Few monuments seem more patriotic than South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, so you might think it’s the perfect place for a July 4 celebration. President Trump’s plans for a July 4 fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, however, are being criticized by Native Americans who view the monument as a profane symbol of the land stolen from them. Native American groups are planning protests for the president’s visit on July 3, which is also slated to include a fighter jet flyover.
Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and president of the NDN Collective activist organization, said, “Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism that’s still alive and well in society today. It’s an injustice to actively steal indigenous people’s land then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed genocide.”
And it’s not just Native Americans who take issue with the celebration.
In a statement, the Coalition to Protest America’s National Parks said, “While we fully understand the desire to celebrate the founding of our nation, shooting off fireworks at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is ill-advised and unsafe, particularly as we continue to grapple with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.”
And beyond the risks associated with crowds in the time of a pandemic, there are serious environmental issues surrounding the event.
The fireworks display at Mount Rushmore was stopped in 2009 out of the concerns that it could lead to wildfires in the forested land around the monument. This year, dry conditions make the event very risky, explains South Dakota News Watch. The statement from Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks also explains that, in the past, the event was linked to “pollution of groundwater which has gradually been improving since the cessation of the event in 2009.”
It’s highly unlikely, however, that Trump will take either group’s grievances into account.