North Dakota sign change stirs strong feelings at Standing Rock


Highway signs that are based on a likeness of Marcellus Red Tomahawk are slowly being phased out in North Dakota. Photo by Jimmy Emerson

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will be "upset" by a major change to highway signs in North Dakota, an official said.

Without public comment or prior notice, the state Department of Transportation announced it will be removing the likeness of Marcellus Red Tomahawk from the signs. Red Tomahawk was the first elected chairman of the tribe who helped write the first constitution on the reservation.

"The emblem of Red Tomahawk has always been a great deal of pride with the tribe and the majority of people here do not know this is happening," LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a historian and director of tourism for the tribe, told the Associated Press. "I think there are going to be some really upset people here on Standing Rock."

The state informed Red Tomahawk's descendants last year about the change. But that doesn't make it any easier for Wilbur Red Tomahawk to accept.


Marcellus Red Tomahawk after a meeting with President Herbert Hoover at the White House in 1929. Image from Library of Congress

"Anything that represents American Indians is being dismantled," Wilbur Red Tomahawk told the AP. "The time will come when the only way to know about an Indian is to read about them in a book or go to a reservation."

Prior to his role in forming the modern tribal government, Marcellus Red Tomahawk was a scout for the U.S. military during the Indian wars. He later served as a federal police officer and shot and killed Sitting Bull, the revered Lakota leader, in December 1890.

The new highway signs will feature an outline of North Dakota's borders.. They will be installed over the next several years.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol continues to use a likeness of Tomahawk as its official logo and has no plans to get rid of the symbol.

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