American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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KEY QUESTION

How should Native American history be recognized by the public?

Title: Crazy Horse Memorial
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Monuments and memorials are one mode of recognizing the invaluable contributions made by an individual or group in U.S. history. This photograph shows a statue of the Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse in the foreground. Known for his expert leadership and courage, Crazy Horse led a combined contingent of Sioux and Cheyennes in their defeat of Gen. George Custer and troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn. In the background, a partially completed sculpture of Crazy Horse has been carved into the Black Hills in South Dakota. Backed primarily by private donors, the towering sculpture has been at the center of heated debate about the appropriate way to honor Native American history. The sculpture itself has already proven to be a well-visited tourist attraction; however, some Native Americans contend that Crazy Horse would not have approved of such a memorial since he fought to retain the sanctity of the Black Hills from the government's mining interest. Moreover, they argue, Crazy Horse was never photographed, so reproductions of him appear inauthentic.

A wide range of perspectives exist on the subject of how to honor Native Americans. Even with the designation of November 2007 as "American Indian Heritage Month," controversy swirls around the question of Native American nomenclature, or naming conventions. Some contend that there is no difference between referring to someone as "Native American" or "American Indian." However, others suggest that because the term "Indian" was an inaccurate name from its inception, it should be avoided at all costs for the more benign "Native American" or even "Native peoples." In light of these current controversies and the long history of conflict and discrimination experienced by indigenous peoples in the United States, how should Native American history be recognized by the public?

 

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