore. They actually had camped out the night before and were part of a cleansing ceremony performed by Sioux spiritual leader, Frank Fools Crow.
AIM members declared that Mt. Rushmore was again to be Native land and the group renamed the area as Mt. Crazy Horse. From the viewpoint of AIM and many Native Americans, Mount Rushmore should be considered as the Shrine of Hypocrisy rather than as the Shrine of Democracy. Mount Rushmore symbolized to them the treaties broken by the United States. The four US Presidents enshrined on the mountain all participated in theft of Native land and genocidal policies towards Native people.
We honor this action by AIM and call upon people in the US to celebrate such acts of resistance.