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Native Americans protest Trump’s Mt. Rushmore rally

In a fiery speech, President Trump railed against “angry mobs” that were trying to “tear down statues” at a rally at Mt. Rushmore on Friday. Despite warnings, there were few facemasks and little social distancing at the event, which saw protests by Native Americans on roads leading up to the site. Chase Iron Eyes, Special Adviser to the Oglala Sioux tribe president joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I spoke with Chase Iron Eyes, special advisor to the president of the Oglala Sioux tribe about the protests and President Trump's visit.

    Chase Iron Eyes, I know that some of the concerns leading up to the protests were that the president and the administration never asked permission from the tribes to hold the event there and that the land has been ruled by the Supreme Court as your land rightfully, that the United States has stolen. What happened? What do you think was accomplished with the protests?

  • Chase Iron Eyes:

    Well, a lot of times over the past 500 years, Indigenous voices have been completely ignored or deliberately brushed under the rug. So that sometimes that's the only way our voice will be heard is if we offer our bodies and we place our bodies in harm's way like we did at the Dakota Access Pipeline, like we'll do at the Keystone Access Pipeline.

    The religious radical right terrorists who support our current great white father, President Donald Trump were out in full force yesterday so we had to let the entire world know that when a man of ill character, according to our treaty, a bad man among the whites, whenever he plans to come into our sacred land without so much as a courtesy call, then we know that a man like that lacks the proper civil decorum. He could have called one of our tribal leaders or some of our chiefs and relayed that message because he knows because of his own laws, his own court system.

    And quite frankly, our own courts system since 1924 when we had American citizenship imposed on us, whether we wanted it or not. So all of the constitutional rights and national rights that inhere to American sovereigns also in here to us as American Indians.

    But we have an ancient a priori and sovereign right to say who can and can't pass through our territory according to the 1851 and 1868 treaties, which are much newer than our United States Constitution. I might add all of these rights, including our treaty rights in our tribal Indian rights that predate the English language here in this hemisphere. Sometimes that's the only way we have to communicate to the world is to say, look, it this means so much to us, our children's rights to clean water and healthy ecosystems and having land back in 2020 because the Black Hills 1.3 million acres are federal lands.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is also happening in the context of tension between tribal nations and the state government on measures you're taking to make sure that the coronavirus doesn't spread.

  • Chase Iron Eyes:

    You know, it's all connected, sir. Not only Trump's visit, but the deliberate visit that Governor Kristi Noem says we are literally not going to social distance. We're not going to concern ourselves with other people's health and well-being. We're going to do the opposite of that.

    And the health and safety checkpoints that not only the Pine Ridge Reservation but the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Lower Brule. It's the law of the nation. The Sioux nation.

    This is the only way that we're going to be able to hope to survive another Eurasian plague and out of our European brothers and sisters either they feel extra brave because they survived so many plagues. But we as Indigenous nations have a very direct memory of what we went through with smallpox, cholera, Spanish flu. I mean, it hits us harder because we haven't been exposed to those things for that long.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yesterday, the president spent quite a deal of time talking about how he wants to preserve statues and monuments and how he wants to enforce those laws. One of the subtexts was that if protesters got their way, Mount Rushmore would be demolished or destroyed in some way.

  • Chase Iron Eyes:

    Yes, sir. That's a very important question that cooler heads need to think about because some people want to blow it up. And some people want to worship it like their gods. And so somewhere in the middle of that, we need to have a frank truth-telling and a reconciliation so we can go forward in this country together. We need to decide should we add another face? Should we leave it alone? Because if we destroy it, that is also an act of desecration.

    Even the Crazy Horse monument, though, that is one of our guys, it's still an act of desecration to do something to the natural universe that wasn't designed to be that way. But right now, we need you to be deciding who can we celebrate and in what manner can we celebrate them? Because all of the prior statues are usually monuments to slavery, genocide, and racism. And if I'm an American European, I can't get away from that. So besides telling only the good things about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt, we also need to tell the truth about these men. And maybe we should consider celebrating and idolizing women at this point.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Chase Iron Eyes, thanks so much for your time.

  • Chase Iron Eyes:

    Thank you, sir.

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