A Lakota protester who was detained while leading a protest before former President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore last year said he has reached an agreement with prosecutors to have the charges against him dropped.
Nick Tilsen, the founder of the NDN Collective, an Indigenous advocacy group, told The Associated Press that he would engage in a jail rehabilitation program in return for the dismissal of all charges against him except one. He hailed the agreement as a win for Indigenous activists who have been campaigning for the return of public lands under tribal jurisdiction.
Tilsen declared, “It’s a win for the revolution.” “Any attempt to prosecute the movement’s founders and leaders is a ploy to disrupt the movement.”
Once he completes the program, the final penalty, simple assault on a law enforcement officer, will be dismissed, he said, adding that charges against other protestors will be dropped as well.
The State’s Attorney’s office in Pennington County did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that the charges had been dismissed.
Tilsen had helped organize a rally near Mount Rushmore on July 3 to demand that the Black Hills, which had been taken from the Lakota despite treaties with the US, be returned to their jurisdiction. The region is sacred to the Lakota people and is known as Paha Sapa, which means “the heart of all that is.”
After using vans to create a blockade on a road leading to Mount Rushmore, law enforcement officers, including the South Dakota National Guard, confronted the demonstrators. As police approached the blockade, demonstrators fought back, and Tilsen grabbed a shield from one of the officers, according to the Rapid City Journal.
According to the Rapid City Journal, Tilsen was not charged with physically attacking police, but rather with using “physical menace or credible threat” to place them “in fear of immediate bodily harm.”
Prosecutors’ decision to dismiss most charges, according to Tilsen, demonstrated the success of a campaign coordinated by NDN Collective. According to Tilsen, they collected over 20,000 signatures on an online petition and submitted hundreds of letters and phone calls to the prosecutor’s office.
Tilsen said, “It’s wonderful that we’re having a social and racial reckoning in this country.” “It’s also about land for Indigenous people and the Lakota since Mount Rushmore is constructed on stolen land and carved by a KKK member.”
The monument was built in the 1920s as a tourist attraction for the new holiday craze known as the road trip. Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, persuaded sculptor Gutzon Borglum to abandon his plans for the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia, which was to honor Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.
According to historians, Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan when raising funds for the Confederate monument.
Tilsen’s calls for the closure of Mount Rushmore have enraged Gov. Kristi Noem and other top Republicans in the state. She has vociferously defended the memorial, which is so deeply ingrained in the state’s culture that it appears on almost all license plates.
This month, the governor told Fox News, “Those four men carved into Mount Rushmore are profoundly significant to our heritage.” “Earlier this year, there was a campaign to demolish them. They had to be safeguarded.”
The National Park Service, on the other hand, has announced that it would not allow the state to stage another fireworks show on July 4 this year, citing both safety concerns and local opposition. Noem, on the other hand, has stated that she will continue to fight for the Independence Day show.