Quelling the Native Americans

Usually in my Art History class I sit there for an hour and ten minutes and furiously take down five pages of notes, complete with little scribblings of the day’s slides. I usually leave the class with a blur of images and a few thoughts about the American sensibility, whatever that is. Today was different. We were talking about Native American art forms, and how the Native Americans were treated. My professor read a number laws and accounts of how the government dealt with the Native Americans. The idea was basically to outlaw their way of life so they would be forced to conform to our culture and our society. The government attempted to civilize the “savages.”

What I found horribly ironic is what America stands for and why many Europeans came here in the first place. They were fleeing religious persecution. Yet we still outlawed the religion of the Native Americans. My sense of justice and trust in the three branch system of American government has been violated. Doesn’t it seem like somewhere along the line somebody should wave a red flag when the first amendment is being violated? Perhaps I’m being a little naïve.

What really struck me is Mt. Rushmore. Four enormous heads are carved into a mountain side. The heads of four white leaders who helped found and establish this great country. Mt. Rushmore is near Rapid City in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Someone in my class mentioned that the Black Hills were sacred burial grounds for the Native Americans. We rip up the earth and gut a mountain to pay homage to our heroes, a glaring reminder to the Native American–on their own sacred land, no less–that we conquered them. I’ve always thought Mt. Rushmore was an odd attraction. Perhaps it’s just an arrogant symbol of American pride.

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