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Trump's Racism On Display At Mount Rushmore Rally

By Cheryl Eichar Jett
Opinion/Analysis
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   EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - July 15, 2020 -- U.S. President Donald Trump's racism against Native Americans was on full display at his rally at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on July 3. And he used a full arsenal of insults to underscore it, although he really got the job done before he even opened his mouth. “On Friday [July 3], President Donald Trump continued his tour of racism and colonialism, moving from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the sacred Black Hills. Make no mistake, this divisive visit was an attack on indigenous people,” said Nick Tilsen, president of NDN Collective and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation (as quoted from his article for NBC News).
      No one can accuse Donald Trump of not being inclusive when it comes to racism. He's targeted African Americans (think Central Park Five or his “birtherism” conspiracy theory against Barack Obama), Muslims (think the travel ban targeting Muslims or his attacks on Muslim Gold Star parents), Asians (think “Chinese virus” or “kung flu”), Hispanics (think “They're rapists” or the Hurricane Maria response debacle), and Native Americans (think the “Pocahontas” tweets or his green-lighting of pipelines across native treaty lands).
   But Trump's choice of location and holiday on Independence Day Eve should leave no one, least of all the South Dakota tribes, wondering about the depth of his disdain for our country's indigenous peoples. The Mount Rushmore rally was just another self-created opportunity to double down on his white supremacist stance.
   Attacks and policies against Native Americans are not exactly revelatory news with this president. For instance, his outrageous January 2019 tweet which referenced Wounded Knee was widely condemned. (Wounded Knee Creek was the site of the U.S. 7th Cavalry's brutal massacre of hundreds of Lakota on December 29, 1890.) Trump's green-lighting of pipelines across native treaty lands and support of voter suppression laws which affected Native Americans have also been widely covered.
   However, at the Mount Rushmore event, he solidified, in at least a half-dozen ways, his prejudice against Native Americans. His range of insults ran the gamut from his careless disregard of environmental issues to his focus on his hero Andrew Jackson to the very land on which he harangued.
   First of all, the choice of the Mount Rushmore monument was clearly a slap in the face, as Native Americans have long regarded this region as their sacred land. The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie gave the Black Hills of South Dakota over to the Sioux. But by 1877, after almost an additional decade of conflict, the U.S. seized the land. Besides the very land it rests on, the Mount Rushmore monument itself is perceived by Native Americans as a symbol of white supremacy, and its honorees carved into the monument, particularly Washington and Jefferson, are seen as colonizers. “To me, Mount Rushmore is a symbol of ethnic cleansing, forced assimilation and the theft of our territory,” said Phil Two Eagle, executive director of the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council (as quoted in Voice of America VOA News).
   As for the Independence Day weekend chosen for the rally, it's important to remember that the July 4 holiday is not celebrated universally by Native Americans. The Declaration of Independence cemented Jefferson's vision of manifest destiny, the never-ending push west deeper into Native American territory.
   But the venue and the holiday weren't enough for Trump to make his point. He extolled his favorite muscle man Andrew Jackson, son of the south, public hero for defeating the British at New Orleans in the last battle of the War of 1812, and the bane of the Cherokee and Choctaw during “Indian Removal” as he sent them on the Trail of Tears in 1831-1833 (Choctaw) and in the harsh winter of 1838-1839 (Cherokee).
   Of course, for the most part Native Americans, especially the Navajo in the Southwest, have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic due to their underfunded health care system from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and chronic medical conditions among many tribal members. The Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota, however, have garnered extensive coverage of their embrace of science and effective measures in preventing the spread of infection. No wonder that tribal leaders were concerned about the rally and its draw of Trump supporters from beyond the immediate area, potentially sparking a virus outbreak. “The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe (as quoted in Time Magazine).
   Perhaps a less obvious insult was Trump's blatant disregard for the danger of wildfire. Fireworks have not been held at Mount Rushmore since 2009 due to fire concerns. The Ponderosa Pines surrounding the monument and their devastation by a Japanese Beetle infestation make the area particularly susceptible. Native Americans, of course, revere the natural world. But an impressive fireworks display was high on Trump's list, and so to hell with anyone's concern about wildfires.
   Of course, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem was all in for the Trump rally. She refused to endorse or enact regulations providing for social distancing (the seats in the natural amphitheater were tied together) or masks, making her complicit in the slam against the roughly 71,800 Native American citizens of South Dakota. That said, as if Trump needed much assistance in his steam-roller approach to inviting himself into a Covid-19 hotspot or a controversial location for one of his rock 'em sock 'em rallies.
   However, the president did receive some assistance in adding insult to injury that day from the National Guard and from Trump supporters. As anti-Trump protesters, most who were Native American, were pepper sprayed (and 15 were arrested), Trump supporters, ironically, yelled, “Go home.”
   They were home, on sacred ancestral land.

Rensberry Publishing Company / Copyright - 2020 

Further reference:
Trump uses Mount Rushmore address to rail against removal of monuments
Native Americans and Mount Rushmore
The Horror of Trump's Wounded Knee Tweet
Trump's Mount Rushmore fireworks show is a Fourth of July attack on Indigenous people
Whose Independence Day is it?
American Indian Protesters Told to “Go Home” by Trump Supporters at Mount Rushmore