Work continues on the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo: Thomas Hawk
Tim Giago: Not all Lakota people are happy with the 'memorial' to Crazy Horse

Notes from Indian Country

What is going on at Crazy Horse Memorial?
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from Casimir Ziolkowski, the son of the famous sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Korczak is the man who started to carve the image of the great Lakota warrior Crazy Horse on Thunderhead Mountain in the Sacred Black Hills of the Lakota in 1948.

He said he did so at the request of a Lakota Chief named Luther Standing Bear.

Casimir asked if I would meet with him because there were a few things he wanted to discuss. I met with him over a cup of coffee in a local restaurant shortly thereafter and we had a good visit. He had several concerns including the fact that he had been fired from his job on the Mountain.

He had been working with his father since he was a small boy and it was always everyone’s belief that he would be the one to finish the carving on the Mountain. But apparent differences between him and his sisters eventually led to him to being fired from the job.

He said, “They wanted me to do more public relations and I said no.”

I’ve known Casimir since he was a boy and the one thing he wanted to stress is he did not want to ever say anything that would harm the project at Crazy Horse Memorial. He had the deepest respect for his father Korczak, his mother Ruth and his sister Ann. All three have passed away.

Ruth took over running the project after the death of her husband. She was great at public relations and could be found walking the grounds or in the restaurant at all hours of the day just talking to people. Ann took the same approach. Everyone loved Ann.

There is no project in the world that can lose three such key people and not feel the consequences. Casimir was very concerned and we will get together again in the near future to talk about it again. It took a lot of soul-searching and courage for him to call me in the first place.

In Lakota country one soon discovers that nothing comes easy. We (Lakota) are famous for arguing about everything. If you don’t know the old “crabs in a bucket” theory look it up because most young Lakota of today know it well.

For example, there have been controversies following the Ziolkowski’s and the Mountain since its inception.

Elaine Quiver, a descendant of one of Crazy Horse's aunts, said in 2003 that the elder Standing Bear should not have independently petitioned Ziolkowski to create the memorial, because Lakota culture dictates consensus from family members for such a decision, which was not obtained before the first rock was dynamited in 1948. She said:
“They don't respect our culture because we didn't give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are. They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But it wasn't meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it's a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us.”

Seth Big Crow, whose great-grandmother was an aunt of Crazy Horse's, said he wondered about the millions of dollars which the Ziolkowski family had collected from the visitor center and shops associated with the memorial, and "the amount of money being generated by his ancestor's name.” He said:
“Or did it give them free hand to try to take over the name and make money off it as long as they're alive and we're alive? When you start making money rather than to try to complete the project, that's when, to me, it's going off in the wrong direction.”


Many years ago I wrote a column asking why at a Memorial dedicated to Crazy Horse there were none or few Native Americans working there. Ruth responded a little angrily, but later recanted and said, “Tim’s right. We should have more Lakota people working here.”

I also questioned why the short movie they show in their little theater about the history of the carving always referred to Crazy Horse as “the Indian” instead of just using his name. They did make the adjustment and even hired the great Lakota Olympic champion Billy Mills to have a speaking part in the movie presentation.

And so they have experienced some growing pains and endured some criticism because when they did have a great Indian historian like Donavin Sprague working there and he offered some constructive criticism he was fired. And now they continue to make mistakes because they do not have a traditional Lakota elder on hand as an advisor.

As you read in the remarks of Quiver and Big Crow, not all Lakota are pleased with Crazy Horse Mountain because it has not been fully explained to them. I think Casimir feels the same way and we will talk about it in the near future. In the meantime, go to the Mountain and enjoy its beauty and don’t be afraid to ask cogent questions. Even Korczak would agree with that.

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com. Giago was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and the initiator of the Year of Reconciliation and Native American Day in South Dakota. He was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation.