Mistake on the Mountain
By David B. Conrad, Axia College of University of Phoenix
Osayimwense Osa (M.A.Ed. D) November 9, 2006
The Crazy Horse Memorial has a glaring error and it is time to stop!
Can you imagine if Mount Rushmore had been sculpted with George Washington picking his nose? It would be an outrage to have such an unethical pose sculpted in stone forever. What would it say for the culture of our people? Surely, someone would not knowingly create a monument of such proportion in an unethical pose.
There is a sculpture dedicated to the Native American Indian People currently under construction in an unethical pose. The Crazy Horse Memorial started in 1948 by Korczazk Ziolkowski is located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. This controversial site is sacred to many Sioux People. The memorial depicts the great Oglala Sioux warrior Crazy Horse on horseback throwing his left arm out over his horse’s head pointing with the index finger in answer to a question asked by a white man, “Where are your lands now?” Crazy Horse replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” When completed it will be the world’s largest sculpture, at a height of 563 feet and a length of 641 feet. At more than three times the height of Niagara Falls, it is larger than the Pyramid of Giza and far larger than Mount Rushmore. This monument could soon become the largest oversight in history.
In 1939 Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to the prolific sculptor Ziolkowski stating, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” In a story by Mitchell Smyth, Toronto Star (1999) page 1, Mitchell Smyth states, “Standing Bears ideas weren’t too ambitious. He wanted the sculptor to carve the head of a chief.” It is here that we see where the oversight began; it is the fact that Korczack Ziolkowski took it upon himself to make the sculpture in the pose with the index finger without consult; perhaps an honest mistake by a white man.
The pose of the Crazy Horse Memorial is considered unethical to the traditional Native American Indian, and cannot be perceived as historically correct. It is true that many American Indians have assimilated into contemporary American culture. It is not the fault of Indians they lost cultural values. One could say for sure that many American Indians also use profanity and this would be true. To state a known fact, not one profane word exists in any American Indian language. Historically speaking the traditional American Indian does not use profanity, and does not point with the solitary index finger.
In A Study of Cultural Differences in Non-Verbal Communication Among Non-Native Speakers of English by Barbara Jane Carlisle Ed. D, Northern Arizona University (1993) Carlisle cites.” In Mexico one points with the chin, whereas American Indians and certain other people point with the lips.” (Eisenberg & Smith 1971). The elder brother of Chief Henry Standing Bear, Luther Standing Bear, wrote a book published in 1926 titled My People the Sioux. On page 51 Luther Standing Bear writes, “When the scout pointed he used his thumb instead of the first finger.” It is important to note that Chief Luther Standing Bear is an Oglala Sioux, the same tribe as Crazy Horse, and lived in the same period. In a book written by Irvy W. Goosen, Dine’ Bizaad; Speak, Read, Write Navajo (1995), on page eight Goosen states “Your model will likely point with the whole hand. Pointing with a finger is considered unethical, especially by the older people. “Clearly this is evidence that traditionally American Indian people do not point with a solitary finger. There are many articles to support this fact.
There are as many reasons for not pointing with the fingers, as there are tribes. It is accusatory in almost every culture. Most of us teach our children not to point, it is rude behavior. There are many cultures of the same opinion. It is however a social norm in the modern day culture of the United States of America to point with the index finger.
To be culturally and historically correct the pose of the Crazy Horse Memorial should be changed. To be correct the hand should be open with all fingers pointing outward or pointing with the thumb as described by Sioux Chief Luther Standing Bear. The construction of the monument at this time would allow for such change. Construction of the hand has not yet begun, as Korczack Ziolkowski said to his wife in his last words before death, “You must work on the mountain -- but go slowly so you do it right.” www.crazyhorse.org (2006). The progress has been slow and there is time to keep with Korczack’s wishes to do it right.
Crazy Horse was chosen as the model for this monument although there have never been any pictures taken of him; he did not allow it. He was chosen because he was a great warrior and chief. Here are the reasons why from the web site of the memorial.
“He is a hero not only because of his skill in battle, but also because of his character and his loyalty to his people. He is remembered for how he cared for the elderly, the ill, the widowed, and the children. His dedication to his personal vision caused him to devote his life to serving his people and preserving their valued culture.” http://www.crazyhorse.org 2006
Preserving their valued culture, which is what this, is all about! It is Crazy Horse’s vision of preserving valued culture; it is what should be done. No matter how you feel about the monument, one fact remains, a monument being constructed in the Black Hills and it will likely be there as long as mother earth. It will stand the test of time and become one of the wonders of the world; it should stand historically and culturally correct to the people that it is dedicated . To quote Ruth Ziolkowski wife of the sculptor Korczack Ziolkowski, “This is not a memorial to one man, but to a race of people.” Indian Country Today (1996) page B1. Many people of the American Indian race do not point with their fingers to this day. If we are to dedicate a memorial of such magnitude to a race of people then it is our duty to make it culturally and historically correct.
When it is said that “we” are building a monument, there is a reason behind that statement. It is not only the dedication of the Ziolkowski family and their crew of workers constructing the greatest sculpture in the world. The public is funding the Crazy Horse Memorial. The Ziolkowski family has turned down millions upon millions of dollars from the federal government to complete the sculpture. Therefore they leave it up to us to fund the project as individuals through admission fees and private donations. Therefore, it is “us” the general public, who are in essence hiring the Ziolkowskis to construct a memorial to the Native American Indian People of North America. We should then show them that we have respect for the cultural values of Crazy Horse and his people and we wish to have the monument changed. We can do this by personally visiting the monument, which is located outside of Custer, South Dakota just minutes away from Mount Rushmore. We may wish to send them a letter and offer them a donation, if they will change the unethical pose. The address is Crazy Horse Memorial, Avenue of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, South Dakota, 57730. We may also send them a facsimile message to Fax # (605) 673-2185. Alternatively, call them personally; ask to speak to Ruth or Cassimere. Their phone number is (605) 673-4681. We can also write them a letter and send it via e-mail. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Changing the face of the earth with a monument that will stand for eternity should be done with dignity and respect to the people it represents. It will be up to us to make sure that this is done. Please help to preserve the cultural history of the American Indian People and take a few minutes to let the Ziolkowski family know how we feel about the construction of the monument.
© Copyright 2006, David B. Conrad
A college on the mountain an impossible dream of sculptor? (July 22, 1996) Indian Country Today Vol.16, Issue 3; pg. B1 Oneida, N.Y.
Carlisle, B.J. (1993). A study of cultural differences in non-verbal Communication among non-native speakers of English (pp. 19)
Frequently asked questions about Crazy Horse Memorial (n.d.) (pp.1) Retrieved October 12,2006, from
Smyth, M. (Oct.30, 1999) Carving a dream; an entire mountain is being remade into the world’s largest sculpture. Toronto Star (pp1) Toronto, Ont.
Standing Bear, L. (1926) My People the Sioux. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press Cambridge.
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