Rushmore superintendent leaves after controversial tenure

Gerard Baker (National Park Service photo)Gerard Baker, the first Native American superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, is leaving his post to become the first ever assistant director for Indian relations for the National Park Service.

The announcement has caused some to laud his achievements and mourn his departure, and others to celebrate the end of a leadership style that they considered overreaching.

Baker introduced many Native American displays and educational opportunities to the memorial. The new additions serve as a reminder that, although the men whose faces are carved into Mount Rushmore accomplished some great things, their record concerning Native Americans was not great. The new additions also serve to remind visitors that the Black Hills are considered sacred by some Native American tribes and were taken illegally by the U.S. government. Many Native Americans and people of other races have celebrated Baker’s efforts to introduce more diversity to the memorial.

Others think Baker’s efforts were misplaced. The memorial was built to honor U.S. presidents and U.S. democracy in general, they say, and should be limited to that purpose. They also point out that there is a Native American-themed mountain carving under way at Crazy Horse Memorial, and they say Baker’s efforts should have been focused on that mountain.

For more on the debate over Baker’s time as superintendent, click here to read a column by Oglala Lakota newspaperman Tim Giago.

Another aspect of the debate is Baker’s handling of a stunt pulled last year at Mount Rushmore by a group of Greenpeace activists. The activists breezed past whatever security was supposed to be in placed, climbed to the top of the mountain, and unfurled a giant banner protesting global warming next to Lincoln’s head. It was an embarrassing episode, and in the aftermath, the security measures at Rushmore were found to be lacking.

After such a tumultuous period, it’ll be interesting to see who leads the memorial next, and how that person approaches the job.

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association's Better Newspapers Contest. Seth's day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota's state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.

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