LEONARD: Political Prisoner

Mr. Bear Runner Goes to Rushmore

July 03, 2020 Man Bites Dog Films Season 1 Episode 2
LEONARD: Political Prisoner
Mr. Bear Runner Goes to Rushmore
Show Notes Transcript

To commemorate July 4, 2020, President Trump is traveling to the Black Hills of South Dakota to give a speech in front of Mount Rushmore. But for the Lakota, the Black Hills are sacred. And the carvings of the four Presidents represent a desecration of their history and culture. As Edgar Bear Runner, a Lakota tribal historian, puts it: “Mount Rushmore is a shrine to racism. A shrine to genocide.” 

Episode 2: "Mr. Bear Runner Goes to Rushmore"

IKE PAPPAS:
Another Dawn rises over Mount Rushmore over Washington and Roosevelt, Jefferson and Lincoln. 

VO:
This is Ike Pappas, a journalist for CBS News who reported from Mount Rushmore in 1970.

IKE PAPPAS:
But it also rises these days over a small band of American Indians who cling not only to the craggy edges of the mountain, but to the hope that someday this land will be theirs again. The Indians about 30 of them have been here since last weekend, when against federal regulations, they set up a camp on the mountain side, close to the Memorial. They claim these black Hills of South Dakota are legally theirs by treaty and they have come to take them back. One of their leaders is Lehman Brightman, president of United Native Americans, an Indian protest group.

LEHMAN BRIGHTMAN:
Well, first I should say the federal government said this land would belong to us as long as the grass grows and water flows and the sun shines. Then six years later, they sent General Custer into this area on an expedition and they discovered gold here in the black Hills. Then they turned around and took this land from us. We're sick and tired of sitting back and turning the other cheek and then bend over and get those other two kicked. You're going to see some wide awake, educated Indians. We've got some new Indians coming up, new warriors. This is a breeding ground right here. You're going to see a lot of spark.

VO:
You’re listening to LEONARD—a new podcast series about Leonard Peltier, the longest-serving political prisoner in American history. I’m Rory-Owen Delaney.  And I’m Andrew Fuller. 

We’ll be getting back to Leonard’s story in the next episode. But today we’re going off on a little tangent. Donald Trump is in South Dakota this week to give a Fourth of July speech in front of Mount Rushmore. So we decided to do an episode about what Rushmore means to the Lakota.

To people like Leonard, to people like Edgar Bear Runner and Chase Iron Eyes and Lehman Brightman, Mount Rushmore is akin to what confederate monuments are to the descendants of slaves. 

This isn’t a perfect example. But Mount Rushmore is sort of like if, after whites murdered 300 Black people and burned down their houses and businesses, the KKK replaced Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a mountain-sized statue  featuring the faces of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.

But Black Wall Street became a holy place where Black Americans built wealth and culture and identity after slavery was over. Mount Rushmore, though, occupies—literally puts white faces—on the oldest, most sacred land in the Sioux universe: the Black Hills. 

As Peter Matthiessen writes in his book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, “the Black Hills—an outcropping of ancient limestone and granite, roughly 40 by 120 miles—are considerably older than Mount Everest; they are as old, perhaps, as any geological formation in North America… Indians were drawn to the dark hills, a shelter and a hunting place for deer and birds and buffalo in winter, a source of stone implements and medicine plants and sparkling clear water.”

And beginning in 1927, in violation of a treaty between the Sioux and the Federal Government, Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln, began turning those life-giving hills into a monument to the very people that stole it. 

Chase Iron Eyes:
We want our president, our great white father to know that the Sioux nation intends to welcome him. 

VO:
This is Chase Iron Eyes, the Oglala Sioux activist, writer, and lawyer who’s been fighting for Indian sovereignty generally, and Leonard Peltier’s freedom specifically, for decades. We talked with him last week the day episode 1 premiered, and we’ll be hearing more from him later in the season.

Chase Iron Eyes:
We must send diplomats. Our one of our current presidents, president Julian Bear Runner has expressed his interest in meeting with president Donald Trump, as well as calling for the, the, the removal of the Mount Rushmore monument. And since we are in a point of truth telling in our country and all of the monuments to the genocide, the slavery and the ongoing oppression, not only of us, but every single working American that deserves healthcare. Deserves a right to live. Deserves not to be put at risk by extractive patriarchy, whether that be by poisoning our water or outright jailing or having Ku Klux Klan members kill those who oppose this racist rule. 

VO:
When Rory and I were in South Dakota last year, Edgar Bear Runner, our guide around the Pine Ridge Reservation—our guide around his people’s land—took us to see Mount Rushmore. Back in 1970, Edgar had visited the camp where the Rushmore occupiers were staying—including Lehman Brightman, whom we heard from at the top of the episode.

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
Yeah, in the fall of 1970, I came here from the state of Kansas as a student, um, in a big class called, uh, intercultural relations. Uh, it was, students made up of different backgrounds, ethnic, cultural backgrounds, and we each divided up into tasks to, to find an issue. that relates to our culture relations. And so I chose, or I advocated, to come here to find out why it was being occupied and to hear it, kind of, I always want to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. 

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
The history of this is, uh, anti-Indian. There's no, there's no benefits. And it doesn't well serve the shrine of democracy. This is the shrine of racism. This is the shrine of genocide, presidents who authorize the mass killing of Native American communities throughout Turtle Island that they felt was in the way of migrant production and ownership of the new lands. And here in South Dakota the illegal building of these four faces behind me was legitimized by the federal government bought and paid for by the Klan. Supposedly, it's supposed to represent me and you's shrine of democracy. But, uh, that never is really a picture of reality.

VO:
A little while before this audio was recorded, as we were making the drive toward Mount Rushmore, Edgar elaborated on the appalling history of the “shrine of democracy.” 

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
It churns and turns my stomach as a, when I come to the Black Hills acknowledging the fact that, uh, uh, in reality, all these businesses, uh, all the non-Indians in the Black Hills are illegal occupants and illegal users of the assets of the Black Hills. The lands and all the minerals and all that. It's an unresolved issue. The state is collecting taxes on all this land, all these resources. We're not getting a penny for it. This is our land. The 1868 treaty included the Black Hills as part of the treaty land.  

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
Mount Rushmore got its name from a gentleman from KKK attorney in the New York city area. In the early 1800s, a Klan attorney, uh, doled out cash from his pocket, so to speak, and started the activities at Mount Rushmore. Then it, it wasn't named Mount Rushmore, but the federal government eventually took over the construction of Mount Rush the faces in honor of John Rush, the Klan attorney. In doing so they used his Rush last name and called the mountain Mount Rush More. And so they glorified the KKK. This is a KKK monument. It's not a shrine of democracy. That's bullshit. Uh, it's a desecration of a treaty and sacred lands belonging to, uh, the great Sioux nation and it allies. All right, that's it. Cut.

VO:
Edgar isn’t exaggerating. The Federal government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868 establishing the tribal territory of the Sioux and their allies—including the Black Hills and what is now the Pine Ridge Reservation. But the government only upheld its end of the bargain for six years. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the early 1870s, and General George A. Custer led a military expedition to explore. Soon White miners were flooding in to prospect. 

As conflicts between the invading miners and the Sioux escalated, the Whites demanded military protection. And the Army obliged. In 1877, even though the Sioux still own them on paper to this day, the U.S. seized the Black Hills outright.

Then in 1923, half a century after the Black Hills were first stolen from the Sioux, a South Dakota tourism agent came up with the idea of decorating one of the granite escarpments in the Hills with several monumental sculptures. 

And he enlisted the support of Gutzon Borglum, a sculptor—and member of the Ku Klux Klan—who’d earned his reputation carving an enormous stone relief of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.  Not in Tulsa, but on Stone Mountain—just east of Atlanta.

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
They're not my presidents. It's an insult to our injury to, to see those faces desecrating sacred lands protected by the 1868 Treaty.

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
They should’ve made correctness and carve images of Crazy Horse and Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, but, uh, that, that day will never happen. And so the mountain that, uh, was built, uh, without the consent of the treaty land stakeholders here at the Black Hills. It was built because we brought shame to the United States government when we killed General Custer. Uh, everything started going wrong for us. Congress illegally in breach of our treaty started giving our treaty lands to the state of South Dakota. And nobody challenged them that they did was illegal criminal, unconstitutional, and in violation of our treaty. 

Roosevelt Impersonator:
Now, this behind me, is not a national park, nor is it a national monument. It is a national memorial, a memorial to four presidents. 

Rory:
So this is a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator?

Edgar
I don’t know what’s going on.

Roosevelt Impersonator:
Why is George up on this mountain?... He's our first president and he knew he was the first and he knew how important it was to be the first because everything he did as president, the setting of precedent, was being done for the first time ever… He had to turn the presidency peacefully over to the next fellow. 

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
He doesn't even talk about the Indians or treaties. Disregard for all that.

Roosevelt Impersonator:
Now in my opinion, Jefferson was an average president. Now I will give you that he was a very good writer. He had a way with words.

Roosevelt Impersonator:
Theodore Roosevelt has to admit makes Jefferson deserving of being on this mountain. What is that one thing? Louisiana Purchase. Exactly right. He snookers old Napoleon in a great land deal. He doubles the size of our country to be. 

Roosevelt Impersonator:
Lincoln, in his short time as president, accomplishes many things.

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
Glorifying Lincoln.

Roosevelt Impersonator:
So Mr. Lincoln accomplishes one thing above everything else that makes everything else he did possible….Not the emancipation proclamation. If he does not accomplish this one greater thing, the emancipation proclamation was just a piece of paper. He was the leader, he saved the union. He melded the Union together for sure... But because he was who he was, we are the United States of America.  

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
This is the mentality we're up against. They really believe what they're talking about. They psych themselves out to believe that it's really that way, uh, disregarding, uh, who's land this was before the desecration. And so we continue to share a generational mentality of Western colonization under the gun and the Bible. And they claimed, cleared the land for, uh, for, uh, for America. 

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
We would disagree with, uh, a good portion of his presentation here. Uh, leaving out, uh, how the migration ended up here. It was mean, it was very racist. But, uh, it's an unresolved land issue that faces us today. The unresolved land issues that we don't recognize the federal courts setting up, uh, a medium for us to complain about the value of our stolen land. That's bullshit. We shouldn't even be there. 

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
The memory of coming back, coming here in the fall of 1970. Our group came to Black Hills. We came to Mount Rushmore. We stayed overnight. Uh, we interviewed, uh, the occupants. We had to, uh, sneak up on top of the Hills. 

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
We had to sneak down on the side and come around the Southern way. Way on this side, and then make our way up here. When I got there, I peed on Lincoln's forehead. I was so proud. Uh, I, I had the privilege and the opportunity to, to, uh, urinate on, uh, President Lincoln's face up there on the forehead. I was really happy. I yelled and hollered. I did such a great deed, uh, to an Indian killer, to a president who ordered the hanging of our essential leaders and spiritual men.

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER:
So my DNA is up there.

VO:
Next time on Leonard: Political Prisoner: Edgar takes us to the scene of the shootout on Pine Ridge where he intervened as a mediator and bought time for Leonard to escape.

This podcast is produced by RoryOwen Delaney, James Kaelan and Andrew Fuller. It was written, recorded, and edited by us. 

Thanks to Bobby Halvorson for the original music we’re using throughout the series. Thanks to Peter Lauridsen and Sycamore Sound for their engineering assistance. Thanks to Paulette D'auteuil at the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.

Thanks to Kathy Peltier and Anne Begay and Rigo 23 for welcoming us into their family. Thanks to Edgar Bear Runner for guiding us through his land and his history. And thanks, most of all, to Leonard Peltier. 

To get involved and help Leonard, call the White House at 202-456-1111 and request immediate clemency from President Trump. For more information, go to whoisleonardpeltier.info or find us on social media. @leonard_pod on Twitter and Instagram, or facebook.com/leonardpodcast.

This podcast is a production of Man Bites Dog Films LLC. Free Leonard Peltier!