Monuments and Mosques: A Debate Over What’s Sacred (An American Indian’s Perspective)

In CrazyHorse Memorial, Ground Zero Mosque, Guest Posts, I Am Not A Mascot, Sacred Spaces by Adrienne K.8 Comments

CrazyHorse Memorial, South Dakota
(Image source.)

AK note: Today’s posting comes from Simon Moya-Smith, the author behind I Am Not A Mascot. Simon is Oglala Lakota, writes for the Denver Post, and offers engaging and poignant commentary about what it means to be a contemporary Indian in America. You can also follow him on twitter, @IAmNotAMascot. 

So the controversy – for the moment – is over the mosque slated to be built near the site of the World Trade Center bombings in New York City. Don’t you worry, though. We’ll get back to that ugly immigration debate momentarily.

None the less, I feel compelled to share some not-widely-known wisdom with my mosque-naysayers, for if there’s one thing citizens in this country get instantly aroused by it is some good old American Indian wisdom, so here you go, folks:

Since time immemorial, the Black Hills in South Dakota have been a holy place for the Lakota Sioux – my people. And to the Lakota the Black Hills is where Life began. Although the story of creation significantly differs between Sioux and Christians (our messenger from The Creator came in the form of a woman) Paha Sapa is not unlike Christianity’s Eden in its significance.

But here is where today’s debate over the mosque and my peoples’ sacred site come together: It didn’t matter to the Christians, those innumerable settlers who came west seeking gold, land, riches and religious freedom (ironically) that the Black Hills was our holy site, our sacred location, our Jerusalem. No. What mattered was that their monument – Mount Rushmore – be chiseled into it.

And the key word here is “on,” not “near.” The American Muslim community wants to build their 13-story mosque near the World Trade Center bombing site, not on it. Only if we – American Indians – were lucky enough to have seen Christians build their much coveted religious institutions and monuments to their leaders near our holy sites, and not on them.

And for some odd reason, the desecration of the Black Hills continues in the form of the Crazy Horse monument, still in construction. Although it is said that Lakota councils support the depiction of the never-photographed war leader on its rock face, I remain of the opinion that Crazy Horse would want his likeness carved into the Black Hills as much as a priest would like someone disfiguring his cathedral.

Sadly, and much to my chagrin, there seems to be no stopping in sight for the desecration of American Indian sacred locations. Take DIA in Colorado for example.

Denver International Airport, built in 1995 and residing only 20 minutes east of downtown, is on sacred Indian burial ground, and it now appears the city is considering a $1 billion facelift of the airport including the construction of more facilities.

Albeit, if the voices of protest aren’t speaking loudly enough, the spirits most certainly are.

Pass through any one of the concourses at DIA – especially Terminal A – and one will detect the subtle, familiar sounds of American Indian flute. The high harmonies play on a continual loop, serenading frequent fliers from out camouflaged speakers behind glass cases displaying old Indian trinkets and blouses.

These flute tunes aren’t there to pay homage to the plains Indians that once inhabited the area. Nor do they play to create a “Welcome to the West” ambiance for airport patrons on layover to Seattle. No. The Indian flute plays to pause the pranks and creepy occurrences that sweep the facility.

During construction, innumerable unexplained phenomenon occurred at DIA, and reportedly continues today 15 years after its unveiling. In the late 1990s, airport big shots summoned Colorado American Indian elders to place blessings on the airport in a last ditch effort to rest the restless spirits and mitigate the often frightening, reoccurring events airport staff were reporting on a consistent basis.

In 2000, paranormal researcher Dennis William Hauck placed Denver International Airport on his list of spooky spots around the world in his book “The International Directory of Haunted Places.” Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, the principle matter still looms: A building was constructed on a sacred site.

Christians obviously feel they have the constitutional right to build what they want, where they want, when they want. I find it most hypocritical that the same Christians who are for building edifices on sacred Indian sites are the very same voices of opposition regarding the erection of a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero.

So I present the obvious: Why not build a mosque near the hallowed grounds of the WTC? American Indian holy sites are desecrated by Christians all the time.

I am one of the last few true natives in this country, and I don’t expect many – or any outside of Indian Country for that matter – to subscribe to or even comprehend this rare perspective. But for the sake of doing away with double standards, I think this unfortunate reality for Indian peoples was worth pointing out today.

OK. Now back to the immigration debate.

Still Not A Mascot,

-Simon Moya-Smith

See the original posing here:
I Am Not A Mascot: Monuments and Mosques: The Debate Over What’s Sacred (An American Indian’s Perspective)

(Thanks Simon!)
PS-Want to see your writing on Native Appropriations? I’m always looking for guest posts. Send an idea, completed piece, or any questions over to Don’t hesitate, just do it!
  • You’re welcome, Adrienne! Thank you. -SMS

  • hmm. this is an interesting post. Although i completely and totally agree with the analysis affecting native peoples sacred sites, I think it is inappropriate to relate it to the Mosque. It implies that nahsayers are correct in saying “defamation” when they are not. A Mosque near ground zero would not in anyway defame Ground Zero. It is a racist, and ignorant belief. Similar to the belief that guided people to desecrate our lands in the first place.

  • This was incredibly well-written and moving. Thank you for sharing it.

    Part of the problem here is that the Christian right has been allowed to frame this debate (and many others). And so they frame it as an issue of ‘respect’ when the bottom line is that they really wish that all other faiths would just go away. Or, if we must insist on continuing our heathen ways, that we do so with suitable shame and hidden away out of sight. It’s the same reason that they feel no issue desecrating sacred sites. But as long as one side gets to frame the debate, then it won’t be equal.

  • Great post! I had a similar reaction when first hearing this mosque/ground zero debate: If Muslims can’t build mosques near ground zero, then Christians can’t build churches anywhere *near* a reserve after the residential school era. (Outrage!!!)

  • I’ve seen people use the argument that the Black Hills, Mount Blanca (and the other 3 cardinal mountains), Blue Lake, Duluwat Island, etc can’t possibly be sacred to the various tribes because they only came to the area in 1600 or 1750 or whatever the alleged year was, so that somehow automatically negates the site as sacred to the tribe. As you say, I can’t help but feel that those who have argued like this are probably the same ones calling the World Trade Center site hallowed ground. What’s the time frame and criteria on making something sacred or “hallowed?” Is there a handbook somewhere? Maybe a good parallel is the Mystic massacre site, which up until 9/11 was the largest single massacre in US history, and it’s now a (white) residential neighborhood. If they’re saying the WTC site is hallowed ground for the numbers that died there, why isn’t there a similar criteria on building at the Mystic area site? (And historians are currently excavating the Mystic area for artifacts from the 1637 war, and are having to reassure the residents that the Pequot tribe can’t come in and take back the land as theirs.)

  • It upsets me that Mt. Rushmore was even built. I just think it’s such an ugly “monument”, and the original mountains were probably infinitely more beautiful. I’m a geology minor, so to me, the thought of defacing a mountain like that is horrifying.
    I’m white, but I’ve never ever connected with that as a monument and always thought it was really stupid that they blasted off a perfectly good mountain and put some faces on it. Ugh.
    I didn’t know it was a sacred Native American site, and that just makes me really angry and upset, that we would steal something like that and turn it into such a ridiculous tourist attraction instead of what it was originally.

  • The reason Christians, and many other people, don’t want a mosque to be built there is because it was the Muslims that killed the hundreds of people in that spot, and now they consider it “holy ground” because so many people were killed by their religious group! It’s not the fact that they want to build a place to worship, but the reasoning behind it. Imagine if a few Christians went and killed hundreds of people, then wanted to build a church where they did it. There is no way people would stand for it! So why, then, is it ok if Muslims do it?

  • Great post! I agree with this, because it’s true. The same people arguing against it are the same people who would allow themselves to be the exception if this was something they wanted to do. I really, really hate double standards, and those who work to uphold them.

    Thanks for the post.