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Board on Geographic Names to Decide Harney/Hinhan Kaga Question This Afternoon

The South Dakota Board on Geographic Names meets at 1:30 p.m. CDT today at the DOT commission room at 700 E. Broadway Avenue. The big item on the docket is the proposed name change for Harney Peak, which the board moved last month to rename “Hinhan Kaga (Making of Owls).”

Hey, board members: we’re going to get rid of the parentheses, right?

The Rapid City Journal raises doubt about the accuracy of the application of that Lakota name to South Dakota’s highest peak:

…Aaron Desersa, of Manderson on the Pine Ridge Reservation, told the Journal in a recent interview that “Hinhan Kaga” is the Lakota name for the Needles formations and Cathedral Spires and their owl-shaped formations in the Black Hills, not Harney Peak.

Desersa said he is a keeper of an oral tradition that includes a different name for Harney Peak. Judging by his pronunciation and a Lakota-English dictionary, that name would apparently be written as “He Winchinchala Sakowin Hocokata,” which would translate to something like “Center of the Seven Sister Mountains” in English [Seth Tupper, “‘Hinhan Kaga’ Disputed as Traditional Peak Name,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.06.28].

Given that state officials say they can’t pronounce “Hinhan Kaga”, the chances that the Board on Geographic Names will adopt “He Winchinchila Sakowin Hocokata” are likely nil. But scroll to the bottom of RCJ’s “dispute” story, and you’ll see that Desersa wants Harney taken off the peak:

Desersa said the most important thing is to take Harney’s name off the peak. He views the placement of Harney’s name atop South Dakota’s tallest mountain as a symbol of white America’s historical efforts to subjugate Native Americans.

“That name is degrading to all the Indian tribes,” Desersa said [Tupper, 2015.06.28].

We’ll see this afternoon if Board on Geographic Names can buck some stiff public backlash and make a positive change for white-tribal relations in South Dakota.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 08:40

    The Board doesn’t have any real power, does it?

  2. Nick Nemec 2015-06-29 09:05

    For the life of me I don’t see what is so hard about pronouncing “Hinhan Kaga”. I might be using a hard g rather than a soft g but other than that what might be tricky about these words? Is there an audio someplace that could be linked to so we could learn the correct pronunciation? Is it any harder to pronounce than another common American Indian word used as a place name, “Dakota”?

  3. Nick Nemec 2015-06-29 09:08

    And how do the people of Minnehaha County ever get along with a difficult to pronounce native word as their county’s name?

  4. Troy 2015-06-29 09:35


    The pronunciation does require learning and is likely never to be universally said correct (whatever is correct) because are the “a’s” like in “bat” “but” or “bait” and is the g soft or hard? Not that it is a reason to not do it. Just something to consider (for the record, I prefer Black Elk as a name).

    I’m sure you get it because I’m sure most people call you Nick “Knee-mees”. :)

    Sincerely, Troy “Jons”

  5. Bill Fleming 2015-06-29 09:54

    LOL. The people who pronounce the word ‘Pierre’ as ‘peer’ are suddenly concerned with proper pronunciation of a non-English word? Pretty funny. :-)

  6. Lynn 2015-06-29 10:00

    Here is a perfect example of those who probably didn’t do very well in the subject of history and it reflects in a comment over at another blog.

    “When will the Sioux undersand that they lost the “Indian Wars”..

    All vestiges of their slave-owning, innocents killing, repressive Sioux culture should be scrubbed from public places.

    Take their “prayer flags” and pow wows and war banners and other repressive symbols to a museum where they belong.

    Rename Harney peak with a Lakota name? Huh? We need to be moving FORWARD not backwards!

    Get over it my Sioux brothers & sisters–the war is over! They LOST!! MOVE ON! It’s 2015!”

    Not long after the first European Settlers landed in North America which btw the local Native populations helped save them from starvation TREATIES were made and BROKEN as settlers moved westward. Our government repeatedly made promises to the tribes and then broke them. That does not even include the underhanded methods of squatting on their lands, killing their main food source, starvation, trying to destroy their culture, massacres, giving them crappy land.

    If it were a straight out war of conquest such as what happened in Asia and Europe during ancient times things would be far simpler but it wasn’t. Big Difference! Our Native population’s ancestors were totally screwed over by our government and that painful legacy still unresolved lives on today.

  7. Douglas Wiken 2015-06-29 10:56

    There are probably more South Dakotans whose families emigrated here years after the Indian wars and have had nothing whatsoever to do with “repression, slavery, etc” or whatever other excuse is used for social failure these days.

    Changing the Harney Peak name is dumb as changing a county name to “Lakota-Dakota”. Those cosmetic bits of history-changing are useless and just an irritant for most of the population.

  8. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 11:02

    If the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association had any balls they’d take the advice I gave them twenty years ago and co-name every geological feature on their free handout map with both English and Lakota names.

  9. Paul Seamans 2015-06-29 11:48

    Good thoughts Lynn. In most instances the United States government didn’t obtain the land in the territorial US by conquest by war but by treaties with the indigenous people that were promptly broken. Most white people know this but do not want to admit it.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-29 11:53

    Is it pronounced Harney Peak or Horney Peak, I can never get it straight.

  11. Lynn 2015-06-29 11:59


    Thank you! It is what it is and I’d prefer our government including many of us of European descent who feel threatened would just bite the bullet and finally work together with our Native population who were wronged to finally bring some closure and healing so we can all positively move forward. It will be hard but it needs to be done. Otherwise it just festers and more of their land in the Black Hills for example is lost.

  12. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 12:07

    Mike Verchio is one of those GOPers who would fly the Confederate flag but is telling American Indians to get over it and move on at DWC.

  13. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 12:26

    Black Elk Peak is on the Action List along with ten other name changes at the US Board within the US Geological Survey. This thing still has a long way to go before anything meaningful happens.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-29 13:09

    Roger, I thought it was “Herney” Peak, but my cousin pronounces it “Hair-ney.”

    I give up! It’s just too hard to pronounce!

  15. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-29 13:17

    Yeah Deb it is complicated, my friend just pointed out to me that there is a difference between Horney and Horny, whatever will we do?

  16. Nick Nemec 2015-06-29 13:23

    nem mick, knee mick, nim ick, nem mick, I thought I’d heard them all, knee mees is a new one for me.
    How in the heck do you pronounce “Daugaard”?

  17. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-29 15:08

    The board voted not to rename Horny Peek.

  18. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 16:13

    Roger, am I wrong to believe the board members were either bribed or threatened if they voted to change the name?

    Bob Mercer ‏@pierremercer 1h1 hour ago
    SD Tribal Relations Secretary Steve Emery cast lone vote for changing Harney Peak name today after board voted unanimously for it last time.

  19. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-29 16:28


    It is always a possibility in South Dakota that a politician was bribed or threatened.

    In reality no one should have expected the board or anyone to do the right thing by changing the name, South Dakota continues to flash its racism in any form they can.

  20. Lynn 2015-06-29 16:33


    What happens next? Wait for the long awaited government settlement? Ballot initiative? A drastic political change here in South Dakota via elections?

  21. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-29 16:34


    I’m not sure if anything will be done or not, I haven’t heard of any alternative if the board failed to do the right thing.

  22. Dennis R Wagner 2015-06-29 17:17

    Is it any wonder that the board made the initially-simple name change request (from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak) into an overly-complicated renaming (really, a Lakota name with an obtuse English translation in parentheses?) and then, after realizing how silly the proposed name looked (HinHan Kaga {Making of Owls} Peak), decided to call the whole thing off? It really is too bad that Mr. Pourier’s initial request was shunted aside, because there was a lot of support throughout the state and nation for a unifying name like one that honors a true Lakota and South Dakota holy man. I for one am simply going to call it Black Elk Wilderness Peak, no matter what the Geographic Names Board does or doesn’t do in the future.

  23. Paul Seamans 2015-06-29 17:22

    Doesn’t the final decision rest with a federal board that decides these things? This federal board might not be as swayed with comments on the Rapid City Journal or KOTA’s facebook pages as is the state board. A rejection of the name change will solidify South Dakota’s nom de plume as the Mississippi of the north.

  24. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 17:23

    Naming the peak for a colonization and rape apologist like Heȟáka Sápa doesn’t work for a strong share of American Indians.

  25. Douglas Wiken 2015-06-29 17:57

    Put up a large brass or bronze marker obvious to all at Harney Peak and explain Gen. Harney’s history including his savageness and apparent murder. Note the Native Americans he fought as well. This would mean a lot more in the long-run than changing the name and hoping that somehow that will erase history. We all need to be reminded of South Dakota history, both the good and the bad.

  26. Dennis R Wagner 2015-06-29 18:02

    Larry, I don’t presume to speak for anyone other than myself, but I would note that, according to Cory’s post, 151 names from Pine Ridge accompanied Myron Pourier’s request and another 122 names from Crow Creek urged support for the name “Black Elk Peak”, which to my mind, represents a “strong share of American Indians”. Is your anathema for all things and people Catholic so visceral that you refuse to support the efforts of those Americans in honoring a true Lakota and South Dakota holy man?

  27. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 18:06

    Yes, Dennis: that pretty much sums up my assessment of the catholic experience in the New World.

  28. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 18:14

    The Catholic Church in the South sanctified the political order of slavery and states’ rights, with Bishop Augustin Verot famously delivering a sermon at the beginning of the Civil War that justified slavery in the same proslavery language that other southerners had been using for a generation.

  29. larry kurtz 2015-06-29 18:15

    i could go on.

  30. Paul Seamans 2015-06-29 19:37

    Douglas Wiken might have a good compromise. Keep the Harney name but let people know a little history of what kind a person Gen. Harney was.

  31. leslie 2015-06-29 20:12

    p.30, list 419 cited by larry contains a fair summary but omits Harney’s atrocious behavior hanging 30 of his troops in Mexico city.

    wiken’s misinformed opposition is the last thing needed by good hearted people trying to do the right thing in a red-neck state.

    my guess is this thing is now dead. thanks daugaard. (:

    embarrassed to be a south dakotan.

  32. Douglas Wiken 2015-06-29 21:46

    I’m biased of course, but Wiken’s opposition is not misinformed.

    I am not at all convinced that renaming anything 100 years later serves any purpose even if it were to mean eliminating every Native American name for any geographic feature, town, or county.

    Putting up a factual historic marker would be a lesson for all now and in the future. Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it …said by someone smarter than I.

    Political correctness on the renaming issue may make our little liberal hearts beat faster, but that does not mean it is a good idea.

    I grew up in Clay County named I assume after Henry Clay. There is a Spirit Mound there where Native Americans think little spirits existed. I went to school in Wakonda which may mean something close to “little spirits” in Sioux since 1866 or so. I don’t think we should rename Spirit Mound or Wakonda, or Clay County nor Harney Peak even if reasons or excuses for the changes would be nearly opposite.

  33. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-29 23:16

    Just call this whole damn state Upper Mississippi, we match them in a high corruption ranking as well being the northern welfare state.

  34. Douglas Wiken 2015-06-30 15:17

    But, let’s make sure we don’t rename “Marriage Licenses” as “Love-Link Affirmations, License, and Name Change” document.

  35. Roger Cornelius 2015-06-30 15:43

    Love Link Affirmations are a ridiculous idea, that was not what the LGBT community and Americans that choose equality fought for.

    Such a notion as Love Link will never gain ground now that marriage equality is the law of the land.

    This Love Link Affirmation thing seems to be embedded in someone’s own mythology.

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