After spending the evening with a lot of angry white Aberdonians afraid that The Brown Man is coming to take their land (and listening to one Red Aberdonian remind them that all the rest of us are illegal immigrants), I came home to learn that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted 12–0 to change the name of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak.
Boy, Neal Tapio, now’s the time to bring Donald Trump to South Dakota to make the colonialists feel great again.
South Dakota’s highest point shall now be known by the name of a Lakota holy man in whose spirituality that granite crest plays a central role. South Dakota’s Board on Geographic Names declined last year to strike from the tallest Black Hill the name of a massacring white general who probably never set foot on the mountain. But even the threat of replacing Harney (a name given in the 1850s but officially approved only 110 years ago) with Black Elk drove Watertown Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (again, Watertown!?) to kill our state geographic naming board. (The Legislature settled for hamstringing the board’s authority to act only when instructed by the Legislature.)
South Dakota’s Republican leaders aren’t accepting the new name graciously. Governor Dennis Daugaard grouses:
I am surprised by this decision, as I have heard very little support in South Dakota for renaming Harney Peak. This federal decision will cause unnecessary expense and confusion. I suspect very few people know the history of either Harney or Black Elk [Governor Dennis Daugaard, press release, 2016.08.11].
Expense? Come on, Dennis! Think economic development and entrepreneurial opportunity! Smart Black Hills vendors will mark up those Harney Peak t-shirts and tchotchkes 200% for the Trump/Nugent fans clearing out of the Rally this weekend. Then souvenir sellers will be able to tap a whole new market of people looking to update their gear with new Black Elk Peak logos! Plus, this decision puts the Black Hills and South Dakota in the national news! Don’t be a sourpuss—ride the wave! Celebrate the name change, and instead of poo-pooing the history, use your position to educate everyone and encourage everyone to come to South Dakota to learn this important history!
Senator John Thune is mad:
I’m surprised and upset by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ unilateral decision to rename Harney Peak, one of South Dakota’s most well-known landmarks…. The national board’s choice to reject the state’s recommendation to leave the name as-is defies logic, since it was state officials who so carefully solicited public feedback and ultimately came to their decision. I’m also disappointed the board grossly misled my office with respect to the timeline of its decision, which wasn’t expected until next year” [Senator John Thune, press release, 2016.08.11].
A unilateral decision, made by a board authorized by federal law to make such decisions—sure, Senator, keep griping.
Senator Thune went on KSOO yesterday to complain that there was “no transparency, and no input from us…. it’s our state… I know it’s federal land, but still…. there was no input or consultation from South Dakota.” Senator Thune ignores the fact that the “Black Elk” suggestion came from Basil Brave Heart, a Lakota elder born on Pine Ridge, which, like it or not, is part of South Dakota.
USBGN passed on Thunder Peak, an alternative offered as a compromise to satisfy Harney opponents and avoid provoking non-Natives.
The USGS Geographic Names Information System already lists “Black Elk Peak” as the official name of South Dakota’s highest point, as of yesterday;
The mountain is still the mountain, beautiful, some would say sacred, and worth the hike and a long, contemplative pause at the top. Its new name is an invitation to meditate further during that hike and at the summit about that landmark, the land it surveys, and the history of the peoples who have looked up to that peak.