Last week the students in my American Sacred Space class read “Sitting on Teddy Roosevelt’s Head” in John (Fire) Lame Deer’s book Seeker of Visions. Lame Deer (with co-author Richard Erdoes) wrote the chapter during the 1970 occupation of the Mount Rushmore Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Lame Deer’s essay brought into focus for the students a monumental clash between two visions of sacred land, a traditional Lakota experience of the Black Hills as the sacred center of their universe, and the US evangelical patriotism of American civil religion. This clash has defined a long history across the American continent of conquest, dispossession, colonization, genocide, and desecration, as well as the resilience of indigenous peoples to sustain sacred traditions.
Lame Deer went up the mountain in 1970 to plant a sacred staff, a symbol of reclamation and resacralization. Eventually national park officials escorted him and the other protesters off the mountain. And although the US Supreme Court agreed in 1980 that the Black Hills had been wrongfully taken from the Sioux people, the vulgar monolithic visages of four US presidents still scar the sacred land, attracting throngs of patriotic tourists like ants to a fallen piece of candy.
I guess Custer lost the battle but won the war.
[Daily post 077 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨