Rushmore Project and Tact

I’ve started off with my research into Mount Rushmore again, and this time around I’m using the web and reaching out to strangers for assets that I can hopefully use to create timelines and flash montages. It’s a bit difficult, because a number of the folks that I’m encountering and reaching out to are Native Americans. I actually prefer the Canadian term, First Nations peoples. However, my undergraduate days were close by the St. Regis Reservation in northern New York State, and the Mohawks I knew from a couple of my classes just preferred to be called ‘Indians’, as un-PC as that term has become.

I never know how much to say. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one answers me. In many ways these letters are requests that are being cast out as a net to see what I can gather together. Collaboration is a big part of the social changes that the Internet has unleashed, so it’s in the spirit of global collaboration that I’m actually looking for photos from other individuals.

My topic, however, borders on an exposé. I am talking about well known historical facts… well known to historians and those whose lives are directly touched by Mount Rushmore’s murky past, that is. Penn and Teller did an episode on their series ‘Bullshit!’ which was the first time that I myself became aware of the controversy, so there’s more than a few of Penn and Teller’s viewers who also know that Mt Rushmore has more to it than just an icon of the American Dream…. it’s wrapped up in racism and Manifest Destiny and the abject historical greed of the United States. Our very own ‘Free Tibet’ issue, as one commenter to the blog so aptly compared things.

Tact vs. Guilt

I don’t want to come off as guilty when I approach these strangers. I don’t really feel any personal sense of guilt when I think of the Mount Rushmore controversy, but I do feel a bit of an obligation to have both sides of the story well represented, and it seems that so very few people know about the snarls in the development and execution of the monument itself.

At the same time, I did study Mohawk for two semesters in college. (The language is extremely difficult, but I can still sing ‘The 10 People’, which we used as a mnemonic for counting …. to the tune of ’10 Little Indians’).  My teacher was a woman named Kaseiwaian, which translates in Mohawk to ‘the Winnower’, or ‘She separates the wheat from the chaff’. She was part of an Alcoa grant-funded effort on the St. Regis Reservation to preserve Mohawk language.

Two semesters of it, two semesters of trying to learn how to speak Mohawk, and in the end I didn’t do so well. However, myself and another white student actually were given Mohawk names by Kaseiwaian in our second semester. Mine is Rotewe, or ‘he is happy’.  It was a nice gesture, and I was doing ceramics at the time, so I made Kaseiwaian a plate that I carved with a wolf’s head on it and the word ‘Iako:kwaho’ on it, for ‘She is wolf clan’, although Kaseiwaian told me I got the grammar wrong.  😉 Collegiate macaroni art, I guess.

In any case, I walked away from those two classes with a deep and abiding respect for the culture of the Mohawk in specific, and the rest of the First Nations by extension. That respect was deep enough that I honor them by *not* walking the Amerindian path spiritually or culturally. Heck, my ancestors stole their land and dignity, no need for me to take their culture. Besides, I can be white and still be respectful, appreciating without adopting.

I just hope that I can communicate that respect as I basically send out the word that I’m looking for photos, videos, podcasts, scans, etc. of media which relate to the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) and Mount Rushmore itself.

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