After two of his songs were used by Donald Trump at Mount Rushmore on Friday, Neil Young had a simple message for the president: “This is not OK with me.”
Like a Hurricane and Rockin’ in the Free World were played before the president appeared in South Dakota, for an incendiary speech in which Trump claimed US history was under siege from “far-left fascism”.
Shortly afterwards, the official Neil Young Archives account tweeted a message of defiance: “I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux & this is NOT OK with me.”
Young is a longstanding supporter of Native American rights. The land around Mount Rushmore is sacred to the Lakota Sioux, who lived in the area before gold was discovered by prospectors.
On Friday, protesters blocked roads near the rally and held signs reading “You’re trespassing on our land”. Local tribes were also worried that fireworks at the event could cause wildfires and contaminate water supplies.
This week, the Oglala Sioux tribal president, Julian Bear Runner, told the Guardian the land in the Black Hills was never legally ceded to the United States.
“The lands on which that mountain is carved and the lands [Trump was about to visit] belong to the Great Sioux nation under a treaty signed in 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868,” he said, “and I have to tell him he doesn’t have permission from its original sovereign owners to enter the territory at this time.”
Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, said in a statement on Friday that the sculpture on Mount Rushmore is an insult to Native Americans.
“Nothing stands as a greater reminder to the Great Sioux Nation of a country that cannot keep a promise or treaty than the faces carved into our sacred land on what the United States calls Mount Rushmore,” Frazier said.
The mountain is carved with faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
Trump’s use of Rockin’ in the Free World, which he first played on announcing his run for president in 2015, has long been source of grievance. In 2015 Young’s longtime manager, Elliot Roberts, told Mother Jones Trump’s use of the song “was not authorised. Mr Young is a longtime supporter of Bernie Sanders.”
Trump’s campaign responded that it had purchased the right to use the song, though a spokesman said it would not do so again, telling the New York Post: “There are plenty of songs to choose from. Despite Neil’s differing political views, Mr Trump likes Neil very much.”
In February this year, Young published an open letter to the president.
“Every time … one of my songs is played at one of your rallies, I hope you hear my voice,” the singer wrote. “Remember it is the voice of a tax-paying US citizen who does not support you. Me.”
Young is not alone in opposing Trump’s use of his music. The Rolling Stones have threatened legal action against the president’s campaign if it continues to use their songs at rallies.
“Despite cease and desist directives to Donald Trump in the past, the Rolling Stones are taking further steps to exclude him using their songs at any of his future political campaigning,” a spokesman said last month.
Other musicians who have expressed anger over Trump using their music include Queen, Adele, Rihanna and REM, although general licensing agreements covering most venues mean they have little legal recourse.
Still, few have been more forceful in their condemnation of Trump than Young, who was born in Canada but is now a naturalized US citizen.
In his February letter to the president, he said: “You are disgrace to my country … Your mindless destruction of our shared natural resources, our resources and our relationships with friends around the world is unforgivable.”