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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 20 - Minneapolis

Before going into detail on our day in Minneapolis, I want to quickly reflect on yesterday again. This evening, while lounging in soft grass à côté d’ one of Minneapolis’ 22 beautiful lakes, we discussed the events of the past few days.

We take in so many sights and sounds each day that it’s virtually impossible to process them all. Some of the things I’ve seen are troubling, and questions stick with me for days after our visit to a site. Often it’s hard for me to feel a closure – even temporary closure – until we’ve discussed the issues and events of a certain day.

Here is a summary of some of the points that I’ve been thinking about/conclusions that I’ve drawn:

  • Regarding Mount Rushmore: I was initially disappointed at the size of the sculpture, and felt a bit let down as we walked up to it. Watching movies such as Richie Rich have definitely influenced my perspective of the monument prior to my visit. In this particular children’s film, the sculpture is used as the backdrop for an action scene involving explosives. I believe someone dangles from Lincoln’s nose and one of Washington’s pupils is a hatch window to which you can only get by way of a secret tunnel. I was expecting the faces to be monolithic!

    However, despite my disappointment, it was comforting to hear a new perspective from Jenny and Emma, who had walked down the concrete-paved “nature trail” and situated themselves comfortably on a sunny bench. Jenny said she overheard one family talking in depth about American history, especially the founders. The mom was quizzing her son on Lincoln trivia, and apparently the little tike could rattle off quite an impressive spiel on the former President. Jenny pointed out that even though the monument may not have been very impressive to either of us, she appreciated it because it offered an opportunity to open up a dialogue about American history and our forefathers. I thought that was a really neat insight.

  • Regarding Crazy Horse: This sculpture will be the largest in the world when it is finished, and will honor one of the Lakota’s most revered warriors. It’s impressive, for sure, but its context is somewhat controversial in my opinion. Here’s why:

The project was commissioned by Lakota elders (Crazy Horse was a Lakota warrior) in order to show that “the red man has heroes too.” The United States (as well as much of Europe) has a history of commemorating great citizens by building statues, monuments, etc; they are meant to attract the attention of all who pass by. But this isn’t the Native American way.

When we visited
Wounded Knee, I was in awe of the lack of signage, the wildness, the general playing down of the whole cemetery and memorial. I walked on narrow dirt paths through the 2,000 sq. foot grass plot surrounded by a sagging chain link fence, taking in the graves one by one. Two by fours outlined most of the graves, and, having pushing up through the dirt, wildflowers covered every inch. They were marked by a mixture of granite plaques and simple wood crosses, some of them so worn by the weather as to have become completely unidentifiable. Long, tattered strips of colored fabric danced deliriously in the wind, threatening to fly away from their little flag poles. A rusted arch marked the entrance to the cemetery but visitors opted to avoid the steep crumbling stairs under the arch and took the well-worn path to the side. The site was rugged, peaceful, and left completely to nature. I'm certain those blades of grass have never seen a mower.

This experience is exemplary of my concept of “the Native American way.” Many Native Americans seem to agree….the Crazy Horse monument has created much tension in the Native American community for several reasons.

For one, Crazy Horse is remembered as being a very modest, very reverent man. The mountain on which this memorial is being built is part of the Lakota’s sacred hills. Many Lakotans claim that he would not want to be remembered by way of a grand sculpture, and that he definitely would not want the sacred ground to be blasted away and shaped by humans.

For two, the project was started by Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish man and continues to be run by his wife and ten grown children. The orientation video shown in the Crazy Horse Museum featured several scenes of the crew working on the monument; not one of the workers looked to be of Native American descent, they were in fact very, very white. If the project was commissioned out of need to “show that the red man has heroes too,” wouldn’t it make more sense to see the red man designing and/or building the monument?

For three, the Ziolkowski family has dedicated the memorial to “all Native Americans.” However, as one Lakota woman explained, Native Americans do not identify themselves as one people. Each tribe is an individual nation, and they do not appreciate being lumped together to be honored collectively. The legacy of Crazy Horse is very important to the Lakota/Oglala people, but perhaps carries less meaning to members of other tribes.

On the upside, the grandiose figure is meant to serve as a backdrop to a huge Native American cultural center, complete with hospital, university, etc….A place where all tribes can send students to be educated in order to bring their individual skills back to their hometowns, and a place where the public may come to experience true Native American culture.

Now, for Minneapolis….

I liked the city a lot. My most favorite experience was at the Midtown Global Market. I was expecting one of two things: either (A) it was going to be over-priced, super organic food that tasted gross and furniture that was perhaps recyclable but exceedingly uncomfortable, or (B) it was going to be low quality, cheap imported goods that would fall apart the minute you walk out of the store.

It was neither, to my pleasant surprise.
The market is one very large, square building with concrete floors, set up like an outdoor market. In each stall I was immediately greeted by a friendly salesperson, a native of the country from which his/her goods came. The products were all of high quality and there was a good selection of local food, art, and clothing in each booth.

From an entrepreneurship perspective (my major is in International Entrepreneurship) it was a great opportunity to learn about how each vendor went about setting up his/her business. I didn’t have all that much time to chat, but I did get to speak with one memorable merchant, Peter, from Kenya.

Peter came here 10 years ago. When I asked him our staple question: “What does it mean to be an American?,” he thought long and hard, and then simply replied, “pride.” Nobody had ever asked him that before. When asked what unites us as Americans, he said, “our goals.”


  1. Peter's responses lead me to more questions than they answers! What do you think he meant by those two words (pride and goals)? Congratulations on making it to day 20 and on keeping such a reflective blog, Shirah.


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