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Crazy Horse Memorial Generates Mixed Feelings - 2003-09-13

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Hundreds of people, mostly non-Natives, attended a special night demolition to further shape the massive natural stone carving at South Dakota's Crazy Horse Mountain Saturday, September 6. The event commemorated the anniversary of the Lakota Indian leader's 1877 death and the birthday of the late sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who began work on Crazy Horse Mountain in 1948. The completion of the Mount Rushmore Memorial to four U.S. presidents nearly a decade earlier prompted a Lakota elder to commission an image that would "show the white man that the red man has heroes, too." But, after 55 years of blasting, and with no end to the project in sight, Native Americans have mixed feelings toward the massive carving and the huge sums of money the Ziolkowski family earns from it every year.

When Crazy Horse was killed by another Lakota at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, on September 6, 1877, his legend lived on. For generations, his name has been a symbol to Lakota people of pride, courage and strength. Recognizing the power of Crazy Horse as a cultural icon, Lakota elder Henry Standing Bear asked Korzcak Ziolkowski to carve a likeness of the slain warrior in the sacred Lakota Black Hills. It was a likeness based on oral history, because Crazy Horse always refused to be photographed.

Korczak Ziolkowski died in 1982, 16 years before the face of the carving was completed. Millions of people have visited the 171-meter memorial, which has generated controversy within the Native community.

"I work here and I enjoy working here, and I think what is going on here makes me proud," said Clayton Quiver, who is a Lakota.

For some Native Americans, like Clayton Quiver, the Crazy Horse Memorial is not only a place for employment, but a place he says helps to balance hundreds of years of racism against his people.

Seth Big Crow feels less positive about the huge carving. His great-grandmother was Crazy Horse's aunt. Mr. Big Crow says he's resigned to the existence of the carving and rationalized that, in future years, it may be the American equivalent to the Easter Island monoliths.

"Maybe 300 or 400 years from now, everything will be gone, we'll all be gone, and they'll be the four faces in the Black Hills and the statue there symbolizing the Native Americans who were here at one time," said Seth Big Crow.

But Seth Big Crow is concerned about the amount of money being generated by his ancestor's name. Since Henry Standing Bear requested the mountain carving, the Ziolkowskis have built a complex of visitor centers and souvenir shops earning the family millions of dollars annually. Mr. Big Crow wonders if Henry Standing Bear's request was limited to a mountain carving alone.

"Or did it give them free hand to try to take over the name and make money off it as long as they're alive and we're alive? When you start making money rather than to try to complete the project, that's when, to me, it's going off in the wrong direction," he said.

The complex is listed as part of Korczak Ziolkowski's "expanded plan" for the site and, as noted on the memorial's brochure, "Crazy Horse cannot be experienced by driving past on the highway." The sculptor's widow, Ruth, and seven of his children work at the Memorial. Daughter Anne Ziolkowski's view on the controversy that the memorial has caused in Indian Country is blunt.

"Well, you're not gonna' please everybody," said Ann Ziolkowski. "I don't care what you do, you're not gonna' please everybody. If we offend people, we're very sorry. But we're doing what we were asked to do."

The problem, according to Crazy Horse descendant Elaine Quiver, is that Henry Standing Bear had no right to petition Korczak Ziolkowski to create the mountain carving in the first place. She says Lakota culture dictates consensus from family members on such a decision. Ms. Quiver adds that no one bothered to ask the descendants of Crazy Horse if they approved of the project before the first sticks of dynamite were blown on land sacred to the Lakota on June 3, 1948.

"They don't respect our culture because we didn't give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are," said Elaine Quiver. "They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But it wasn't meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it's a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us."

The Ziolkowskis have donated $500,000 to Native American students, an act Anna Ziolkowski says is part of her family's show of respect for the culture. But Elaine Quiver and Seth Big Crow both question what's become of the other millions of dollars collected at the Crazy Horse Memorial over the past 55 years. Mr. Big Crow says he's keeping an eye on the Memorial and, as for the money.

"One day when we go in front of the maker of all human beings, we're going to have to explain our actions as to why, and money cannot be part of the explanation, because I don't believe it'll be recognized," she said.

Photos courtesy - Crazy Horse Memorial

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