“The white man will never be alone. Let him be just, and deal kindly with my people. For the dead are not powerless.”
― Chief Seattle, The Chief Seattle’s Speech
“…[Y]ou cant steal nothin’ from a white man ’cause he stole everything he’s got. He owes you anything you want, even his life.”
A classic episode of the 1960’s TV sitcom “Leave It To Beaver” featured the young lad, little Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, as his family prepared him to take his first solo, cross-country bus ride to visit relatives. The Cleaver clan was all a-flutter over the upcoming journey, and the Beaver himself was particularly eager to sally forth under his own steam to not just see but experience America. They all were especially concerned about what the young Beaver would wear on his trip. As I recall, at one point the at times anxious but excited Beaver said something like this: “A guy’s gotta look right when he’s exploring his country.”
Frederick Douglass’ Fourth of July
On July 5, 1852, escaped slave-cum-abolitionist leader, author, fierce women’s rights advocate, widely acclaimed and sought after speaker, Marshal of Washington, D.C., Minister and Consul General to Haiti, and advisor to presidents…Frederick Douglass, famously demanded of a still budding alienated European colonial project and aspiring “republic,” “What to the slave is your Fourth of July?” (Originally and officially the speech was entitled, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”).
It is Douglass’ most memorable utterance because he laid bare the Janus-faced hypocrisy of the whole idea of “America.”
Douglass’ speech has come down to us as a classic in oratory and rhetoric. Understandably, his focus, of course, was on the four million enslaved black people throughout the South (and the nearly 500,000 nominally “free” African Americans interspersed throughout the nation-state).
But Douglass could have (and arguably should have) mentioned the violent dispossession, oppression, repression, and, finally, the not quite total genocide of this land’s original inhabitants, the indigenous “Native” Americans. After all, for countless eons and ages (some historians say as many as 40,000 years) America’s original original “settlers” worked, played, lived, died, but above all, owned this vast and rich land before so-called “white” Europeans ever even knew it existed.
The Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and Donald Trump
And so, this weekend it is beyond hypocritical that Donald Trump hosted an “Independence Day” rally, complete with banned fireworks in the shadow of Mount Rushmore, part of the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. That monument features four dead, white presidents, each of whom in his own way helped to steal “Indian” lands, repress and eventually force them into America’s sterile and dessicated hinterland, otherwise known as “reservations” or “Indian Country.”
Native Americans have consistently opposed the Mount Rushmore monument as a supremely white racist and white supremacist eyesore in the middle of their most sacred ground. Of course, the land and the hills and mountains were themselves violently stolen outright and shamelessly from them, once gold was discovered in “them thar hills” in 1876.
Harold Frazier is Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation, and has said that the entire monument must be removed because “Lakota see the faces of the men who lied, cheated, and murdered innocent people whose only crime was living on the land they wanted to steal.” And Oglala Sioux president Julian Bear Runner insisted that Trump “doesn’t have permission from its original sovereign owners to enter the territory at this time,” and said that Trump’s rally is more akin to a Ku Klux Klan meeting and is “going to cause an uproar.”
Mount Rushmore represents an ongoing desecration of Native American culture, religion, politics, economy…and life. And even more outrageous is the fact that the Black Hills are situated just a few miles from the site of one of the most ruthless, most cruel and certainly bloodiest massacres of “Indian” people in all of “American” history: Wounded Knee.
And then there is the Indigenous Environmental Network which issued a statement demanding removal of the monument and expressing outrage over Trump’s plans, which will only further contaminate and desecrate this Holy Ground.
“President Trump’s Fourth of July visit to Mt. Rushmore is a continuation of Indigenous resilience and history being erased from national dialogues. This spectacle is nothing more than a reminder that settler colonialism is alive and well,” said the network.
“Make no mistake, this visit is an attack on Indigenous people,” wrote Nick Tilsen, president of NDN Collective and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
Tilsen, likewise, further condemned Mount Rushmore as “a monument to white colonizers carved by a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer into land stolen from us by the U.S. government in 1877.”
And so, old Fred Douglass may be forgiven for not mentioning the ongoing theft of Native lands. He certainly understood well enough, though, that that particular atrocity — the systematic clearing the land of its rightful human owners and, by Euro-American lights, all other “unnecessary” flora and fauna — was a necessary precedent for the expansion and institutionalization of black slavery — all done in order to properly “develop” stolen property.
Neither the fictional Beaver Cleaver, however, nor his family, nor any real, live and honest persons who think that they are “white” (including most especially Donald Trump), and who insist that they came into “possession” of this land in an honorable manner, by honorable means, and with honorable intentions — that person or persons do not deserve our indulgence, understanding…and certainly not our forgiveness.