Board Flip-Flops for Colonialism, Keeps “Harney” on South Dakota’s Highest Peak

Legend to winter count on display at South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center: "The winter an army officer shook hands with an Indian (1855–56). General William S. Harney met with several tribes to request peace on the plains."
Legend to winter count on display at South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center: “The winter an army officer shook hands with an Indian (1855–56). General William S. Harney met with several tribes to request peace on the plains.”

Not everything went well in Pierre yesterday. Across the street from the Capitol, the South Dakota Board on Geographic Names went back on its earlier support for removing the name of Indian-massacring General William S. Harney from South Dakota’s highest mountain and decided to recommend that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names keep the name as is.

The board heard one more blast of the colonialist rancor and ignorance that characterized most of the opposition displayed in the written public comments against the proposed new Lakota name, “Hinhan Kaga (Making of Owls)”:

One citizen spoke at the meeting Monday before the final vote to retain Harney.

“This issue should never have went this far,” Glen Lockner of Wall said. “We can speak freely and move freely because of men like him.”

He said Harney was responding to orders when he sent U.S. soldiers forth to engage with Indian people and protect settlers.

“To this I say, poor losers, considering this was 160 years ago,” he said.

Lockner noted that the Pennington County Commission sent a letter opposing the change and opposing the proposed name.

It is our county, it is not the Indians’ county,” he said, adding that if the name change was put to a vote in Pennington County, “It would go down like a rock” [Bob Mercer, “State Board Supports Harney Peak’s Name,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.06.30].

This land was made for you and me—but we beat you, so buzz off, you loser Indians!

In a quest for lemonade, I’m inclined to believe the board’s flip-flop had less to do with overt racism and more to do with the Daugaard Administration telling them not to make things hard to pronounce. The board may also have been miffed at being told by the feds that their parentheses really did look silly:

She referred to an email received Friday from Jennifer Runyon, a member of the U.S. board’s research staff. Runyon advised Hansen the U.S. board wouldn’t accept a name with the translation in parentheses.

Runyon also suggested that peak be added to the name and said the only name under consideration by the U.S. board is Black Elk Peak.

Runyon told Hansen that Basil Brave Heart, the citizen from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who made the original proposal of Black Elk Peak, could endorse another name, but would need to withdraw his proposal [Mercer, 2015.06.30].

But nertz even to Black Elk: the board ignored Tribal Relations Secretary Steve Emery’s motion for the Lakota name, declined to return to the Black Elk discussion, and voted 4–1 to keep “Harney Peak.” What happened to all “you liberals” on the board?

32 Responses to Board Flip-Flops for Colonialism, Keeps “Harney” on South Dakota’s Highest Peak

  1. mike from iowa

    No offense,but I will keep up my lifelong boycott of all things Black Hills from my sanctuary in NW by god ioway. No monies spent to show appreciation of whitey’s racism. I has spoken!

  2. Lockner proves without a doubt, the fear whites have over their prospect of loosing their stolen lands. Those lands include land that was legitimately traded for healthcare, education and the general well being of the native people that controlled the land in the first place. As long as the rivers flow and the grass grows scares Lockner as it has been a lush year on the prairie so the grass grows tall. His short sided view of Wall business that depends on tourists that actually are interested in Native past and present, is amazing. The Wounded Knee story there should have a name change as well. It should be called Lockner’s Fake Compassion, or How Much I Loathe Natives. Lockner is a looser in humanity that has proven himself in all regards that fit right in with one another’s fears on that boring board. I agree with Doug, there should be a plaque at that mountain that gives the Native point of view as in all of these named places that Natives find so offensive.

  3. The reality is, if you asked 100 South Dakota residents who or what Harney Peak is named after I’m guessing 98 of them would have no idea. I’m not a historian and will admit my ignorance as to not knowing the name William S. Harney (until this name change discussion began) even though I’ve lived my entire life in the state.

    Thus I’ve never in my life felt Harney Peak was honoring General Harney nor am I offended by it. The fact is, he is part of our history and yes our history includes many evil men and women, many atrocities committed against our fellow man, and many, many bad decisions. Then again, we have the benefit of time to discuss and debate these topics and we as a people have evolved. This isn’t to excuse behavior in the past, but I simply cannot say what aspects of that history are known and what aspects have been forgotten over the years.

    I dare say if you knew the history of most of the men and women who have landmarks named after them you would easily find aspects of them which would disgust us. We tend to focus on the good and forget the bad – and maybe that is ok to some degree, because what we ‘honor’ our ancestors for are the successes and accomplishments, not their failures and misdeeds.

    All of that being said, why do I get the distinct impression that we will be revisiting this issue a few years in the future? Perhaps the only way to not offend someone, somewhere is to just run around naming landmarks with generic names like “Peak A”, “River 7″, or Creek C16”.

  4. Craig, suppose we go around using a term and don’t know its historical meaning. Suppose someone then informs us of that history and explains how it really is offensive. Perhaps our past use can be excused, but can we ecuse our continuing informed use of the term?

  5. That depends. Words and names evolve over time. What was once a battle flag of the Confederacy is now known to be a symbol of racism and bigotry, thus we don’t condone flying it above a government building. The words “idiot”, “imbecile”, and “moron” were once legitimate terms used in the medical field to describe various states of intellectual defect. Now we use them as insults towards politicians and occasionally towards some of our closest friends.

    I’m sure there are many terms which have evolved over time. Some for the better, some for the worse – but perhaps what we need to consider is the impact of something being offensive. So a word is offensive… what impact does that really have? It hurts someone’s feelings, so does that mean we need to stop using it, or does it mean the person hurt needs to adapt to the modern usage of the term? We cannot go throughout life without offending someone or hurting someone’s feelings and we should only address situations that do significant harm meaning those which impact a large group of people as opposed to just a few.

    It seems these days people feel they have the right to go about their lives without being offended. That isn’t the case. Being offended is essentially meaningless – it has no value. The world is full of sharp corners and it shouldn’t be society’s job to cover them in padding.

  6. Porter Lansing

    Harney Peak is now South Dakota’s confederate flag. Will Native Americans call for a nationwide liberal boycott of the white man’s “hate state”? Things with underlying truth have a way of getting done.

  7. Porter,

    Calling for a national Boycott over this? Isn’t that a little extreme? It’s just another day in South Dakota. One has to be careful in calling for boycotts or the reasons and impact becomes diluted with no impact if the goal is to bring about change.

  8. Paul Seamans

    William S. Harney started his military career under famed Indian fighter/hater Andrew Jackson. He heroically subdued Lakota women and children at the “Battle” of Ash Hollow. This was the US Army’s retaliation for the Grattan “Massacre”.
    General Harney would be pleased that he has such an active fan club in South Dakota. A fan club whose members know squat about Gen. Harney other than he has a peak named after him. Prospective members to the fan club need not apply if their IQ exceeds 80.

  9. Native Americans would much rather boycott the entire Black Hills while stating the land was unfairly taken from them. However, in context this simply doesn’t work. The reason the Confederate flag has become a hot button issue is because of what it represents today. The Black Hills, and Harney Peak specifically, and not known as a symbol of oppression or racism. Sure racism exists (as it does everywhere), but it isn’t as if the KKK is using Harney Peak as a symbol or hatred or holding their annual retreats atop the peak.

    I agree with Lynn – calling for a boycott over this would dilute the message and result in no meaningful change. Native Americans have much larger concerns.

  10. Thanks Paul – I always find my arguments hold more value when I simply accuse those with differing opinions than my own of being stupid. Bonus points for using six times as many words as would be necessary to make it clear.

    I probably should be offended, but apparently my IQ isn’t high enough to understand your coded message.

  11. Porter Lansing

    BOYCOTT’S WORK …. anecdotes don’t create data but many years ago Colorado passed an anti-gay rights law which spurred a boycott of the state. The boycott’s impact on tourism was immediately felt. The law was overturned, the boycott lifted and gay marriage is now nationwide. Sodak’s been “ridin’ dirty” for too long. (e.g. New American immigrants have been boycotting Arizona over it’s hate state treatment to a significant downturn in the state’s tourism.)

  12. Paul Seamans

    Craig, you are entirely welcome. Please note that I did not use the words stupid, moron, idiot, or other such words that are overused on facebook comments. I am sure your IQ is over 80. After all you read, and presumably understand, Cory’s fine blog.

  13. Paul,

    Thank you for the historical background! Can you imagine how different the outcome would of been if there was a constant state of war with all the tribes across North America as some of those who favored keeping Harney Peak and seem to forget all the broken peace and other treaties? Thanksgiving? Wouldn’t have happened and those Pilgrims would of perished. Whomever would come after those Pilgrims going westward would have fought a constant war probably being wiped out and those that were not would of been subject to what is known as guerilla war today with the Natives knowing the land better and instilling constant fear. It could of been extremely costly in lives lost by those European Colonists.

    Without those treaties that were broken by our government history would of been far different here in North America. What if…….

  14. Adding to what I posted above those who seem to forget or are not aware of our national history need to be grateful for what they have and realize that a good share of what we have taken for granted was essentially stolen from those that were here before us. We as a nation need to finally own up and make things right with our native population.

  15. Porter Lansing

    As white people commenting on Native rights, we have NO standing. The tribes will ask for a boycott if that’s what they determine to be proper. We whites, however have no standing in naming their mountain. I’ve written my request and recommendation to President Obama’s White House and it’s everyone’s option to do the same. Maybe Pierre just passed the buck to Washington to avoid the “backlash to change” which seems to be so prevalent among the milquetoast liberals acting here like “status quo hugger” conservatives. If they can BLAME OBAMA for doing what’s only correct in Black Hills they’ve avoided a confrontation at their Republican golf club.

  16. Well good luck with the boycott Porter.

  17. Roger Cornelius

    Rapid City recently elected a mayor with a strong racist history, Steve Allender asked the public to excuse his racist past, has vowed that he has changed, but has never explained how his racist changes came about.

    Rapid City voters elected Allender mayor knowing his racist roots, why?
    Because there was a voter backlash, that is a large number of voters identified with him and shared his racism and made him mayor. People that found his behavior disgusting were silenced, why? Because Rapid City is well known for its predominately racism against Indians.
    So it would be with a boycott of South Dakota, an announced boycott of the state would bring every skinhead, KKK, white supremist groups, etc. to the state to show their support of Horny Peek.

  18. Paul Seamans

    Porter, as a non-native I still feel that I have standing in the naming of something like Harney Peak. I am not in favor of naming geographical features after individuals; white, Indian, or whatever. I, also, was not in favor of naming the underground lab at Lead after Denny Sanford’s parents. This is nothing more than an ego trip for most people.

  19. Roger,

    Have you ever watched the comedy show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” either on TV or his recorded shows on Youtube? Oh he could have fun with South Dakota. Lol Every few weeks our state would create more material for that show’s writers. Yipes!

  20. Bill Goehring

    “What was once a battle flag of the Confederacy is now known to be a symbol of racism and bigotry…”

    This jiggery pokery is pure nonsense and illustrates exactly how empathy is avoided and hate is rationalized. Incontrovertible facts about an era or event, such as the original meaning and intent of the Confederate Battle Flag, as detailed in founding Confederate documents of the time written by Southern leaders, was, indeed, all about the preservation of Slavery and are now ignored or denied. And, yes, Slavery is a gross manifestation of racism and bigotry. Also, subsequent meaning of the same flag, when it re-emerged as a popular public symbol of and by the South in the 1960s during the battle for civil rights was just as clear.

    “Being offended is essentially meaningless – it has no value.”

    As to offensiveness having no meaning or value, I suspect Craig means it has no meaning or value when it applies to others, just not him, and that the offended are inappropriately responding to “the way things are.” I hope the subject of the following post by SDPB doesn’t offend him.

    As I’ve found during this and other similar debates, those who resist making gestures to remediate past wrongs, even at minimal or no cost or effort, often misunderstand on-purpose the generosity and wisdom behind the gesture and the reasons for making it and dwell on minimizing those reasons and wondering what good could possibly come from such “meaningless” acts.

    These rhetorical acrobatics seem more designed to excuse the speaker from empathy and resolve personal psychological issues raised by cognitive dissonance than honestly resolving the issue at hand or even acknowledging the issue at all.

  21. Porter, I have to lean a bit toward Lynn: I’m not sure a boycott over Harney Peak would gain traction with out-state liberals looking for a place to vacation. Outside forces don’t invest heavily in our other more substantive campaigns. As Craig notes, General Harney isn’t well-known; his history would not immediately galvanize a reaction as would, maybe, Custer’s.

  22. That said, I think the board’s reversal represents far too strong a current of racism and colonialism in state government. We’re evidently more worried about brand equity than Indian equality.

  23. Porter Lansing

    It’s that worry about the “brand” as quaint as that is, that makes a boycott viable. However, our opinions are like nipples …. everyone has them but women’s are more relevant. The Native’s own the mountain and only their opinions on a boycott are important. Mine is only a suggestion to the tribes. My mentor, Russell Means would have no qualms. The fact that even liberals cringe at my idea of a boycott also shows it’s power. When discrimination is the issue, national opinion is not to be discounted. If justified Native Americans call for it, they will respond. I like to think the citizens of Sodak aren’t really bigoted towards the NDN’s so much as they have this deep seated, intensely intimate aversion to change which manifests itself and appears as bigotry to observers from elsewhere. Am I being a Pollyanna?

  24. Porter Lansing

    PS…do you think Native American protests and picket wavers in Rapid City, publicized across the 6:00 national news would make vacationers avoid the Hills? I do.

  25. White press has failed in providing news coverage.

    Like the hockey incident witness controversy, journalist Seth Tupper and others were more interested in reporting the unanimous preliminary recommendation of the board which opened the flood gates of red-neck opposition (see almost EVERY Rapid City Journal comment).

    The board, having been through the process several times, was still ill-informed of its own procedure, deciding to change the name of the original proposal and then adding a parenthetical explanation that is clearly prohibited by well-established federal procedure.

    Then board members acted as if owned by their respective employers, the state of south dakota. Most reprehensible is the SD Historical Society that itself could not seem to get the history right, and was swept away by the flood of detractors YELLING “political correctness”, and “can’t CHANGE history”.

    The same, continuing EB5 example of cover-up and hide the ball and disinformation and undue influence by the governor are replete here.

    Late comments, before the board monday and by the pennington county commission are out of line, and do not reflect representative government.

    It is clear beyond all doubt that an elite agenda exists in this state, it has no heart, is racist, and is beholden to monied conservative interests, including the koch brothers, who encourage miseducation of our children for nefarious purposes.

    The most important thing the people can do is unseat republican power, as is clear across the entire country. Educator Spencer Cody, Hoven said it best as an example (re: climate change) of flawed thinking of the millennial generation of brain-washed racist young white people in the state:

    “Gutting the US economy isn’t going to save anyone, and I am not going to the cross for a [SIC] hypothesis that will be an unavoidable, readily observable theory in a century anyways [SIC].”

    ***see 6.24.15, 00:26 Cody DFP comment after calling the Lakota “butchers” for defending their home from attack by the full strength and strategy of the US military at Greasy Grass, nearly 140 years ago today, and his brain-washed misunderstanding of the circumstances of the Grattan affair and Harney’s follow-up at the Blue Water. What would your students say, Spence? Pretty much what the Custer and Pennington county commissioners said.

    This name-change was a simple gift that could have been given to the Indian people of the nation, but no, racist white south dakotans stood up and displayed their inferior character in all its “glory” and denied it in an ignorant, short FIVE (not the 4 weeks allowed by board rule) weeks, once they got stirred up by the press.

    Each time you republican red neck supra-proud south dakotans (“WE LOVE OUR Black Hills”) takes an action like this one, we have to come back and redo the effort to achieve equity as cory has shown us twice this week, earlier with “the boz”, and once before the election (but officially ignored), with his EB5 coverage.


    Board Members flip-flopping (4 of 5):

    1. Former Pennigton County States Attorney Deputy Joe Nanidicek, Lawyer for South Dakota State Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

    2. June Carter, ADA Compliance Officer, SDDOT.

    3. Jon Vogt, Director, South Dakota State Historical Society.

    4. Eileen Bertsch, some kind of representative (employee) of South Dakota State Dept. Tourism

    DFP is the only outlet for real news in the state.

  26. Colorado got it right. They call it the “Sand Creek Massacre”.

    1864. 9 years after Harney’s massacre at Blue Water Creek. Capt. Soule and his troops disobeyed Col. Chivington’s orders to massacre every man, woman and child in the Cheyenne camp on Sand Creek that day.

    Of course, Soule was murdered a year later, probably by a red-neck who later migrated to the black hills!

    We in pennington county honor Soule by naming a fair building after him, i think. Now our pennington county commissioners would rather honor harney than respect the wishes of its thousands of Indian residents (many under-privileged), tax-payers, reservation business and businesses, by keeping the peak in Black Elk Wilderness Area, disarmingly, as harney peak.

    As long as rapid city and the state continue callous behavior toward an entire culture, there is really no explanation needed for its bottom scumming statistics like “least-paid educators in the nation”, ect. I listened to a table full of locals bitching loudly in McDonald’s after SCOTUS recognized gay marriage nation-wide.

    One naysayer said the Harney event took place in Nebraska so it was irrelevant. Yet anyone can stand at Crazy Horse’s camp on Beaver Creek Nebraska and view Harney Peak from there, same as anyone can view Laramie Peak, Wyo. from Harney Peak. These are bold vistas and very powerful locations in the Lakota mind-set. To suggest that only a FEW wish to change things up for the dominant society, (that would rather stay ignorant, btw), is a gross simplification of reality.

    It really does take the feds sometimes to intervene when called upon, to get it right.

    Ours is the same county commission that danced away from a meaningful prosecution effort in the infamous hockey case. Deb Haddcock stood alone in not opposing the name-change. Hard not to be cynical in this state.

  27. Deb Hadcock was the no vote? We need to remember that and offer our thanks and support when it will be useful.

    Take note of Bill G’s point about our avoiding hard issues by poo-pooing name changes like this as empty gestures. We are a state built on cognitive dissonance. We occupy ground taken by force and deception. I take for the name of this blog the name of people we conquered. Perhaps most importantly, I decline to hand my house keys to the nearest Indian family and move back to Germany or Switzerland or Norway or whatever place my bloodlines could justify as my own.

  28. Your last sentence is what causes great concern with many here in South Dakota Cory. Out in the rural areas, Bill Janklow was revered because of the ways he “stood up” to the Natives, as they saw it. As I have heard it, many feel that the BLM land, that they use for little to nothing, will be next on the list of land that Natives will want to take back control of. By denying this name change, they view this as a setback to any kind of compromise that may come up. Myself, I have not heard of any of these kinds of demands or studies, but you know how rumors can catch fire you know there was a lot of pressure being put on them by fear. Hadcock is just another in a long line of gutless politicos that look the other way in times of showing backbone. She is in good company at the county level though and fits right into the general politico population of corrupted officials.

  29. “the confederate flag reflects history, not oppression” according to apologists. slate, “richmond reoccupied” m. mcinnis, 7.01.15.

    red-necks were successful with this kind of spin in their board comments. apparently the late Patrick Duffey made this comparison on facebook not too long ago. anyone see it?

  30. cory-Pierre’s CULTURAL HERITAGE CENTER highlight’s harney in a favorable light as “peace-maker”-big surprise. rewriting history by state government is a shallow ploy. there were many other winter counts of harney’s aggression from Blue Water Creek to Ft. Laramie to Ft. Pierre during 1855-56, casting a darker image of history. The Years the Stars Fell: Smithsonian, Greene & Thornton (2007).

    Expert historians need to clear this up, if the federal board can even proceed with Brave Heart’s proposal after our state board’s debacle and “non-recommendation”. Grass-roots efforts need good lawyers!

  31. “that the confederate states seceded for states’ rights is not accurate history. it is white, confederate-apologist history.” wapo today-“why do people believe myths…?”

    harney peak has a history problem in red-neck south dakota.

  32. bill cosby statute removed, but south dakota bravely maintains the name harney peak.