Protesters demonstrating against President Donald Trump’s arrival in the Black Hills for the Mount Rushmore fireworks display were met with resistance from law enforcement, pepper sprayed and arrested after they blocked a highway to the monument with vans for nearly three hours Friday.
Over a dozen protesters were arrested after blocking Highway 16A, or Iron Mountain Road, before President Trump was set to make his way from Rapid City to Keystone and then on the highway to Mount Rushmore. Several of those arrested prayed before being detained by law enforcement.
Protesters cited that the Black Hills are sacred to Native Americans and that Trump’s administration opposes interests of Native Americans and other minority groups.
Freddie Longworth, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, said that the problem is bigger than the current president, but that Trump was the catalyst.
“Respect our right to exist or expect our resistance,” he said. “We are orphans crying in the night and we will keep making noise until they hear us.”
The “orphans” to whom he is referring are all Indigenous people who were impacted for generations by broken treaties throughout United States history.
Some protesters dispersed after the South Dakota National Guard arrived on scene about an hour after protesters blocked the road and law enforcement declared it as an “unlawful assembly” over a megaphone.
While several law enforcement agencies responded wearing riot gear, tear gas masks and use of force weapons, they only shot-close range smoke shells at protesters’ feet and pepper spray into some protesters’ eyes.
According to protestors who declined to give their name, citing concern for state riot laws, the protesters tried to hold their position against the advancing National Guard, so they pushed back against the riot shields. This prompted law enforcement to use pepper spray against individuals as they pressed forward.
Good Voice Elk, a spiritual advisor for the Sioux, was among the older protestors. He said this was by no means his first protest.
“I grew up in protests,” he said. “The seventies were really bad, and those kids, now they are the leaders.”
Protesters ranged in age from senior citizens to children as young as 10. One girl was brought by her father from the Ute Mountain tribe in Colorado so she could experience Indigenous communities coming together.
At 6:30 p.m., law enforcement gave remaining protesters 30 minutes to disperse before they would arrest anyone left in the road. Shortly after 7 p.m., the National Guard largely held back onlookers and pressed in on protesters while the sheriff’s department moved in to arrest the 15 people who stayed.
“Today has been a proud day to be Lakota,” said Nick Tilsen of the NDN Collective. “We shut down Mount Rushmore. We put this place in lockdown for three hours and we did it in a good way. We got this power from our ancestors.”
The South Dakota American Civil Liberties Union was on scene, documenting “incidents of police misconduct” and “violations of constitutional rights” at the protest, according to a social media post by the organization.
Trump supporters were also on the scene, but authorities were keeping them away from protesters.