CUSTER, S.D.– South Dakota is bringing in more resources to fight a wildfire that burned Thursday near Mount Rushmore ahead of next week’s visit to the monument by President Donald Trump for Independence Day celebrations.
The fire that started in Custer State Park on Wednesday has burned an estimated 150 acres (61 hectares) about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of the 79-year-old stone monument.
Gov. Kristi Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, said South Dakota Wildland Fire Division is leading a multi-state, multi-agency effort to fight the forest fire, the Rapid City Journal reported.
The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center tweeted Wednesday evening that eight aircraft were deployed to fight the wildfire and that hotshot crews, or highly-trained firefighters, from Wyoming and Colorado were mobilized.
Trump is planning to attend a fireworks display at the monument July 3, but some wildfire experts have raised concerns the pyrotechnics could spark fires, especially because the region has seen dry weather this year.
Noem has said that event planners are hoping for rain this week, but are monitoring fire conditions and would decided if it is safe to set off fireworks
Trump’s plans to kick off Independence Day with a showy display at Mount Rushmore are drawing sharp criticism from Native Americans who view the monument as a desecration of land violently stolen from them and used to pay homage to leaders hostile to native people.
Several groups led by Native American activists are planning protests for Trump’s July 3 visit, part of Trump’s “comeback” campaign for a nation reeling from sickness, unemployment and, recently, social unrest. The event is slated to include fighter jets thundering over the 79-year-old stone monument in South Dakota’s Black Hills and the first fireworks display at the site since 2009.
But it comes amid a national reckoning over racism and a reconsideration of the symbolism of monuments around the globe. Many Native American activists say the Rushmore memorial is as reprehensible as the many Confederate monuments being toppled around the nation.
“Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism that’s still alive and well in society today,” said Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of a local activist organization called NDN Collective. “It’s an injustice to actively steal Indigenous people’s land then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed genocide.”
While some activists, like Tilsen, want to see the monument removed altogether and the Black Hills returned to the Lakota, others have called for a share in the economic benefits from the region and the tourists it attracts.
Trump has long shown a fascination with Mount Rushmore. Noem said in 2018 that he had once told her straight-faced it was his dream to have his face carved into the monument. He later joked at a campaign rally about getting enshrined alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. And while it was Noem, a Republican, who pushed for a return of the fireworks on the eve of Independence Day, Trump joined the effort and committed to visiting South Dakota for the celebration.
(AP Photo/Stephen Groves)
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