The Six Grandfathers

Written by on February 23, 2023 in Conversations on the Journey with 3 Comments
Photo of "Mt Rushmore" before it was carved, true name "The Six Grandfathers".

Image of “The Six Grandfathers” before the carving.

Originally written on 7/3/2020, revised and updated 2/23/23.


Tonight, my heart is breaking as I think of the desecration of the Black Hills, yet again, specifically the mountain that non-Indigenous people call, “Mt Rushmore”.

The assault against this sacred mountain this time is in the form of massive numbers of people, fireworks and Trump, disregarding the concerns and objections of seven Sioux tribal governments.

What else is new?

This is no salute to or celebration of America. It’s an opportunistic grab to take advantage of the timing of July 4th to save a floundering campaign, and to gather with others to affirm to each other that their entitlement isn’t selfish but patriotic freedom.

Coronavirus? So what?

Wildfire? Meh. Worth the risk.

Water contamination, debris on land? Hey, we don’t need to deal with it. We don’t live here. Trump flies out the next day and everyone who came in waving their little flags goes home.

Just last week 60 acres were destroyed by wildfire only six miles away from the white dudes memorial — you know, the renamed “Mt Rushmore”.

Call it by its true name

The real name of this sacred mountain is Thunkášila Šákpe, which means The Six Grandfathers in Lakota: the Earth (Below), the Sky (Above), the North, the South, the East, and the West. (Apologies, my website theme can’t recognize some diacritics or accents above some of the letters in the name.)

The mountain range that The Six Grandfathers are a part of is called Pahá Sápa, which means The Mountains That Are Black. It, also, beautifully means The Heart of Everything That Is.

We lose so much when we vandalize not only a mountain but a culture, its people and their language.

“Mt Rushmore”? Named after a New York lawyer who donated a sizable sum of money to the sculpture project.



Do you remember as a child the insult “Indian giver”? It meant your word, or gestures of giving a gift or entering into an agreement meant nothing. You could change your mind and take it back, renege on a promise at a moment’s notice. In other words, you were untrustworthy, conniving, and duplicitous.

Ironic, no?

The Sioux was “given” jurisdiction over the Black Hills region in treaties in 1851 and 1868. (Wouldn’t you love to be “given” jurisdiction” over your home?)

The federal government changed its mind and took over part of the area when gold was discovered. Of course.

“Here, you can have it when we deem it worthless”… And they had — “not fit for civilization”.

And then, “What? There’s gold??? Never mind. It’s ours. We want it back.”

And they took it. And like that wasn’t enough, they then desecrated The Six Grandfathers by blasting into the mountain, and carving the faces of four presidents, of four white men, into it.

We need to call these actions by their true names, as well. Thievery is one. Treachery, greed, gaslighting all fit, and injustice sums it up.

Treaties didn’t mean shit then, and as we can see, they don’t mean anything now. Respect? Nope. Native Americans who live there must again suffer the arrogance and entitlement of the privileged.

Stepping up

There is NO being great *again*. You can’t claim greatness when so much of our so-called “greatness” has been to the great detriment of others.

Greatness comes from not abusing your power. It comes from equality and equity for all… including those who are different from you. It’s about living with character, and honoring the dignity within your own humanity by honoring it in others.

Liberty and justice for all is meaningless until it truly is for all. And it isn’t.

Doesn’t mean it can’t be.

To me, being proud as an American means acknowledging that we have opportunities and the means to live in a manner in which we can be proud. It means believing that we, as Americans, have the ability and character to learn from our past, and in good faith, get closer to the ideals we hold–now, and with each passing generation.

I believe that. And because of what I see in our youth, and in the Black Lives Matter movement, I believe that more than ever.

Happy Birthday America, and deepest respect and support for those who have lived under the shadow and weight of the privilege and entitled for too long.

We need to step up. Not on each other, America, but with each other. That day will be something we can all celebrate.

~ demian

Updated 2/23/23 to correct an error in the 7/3/2020 post, where I erroneously translated Pahá Sápa to mean The Six Grandfathers. Thank you, Napayshni, for bringing my mistake to my attention. Revised because I’m a writer and I can’t help myself.

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About the Author

About the Author: Demian Yumei, author, singer/songwriter and artist activist, using spoken, written word and original songs in her human rights activism. Demian is a traveler on the healing journey with a lifelong love affair with the creative process. .


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  • Napayshni says:

    Dear Demian,

    While I very much appreciate your efforts, and agree with everything you wrote as far as each sentiment, I have a correction for you, and it may seem insignificant, but it’s important to Lakota most definitely.

    Pahá Sápa is not the name of The Six Grandfathers, but rather it means “The Mountains That Are Black” aka Black Hills, while Pahá Sápa also means “The Heart of Everything That Is” (as with many phrases in that language), they are called T?u?kášila Šákpe, translated straight up as The Six Grandfathers.

    • Demian Yumei says:

      Dear Napayshni,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to inform me of my mistake! I guess that’s what I get for being educated by meme… I obviously was not as diligent in doing my homework as I should have, and for that I apologize.

      I’m grateful for your correction. It’s not insignificant. If it’s important to the Lakota, as an outsider, that’s all I need to know and respect.

      I’m deleting the content of my post immediately with an explanation until I can rewrite it, which will be soon.

      I don’t want to delete this post entirely until then, because I want you to have the opportunity to read this response, and let you know of my intent.

      Again, thank you so much. I appreciate you.

      [Edited to be a bit clearer in what I wanted to say]

    • Demian Yumei says:

      Dear Napayshni,

      I updated per your correction, and rewrote parts of the post to more accurately reflect my thoughts today. Again, thank you.

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