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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crazy Monument

Yesterday I found and downloaded a program to let me convert all my old word-processing documents that were created in a now-obsolete program into rich text format so that I can keep reading my files forever. I found a description of a trip we took to South Dakota several years back, and I want to comment further on what happened there.

We had stopped at the Crazy Horse monument on the way to Mount Rushmore. It's a big ripoff, my husband and I decided, not dedicated to nor honoring the Indians so much as a promotion of the late sculptor and a way of supporting his large family. He had ten children, and seven of them supposedly are finishing the mountain sculpture after his death more than 25 years ago. But in 60 years since the beginning of this project (started in 1948), only Crazy Horse's face and part of an arm has been done. "On principle" they say they refuse all government money offered, because the sculptor felt the monument should not be paid for by taxpayers, but by "the people." I wonder what the difference is in his mind? My husband commented that the monument and accompanying visitor's center constitute nothing more than a meal ticket for the sculptor's family, and they postpone things indefinitely due to "lack of funds." They definitely do not want governmental regulations and accountability.

They've built a lot of really beautiful, large, knotty-pine buildings up there in which to live and work and raise their large families. They also display artifacts and crafts of Indian tribes from all across America, so that is where they try to dupe the public into thinking they're philanthropic and sympathetic toward the Indians. They charge $20 to park your car, another $15 if you want to ride a bus to get near to the monument, and a mere $120 if you want to get in a helicopter to fly around it for 15 minutes.

You can see everything about the monument from the highway without going in and spending a dime, but you don't know that unless someone else tells you or you try it and find out the hard way. They never tell you anything about the life of Crazy Horse or help anyone understand why he was chosen as the model for this monument over all the other North American Indian chiefs; they don't even give you his original Indian name which I would have liked to learn; their little film is all biography of the sculptor and his family and what they've done, which amounts to very little when all's said and done.

In my mind, it was just another vast exploitation of the American Indian by the white immigrants, and in the sculptor we had an actual immigrant himself to complete the irony. I bought a mug because they said gift item purchases went toward supporting the tribes that create the gifts. I wonder how many cents the Indian tribe that made the mug got out of the $11 that the mug cost me?

Long after my trip was over, I looked up the monument on the web and found that there is even some opposition by leading Lakota people who point out that carving up a beautiful wild mountain into an image of a chief who never allowed himself to even be photographed or drawn in life is completely opposite the spirit of Crazy Horse himself.

The ironies in almost every aspect of this monument are rich, but they leave a bad taste in the mouth. For me they tainted a part of an-otherwise wonderful trip with a sense of shame at the way selfish people take advantage of others.

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