A Lakota activist who was arrested while leading a protest ahead of former President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore last year said he negotiated with prosecutors to drop the charges against him, which passed a sentence of almost 17 years in prison.
Nick Tilsen, chairman of an indigenous rights organization called NDN Collective, told The Associated Press he would participate in a prison diversion program in exchange for dropping all charges against him except a. He presented the deal as a victory for indigenous organizers who demanded that public lands that once belonged to tribes return to tribal control.
It’s a victory for the movement, Tilsen said. Whenever you try to sue the organizers and leaders of this movement, it is a strategy to try to weaken the movement.
The final charge, simple assault on a law enforcement officer, will be dropped once he completes the program, he said, adding that charges against other protesters will also be dropped.
The Pennington County State Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that the charges had been dropped.
Tilsen had helped organize the protest near Mount Rushmore on July 3 to demand that the Black Hills, which had been seized from the Lakota despite treaties with the United States, be returned to native control. To the Lakota people, the region is sacred and known as Paha Sapa, the heart of all that is.
Law enforcement, including the South Dakota National Guard, clashed with protesters after they used vans to blockade a road leading to Mount Rushmore. As law enforcement advanced on the blockade, protesters clashed with officers and Tilsen took an officer’s shield, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Tilsen was not charged with physically assaulting officers, but rather with using a physical threat or a credible threat to make them fear imminent bodily harm, ”according to the Rapid City Journal.
But Tilsen said prosecutors’ decision to dismiss most of the charges showed the effectiveness of a campaign organized by NDN Collective. They had gathered more than 20,000 signatures from an online petition and sent hundreds of letters and phone calls to the prosecutor’s office, according to Tilsen.
It’s great to have a social and racial account in this country, Tilsen said. For the native people and for the Lakota it’s really a land issue because you take Mount Rushmore well, Mount Rushmore is built on stolen land, carved by a member of the KKK.
The monument was conceived in the 1920s as a tourist attraction for the new vacation fashion known as road trip. South Dakota historian Doane Robinson recruited sculptor Gutzon Borglum to abandon his work creating the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia, which was to feature Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.
Borglum was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan while raising funds for the Confederate monument, according to historians.
Tilsen’s calls to shut down Mount Rushmore put him at odds with Gov. Kristi Noem and other high-profile Republicans in the state. She ardently defended the monument, which is so linked to the identity of the state that it adorns most license plates.
These four men engraved on Mount Rushmore are extremely important to our history, the governor told Fox News this month. We saw a movement to demolish them earlier this year. They needed to be protected.
However, the National Park Service said it would not allow the state to host another fireworks display on July 4 this year, due to both safety concerns and local objections. But Noem has indicated that she will continue to fight for the Independence Day display.
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