South Dakotans have just three days left to submit comment on the proposal to change the name of Harney Peak to Hinhan Kaga, the Lakota name meaning “Ghost Owl Butte” that preceded the Euro imposition of the name of colonialist Indian killer General William Harney.
Numerous comments submitted so far oppose “Hinhan Kaga” because it’s too hard to pronounce. Funny—that hasn’t stopped us from plowing through Belle Fourche, Pierre, Flandreau, and Sioux Falls.
“Unpronounceable,” declares Dave Graves of Volga, a town with tricky misspelled Russian street names (“Astrachan”?!) Graves is prone to self-centered exaggeration, as he further defends his position by declaring, “I am sure that 99 percent of South Dakotans think the same way.”
Secretary of Tourism Jim Hagen and Secretary of Game Fish & Parks Kelly Hepler also tremble in terror that two Lakota words will tie our tongues. This from two well-placed white males who work for a man named Daugaard. (Please, show me the language in which au is pronounced /oo/. It ain’t Swedish.)
The notion that we shouldn’t give a mountain a Lakota name because we aren’t familiar with the pronunciation is the height of linguistic laziness and ethnocentrism. Seth Tupper rightly points out that “Harney Peak” probably sounded as strange to the Lakota as “Hinhan Kaga” sounds to us, but our colonizing forebears didn’t blanch at tying Lakota tongues.
The Board on Geographic Names will meet Monday, June 29 to make the final decision on the mountain name change. Send your comments to the board by this Saturday, June 20:
- SD Board on Geographic Names
Department of Tribal Relations
302 East Dakota
Pierre, SD 57501
- Phone: 605-773-3415
- Fax: 605-773-6592
- Email: David.Reiss@state.sd.us (How’s that pronounced? Reese? Rice? Good grief, can’t all our state officials just be named Johnson?)
More notes from the submitted comments:
- Here are the Tourism and GF&P secretaries’ letters, submitted on official state letterhead.
- Actor David Soul says in a May 21 letter that he’d like to see the mountain named for Black Elk, whose grandson Wallace he knew while growing up here in South Dakota.
- Barbara Morris laments in a May 30 e-mail that “I’m a white Caucasian so my vote probably won’t count. It seems like everything has to go the way of the Indians these days.” Hear that, Lakota neighbors? Everything’s going your way. Morris says “Elk Peak or something neutral would make a lot more sense.” Morris does not say whether neutrality must be written in her native tongue.
- Numerous opponents of Hinhan Kaga suggest Harmony Peak. None of these letters suggest such a name in Lakota.
- Jeanette Walker writes in a May 31 e-mail that “The majority of your State is Native American and therefore has a right to the say or choice of the name of any Peak or Mountain or Park.” The Census says South Dakota is 8.9% American Indian; I hope that statistical minority status does mean American Indians don’t have a right to say what they think.
- John Wolf in a June 2 e-mail declares Hinhan Kaga not only “is a difficult name to remember and pronounce” but also “sounds like a terrorist group.”
- Jared Rittberger hilariously greets “tovarisch” Reiss in Russian in his June 4 e-mail and likens the name change to the name changes of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, St. Petersburg to Leningrad, and Volgograd to Stalingrad. “…[T]hese examples came from Communist regimes and it is indicative of the overall degenerative nature of your work and of this country.” Rittberger then translates Hinhan Kaga as “Two Owls Screwing” and vows that for “those of us who have to work for a living and and don’t have time to have protest marches and attend your politically correct, re-education camp committee meetings” will always call the mountain Harney Peak. Priceless!
- Sandy Frazier of Eagle Butte writes on June 8 that her people have called the mountain Hinhan Kaga: “When you walk to the top you know why—the rocks look like Owls.” Frazier says our shared history includes the fact that the federal government once outlawed the ceremonies that Frazier and an old man named Antelope conduct now at the mountain, “making prayers for the world, for everyone in the world, for good rain for growing things from Mother Earth, for health—because it is the Thunders that can give life and take it.”
- Corinne Darrow of Custer (yes, she worries her town is next) asks in her June 8 e-mail if the board is “crazy”. “Changing the name of Harney Peak to something a normal person can’t even pronounce is nuts.” Lakota speakers are, of course, abnormal. She also complains that the “prohibitive cost” of the name change is “Another taxpayer ripoff—but of course, if you don’t pay taxes, then it’s FREE.” I assume Darrow is referring to the fact that Native Americans pay no taxes on their houses in Rapid City and get to flash their sales-tax exemption cards at Wal-mart… right? Nonetheless, Darrow gets one bonus point for closing her letter, “Objectionally.”
- Reviewing the written comments submitted since the board’s proposal of Hinhan Kaga last month through June 16, I find supportive comments outnumbered by opposition comments 26% to 74%. However, one of the supporters submits 80 additional names signed to an online petition, which would bring the percentage breakdown to 44% for and 56% against.