John Tsitrian celebrates Black Elk Peak as a better name for South Dakota’s highest point than its prior colonialist name, Harney Peak. He looks the Governor’s projected ignorance of history and says that full knowledge of General William Harney’s ill deeds—such as beating a slave to death for misplacing his keys and massacring, looting, and burning the Indian village at Blue Water Creek—would incline reasonable observers to prefer gracing the peak with the name of the Lakota holy man.
Tsitrian also neatly anticipates and disposes of some convenient relativism to which Harney defenders resort:
And by the way, don’t tell me that we shouldn’t be judging his 19th century behavior through our 21st century moral lenses. In 1864, Congressional investigators called the perpetrators of the Sand Creek Massacre “foul and dastardly.” I’m not a situation-ethicist, nor do I believe 19th century moral standards tolerated massacres like the one at Blue Water creek. What I do believe is that expunging Harney and replacing it with Black Elk is a matter of common decency [John Tsitrian, “The Harney Peak Name Change? A Matter of Common Decency,” The Constant Commoner, 2016.08.14].
Sand Creek and Blue Water Creek were similar atrocities against the natives of the land our ancestors stole. Changing the name of one mountain does not change history or end our occupation of this stolen land. But it does take from a thief and killer an honor he does not deserve and turn visitors’ and hikers’ attention toward another man who actually lived and died in South Dakota, whose personal history is closely tied to the mountain, and whose life better invites conversations about Euro-Lakota relations.