In his book Lies Across America, James W. Loewen examines monuments that falsify or distort American history. He makes an excellent case that these sites, displays, and statues, with their explanatory brass markers, are the physical equivalent of a textbook or documentary. They teach people—children on a field trip, travelers, anyone who passes by—what we believe to be true.
In other words, these monuments are "pop" history. People learn—or more accurately, don't learn—what happened from them. Because they spread the same distorted message as novels like Huck Finn, Western movies, and superhero comic books, they're a good subject for analysis.
Knock ‘em down!
A score of Loewen's monuments are so bad he says they deserved to be toppled. He lists these monuments in an appendix to his book. Among the "Bottom 20" are three addressing Indians:
Loewen also nominates any statue honoring Christopher Columbus, who instigated genocide against the Indians. To which I can only say amen.
Other monuments we might topple include the statues of the continents atop the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Of course, Loewen doesn't really want to topple monuments, and neither do I. It's probably more instructive to leave them standing, along with an explanation of their flaws. I can just imagine parents telling their children, "Look how we used to falsify and romanticize our history just to make us feel good about ourselves. Wasn't that silly?"
Native people might have their own nominations. Surely some would mention the colossal Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. Since Crazy Horse was a spiritual leader who didn't want his image captured, many people want this monument stopped. They say it's as much a desecration of the sacred Black Hills as Mt. Rushmore was. Naturally the Anglos have continued carving, saying they're "honoring" Indians while ignoring the Indians who feel dishonored.
Do you have any suggestions for Indian-themed monuments we should add to the list of candidates to be toppled? If so, e-mail me with your ideas.
The silliest sites
Loewen also has designated The Top Ten Silliest Historical Sites in America. Four of them deal with Native Americans:
1. Beginning in the West: Columbus "Discovers" Sacramento.
2. A "Most Horrible Indian Massacre" in Almo, Idaho.
5. Muscatine, Iowa, Honors Red Men Who Can't Join.
9. Those Stupid Indians! — Selling Manhattan for $24 Worth of Beads!
Note the overlap between the best monuments to topple and the silliest sites or monuments. Clearly, a silly site is likely to deserve being toppled.
Monuments to topple in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Town wants Indian-slayer statue with its "savages" plaque
FSU statue depicts black student in Plains Indian headdress
Historical society wants "hostile Indians" marker restored
Connecticut Indian killer called "an authentic state hero"
Statue shows white teacher enlightening Indian youth
Sculptor says Oñate statue "honors history, not heroes"
School for cultural destruction is nominated as a landmark
EPA mural shows Indians attacking naked white women
More on monuments to topple
Mexico honors Indians, US doesn't
No tipis at Mt. Rushmore?
A modern-day Ońate
Monument to a murderer
Thoughts on The American
Roadside Indian stereotypes
America's shrine to hypocrisy
Monument is no accident
"Degrading" statue replaced
Tribes meet at Mt. Rushmore
Billionaire gives to monument
Dueling monuments in Black Hills
Crazy Horse lives!
Ońate or The Equestrian
"The Equestrian" glorifies conquest
What Mt. Rushmore tells us
Newcomb: Bush at Mount Rushmore, ‘The Shrine of Hypocrisy'
The feel-good national museum: reviews of the National Museum of the American Indian
NYC museums showcase Indians
Southern California Indians on display
Native vs. non-Native Americans: a summary
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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
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