PIERRE, S.D. — In a letter penned to President Joe Biden, South Dakota's governor accused the National Park Service of "reneging" on an agreement to launch fireworks off at Mount Rushmore this coming Fourth of July.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem asked for the Democratic administration to allow the "long history of celebrations of American independence" to continue with pyrotechnics at the mountain sculpture.
The letter Noem sent on Tuesday, April 13 — President Thomas Jefferson's birthday — also lays out a series of rebuttals to a previous letter issued by a National Park Service employee to the state that noted potential fire hazards, pandemic-related caution and tribal concerns as reason to prohibit this year's fireworks display.
"The NPS sent a letter listing several reasons why they believe a fireworks celebration would not be safe or responsible this year," says Noem, "but the facts and data tell a very different story."
Noem cited contact tracing "weeks after the event" that "could not trace a single case of COVID-19 to the event." She also pointed to an NPS report that suggested "the event would not harm the natural environment of the Black Hills."
Regarding "tribal concerns," the Republican governor cites two Lakota performers — storyteller Darrell Red Cloud and hoop dancer Jasmine Pickner-Bell — who participated prior to the 2020 fireworks show that drew a speech from then-President Donald Trump.
"We would consult with tribal leaders for this year's event and again invite them to join us to celebrate America's birthday in 2021," Noem said.
But reached by phone on Tuesday, Red Cloud — a fifth-generation descendant of Chief Red Cloud — rebuked Noem as "uneducated" for invoking his performance in her plea to re-host the fireworks to the Biden administration.
"The reason I went last year wasn't in support of fireworks or in support of Trump for that matter," Red Cloud told Forum News Service. "I was there to give the message to the United States of America that the Black Hills is on stolen land, illegally taken by the U.S."
Pickner-Bell, who has danced at Mount Rushmore for twenty years and traveled internationally to perform, also told FNS she resented hearing that her name was invoked in the governor's letter.
"She (Noem) could destroy my name in my community," said Pickner-Bell. "She did not have my permission to use my name."
Pickner-Bell said she received "death threats" after performing prior to the July 3, 2020 fireworks and was not even made aware about Trump's appearance at last year's event until a day ahead of the event.
"I had no interest in actually performing for him," continued Pickner-Bell, who said her performance at Rushmore is to remind visitors "they are on sacred ground."
Asked if he wanted to see fireworks at Rushmore this year, Red Cloud said he was opposed to such demonstrations given the history of persecution of tribal people at the hands of the U.S. government.
"I think no fireworks should happen in the Black Hills or around the Black Hills, or in South Dakota, or in this country for that matter, especially being an indigenous person," said Red Cloud, who teaches Native Studies at Oglala Lakota College.
In March, Bert Frost, a regional director with NPS, wrote to South Dakota's tourism secretary calling off this year's fireworks, saying a 2019 memorandum between the state and the Department of Interior "commits us to work together to bring fireworks back to the Memorial in a safe and responsible manner."