The latest Dakota Free Press poll finds strong but far from unanimous support for changing the name of South Dakota’s tallest peak. Out of 156 votes cast from June 18 to June 22, 60% of DFP readers said we should rename the mountain “Hinhan Kaga,” a Lakota phrase that may be translated as Ghost Owl Butte. 40% of you DFP devotees want to keep the mountain’s current name, Harney Peak, which honors General William S. Harney.
The South Dakota Board on Geographic Names took its last written comments from the public on the proposed name change on Saturday, June 20. Counting comments submitted since I counted last week, the sentiments expressed to the board continue to run strongly against the name change: looking just at those speaking on the above binary choice, 74% of comments support “Harney Peak.” Counting comments including multiple names (such as two online petitions), the split moderates to 58% for Harney Peak and 42% for Hinhan Haga.
Notably, the board last week received another 273 names speaking in favor of an earlier suggestion to rename the mountain “Black Elk Peak.” Heading one petition in favor of that name is Myron Pourier, who asks the board to name the mountain for his great-great-grandfather Black Elk. His letter accompanies a petition from 151 individuals. A November 3, 2014, resolution from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe appears to have 122 Web submissions (including David Soul again) calling for “Black Elk Peak.” The Board on Geographic Names passed a motion at its last meeting, on May 7, not to rename Harney Peak for an individual but instead to seek a traditional Lakota name.
The board meets Monday, June 29, in Pierre to discuss the comments it has received and decide whether to change the name of Harney Peak to Hinhan Kaga.
Here are some highlights from the comments posted by the South Dakota Board on Geographic Names since my last commentary on the mountain name change:
- Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) supports the name change. “My children’s great, great, great grandma was shot and left for dead at the Battle of the Blue Water in Nebraska,” writes Bordeaux. His ancestor “survived to tell the story and carry on in spite of the experience that Harney and his men dealt the Lakota on the prairie that day.”
- Rep. Jeff Partridge (R-34/Rapid City) weighs in against the name change, dismissing the proposed name change as a “contemporary whim,” echoing State Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen’s concern about preserving the state’s investment in the Harney Peak brand (reality check: how many people here or abroad think, “South Dakota? Oh yeah, that’s the state with Harney Peak!”?), and closing with an appeal to the slippery slope (“Is there an “end” to renaming a City, County, Creek or Symbol of some sort?”… because heavens forfend that the moment we do one right thing, we might end up doing a whole bunch more right things).
- Dean and Karen Nelson of Murdo explicitly invoke the “slippery slope” and “respectively oppose the renaming of Harney Peak.”
- Ward D. Yanders of Rapid City dismisses Partridge and Hagen’s frettings about tourist confusion as “bunk!” In response to GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler’s concern that the name change would “require significant costs associated with the changing of all the signs and publications,” Yanders notes that cost didn’t stop the Legislature from changing the state nickname from “The Sunshine State” to “The Mount Rushmore State” in 1992.
- Donovan G. Wagner of Rapid City writes in all caps, “THE NAME CHANGE FOR HARNE PEAK IS REDICKELICE THE NAME YOU WANT TO ME LOOKS LIKE CHINESE LEAVE IT AS IS.”
- Ed Himrich of Custer says changing the name of the mountain is “lunacy.” General Harney was doing “his duty to his country” by killing Indians; if he hadn’t, “We wouldn’t today be able to express opinions about any subject.” Himrich tells the board, “This kind of thinking by you liberals is what makes South Dakota overly conservative.” I will agree with the overly conservative part.
- Hoven science teacher Spencer Cody says renaming the mountain will confuse his fellow scientists, since the mountain gave us the name for the Harney Peak Granite formation, and over a century of scientific literature uses that name. Darn—I guess we can’t fight science.
- Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Yufna Soldier Wolf proposes Xon-Nii-Na-Haw-Gaii—”White Ferret Mountains”—as an alternative. Watch the opponents go bonkers discussing pronunciation on that one.