On July 4, 21 people were arrested during a protest against President Trump’s visit to the Indigenous Sioux tribe’s sacred land, Mount Rushmore.
Protestors, who were primarily Indigenous, placed “three large vans in the roadway to create a blockade to prevent access from Keystone to Mount Rushmore National Memorial” three hours before President Trump gave a speech at the national monument. Protestors cited the Trump administration’s actions and the U.S.’s continuous violence against Indigenous communities as the reason for their presence.
The protestors sprayed graffiti paint on the highway and eventually refused to disband. In response, the South Dakota National Guard, at close-range, shot shells, pepper spray, and pepper balls at the protestors, according to the Sheriff’s Office and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
In Trump’s speech, he claimed that the country was under siege by “far-left” fascists waging “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
In 1941, the Mount Rushmore carvings were created even though in 1980 the Supreme Court had ruled that the U.S. had illegally stolen land from the Sioux tribe. The monument was created by Gutzon Borglum, an American man who had ties to white supremacy. Lincoln, who is carved into the mountain, hung thirty-eight Sioux in Minnesota during the Dakota War of 1862. Mount Rushmore is carved into a sacred site that represents the ancestors of the Oglala and other Indigenous groups, according to the president of the Sioux tribe. The federal government has offered the Sioux people $1 billion dollars for taking the land but the tribe refuses this money, saying that they will only accept their land back.
Prior to the protests, Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner had written Trump a letter telling him that he was not welcome to the event “due to lack of consultation” with Lakota leaders. The event which had 7,500 people reserve their spots, and made it clear that it would not engage with social distancing and did not require masks.
Leaders of several Indigenous tribes raised concerns that the event could lead to COVID-19 outbreaks among Indigenous people, which is an especially dangerous disease for their communities due to an underfunded healthcare system and U.S. state violence against Indigenous people. “Our experts… are telling us that these are necessary steps to take in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s not just a threat to my people, but a threat to the land… and human life” Bear Runner said.