In the belief systems of more than sixty indigenous nations, the Black Hills are considered the center of the world. So it was painful to see the area plagued by tourists for Mount Rushmore - the faces of four white men carved into spiritually sacred land. According to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Oglala Lakota Nation has territorial claims to the Black Hills, but the land was stolen from them several years later in pursuit of gold—which the Supreme Court conceded in 1980, ruling that the land was seized illegally. Rather than return the Black Hills as requested, the U.S. government sought to compensate the Lakota people with money; the Lakota rejected the offer and the government and private landowners continue to hold on to the land.
A hundred miles east of Mt. Rushmore is the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, Wounded Knee was home to a Lakota community, 300 of whose members were indiscriminately murdered by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in the massacre of 1890. It was the same 7th Cavalry that was defeated by the Lakota and other tribes, led by Chief Crazy Horse, fourteen years earlier at the Battle of Greasy Grass, commonly known as Custer’s Last Stand.