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Crazy Horse Or Crazy Money: A Letter To Governor Noem

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Dear Governor Noem,


My name is Chase Dollinger and I am a member of the Chinook Tribe, located near the head of the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon. Although I do not live full-time on a reservation, I have seen the troubles that plague Native American communities up close, particularly with my own tribe. From alcoholism to obesity, reservations nationwide have become hotbeds for poverty, disease, and addiction. Once flourishing communities have been transformed into third-world wastelands, forgotten by society and the government that “promised” to help them. Across the continental United States, thousands of tribes are fighting to reclaim their independent identity and inherent human rights. With that in mind, I write to you today to draw attention to the Lakota people and call upon you to take action to ensure that Lakota voices are heard and recognized so that they are not destined to be just another forgotten page in a history book.


In your own backyard, just a mere four-hour drive and 140 miles away from Pierre, sits the Pine Ridge Reservation, the home of the Lakota people. With the lowest life expectancy in the United States at 66.81 years and an unemployment rate of 89%, the Pine Ridge Reservation is the perfect example of the horrendous treatment and living conditions of neglected indigenous communities (Re-Member). Tuberculosis and diabetes are rampant within the community (eight times higher than the national average), which coincides with a poverty rate of 52%, an 80% alcoholism rate, and the unbelievable fact that 25% of the Lakotas’ children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome (Red Cloud School). The reservation is the size of Delaware yet has limited to no access to medical care, sufficient education, employment opportunities, and basic living necessities (hot water, etc.). Do the Lakota people deserve to live in squalor with the constant threat of extinction from entities outside of and within their reservation? Do these 18,834 souls deserve damnation? No. No one ever deserves to live like this. And sadly, the injustices that blight the Lakota people are not confined to the Pine Ridge Reservation, as just a mere two-hour drive southeast at the Crazy Horse Monument, Lakota voices and spirits are being trampled by greed and decades-old lies. Thus, I argue a crucial, symbolic step you can take to redress over a century of mistreatment is to use your gubernatorial powers to rectify the mishandling of finances of the Crazy Horse Monument and to return responsibility of this site to the Lakota people.


As I imagine you know, Chief Henry Standing Bear commissioned the Crazy Horse monument in the 1930s to rival the construction of Mount Rushmore and prove that the “red man deserves heroes too.” Crazy Horse represents unrelenting heroism and the importance of pushing back when faced with insurmountable injustice. He died fighting for his land and his people and tried with every ounce of his strength and willpower to ensure the survival of his culture. After the death of Korczak Ziolkowski, the chief sculptor, in the 1980s, his wife and children were able to finish the face of Crazy Horse, but no other progress has been made. That was in 1998.


As a New Yorker reporter discovered, in 2018, the Memorial Foundation brought in over 12.5 million dollars excluding the commodities sold, and over 77 million dollars in net totals, yet no progress has been made to the monument (New Yorker). If the monument is bringing in millions of dollars along with millions of visitors each year, why has construction been halted for 25 years? And why have the Lakota people yet to receive a single cent? Beyond monetary value, this monument proves to be an important symbol for the Lakota people and indigenous communities nationwide. If completed, it will provide the Lakota with a constant source of income and a hero of their own. No longer will they have to look at their sacred hills and only see the faces of leaders who forced them onto confined land. Although the problems on the reservation are immense, allowing the Lakota people to complete this project would be a step in the right direction and demonstrate that natives are no longer second-class citizens in a country that was (and still is) rightfully theirs.


After reading Not My First Rodeo, I learned about the amount of time and effort you put into recultivating a national spotlight on Mount Rushmore and ensuring that South Dakotans can honor some of our nation’s most outstanding leaders freely. From lobbying the Bureau of Land Management to even President Trump, your political savvy, determination, and true grit have illustrated your effectiveness. Moreover, as a woman of faith and a farmer's daughter, I know that you recognize the importance of taking care of our shared land, honoring those who have come before, and ensuring that future generations have even greater access and opportunities than we do. The Lakota deserve the same access and right to not only survive but thrive as well, so I call upon you, the powers of your administration, and the great state of South Dakota to make a much-needed change. As you have shown in the past, this is not impossible. And after reading the State Constitution of South Dakota, I have learned that your office has the power to regulate corrupt and out-of-control foundations and propose legislation limiting their influence and power. Additionally, your office holds the unique and extraordinary ability to foster conversations with tribal leaders, elevating them to positions of authority within these organizations that will allow for real action and accountability to finally take place.


Therefore, I think it is vital for a conversation between tribal leaders and you, no outside organizations or the Ziolkowski family, to take place. Lakota voices have been suppressed for far too long, and certain individuals have taken advantage of this silence. So, in order to make meaningful changes, you must ensure that you are working directly with the citizens of the Pine Ridge Reservation and that their concerns and opinions are heard and valued. What’s the point of helping a group if you don’t listen to their needs and respond to their suggestions?


Moreover, I encourage you to work with the Crazy Horse Monument Foundation and press them to expand leadership seats to Lakota representatives. By putting these leaders in that space, they will be able to determine the best course of action for the Lakota people, oversee the flow of money, and ensure that every penny goes to furthering the tribe and creating a better future for an ignored and suffering community.


Lastly, you must ensure that any economic profit from the monument will go toward the tribe. A probe into the Crazy Horse Monument Foundation and the Ziolkowski Family Trust is vital to guarantee that the tribe is not further exploited. This will establish a more transparent apparatus that outlines how proceeds are raised through tourism and donations, resulting in a system run by the Lakota for the Lakota.


Even in this day and age, Native Americans are just as vulnerable as ever. And in an ever-changing world, indigenous communities are being left behind and forgotten. Through your interference in the Crazy Horse monument development, you can allow the Lakota people to have new economic, social, and political opportunities that permit them to no longer feel ashamed of their heritage. By symbolizing loyalty, resistance, and pride, Crazy Horse represents the desire for freedom and the expression of identity for not just the Lakota but Native Americans nationwide. It is important to remember that Native Americans are not just people of the past; indeed, they can make meaningful and unique contributions to society when given the opportunity. The Lakota deserve a chance to live; please give it to them.


Hayu Masi (Many Thanks),


Chase Dollinger


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