Standing Rock Sioux Tribe 'not happy' with change to highway signs


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

The leader of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is speaking out against a major change to highway signs in North Dakota.

With little public notice or comment, the state Department of Transportation has been removing the likeness of Marcellus Red Tomahawk, a historic Standing Rock leader, from the signs. The decision has drawn significant controversy.

“The reason why Red Tomahawk is on those signs was to honor that tribal relationship,” Chairman Dave Archambault II told the Associated Press. “All of the sudden, they want to take that honoring away. We’re not happy.”

Red Tomahawk's descendants are also upset. The likeness of their ancestor is being replaced by an outline of the state's borders.


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

“It was an honor to have those signs,” Judith Red Tomahawk, who is Red Tomahawk’s great-granddaughter, told the AP. “I don’t know why people can’t grasp that. People don’t know how much it means to us.”

Emails obtained by the AP show that state officials were worried about a potential civil rights complaint over the signs. But Transportation Director Grant Levi denied that was the reason for the change.

Red Tomahawk was the first elected leader of the tribe. He helped write the tribe's first constitution.

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

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.

Read More on the Story:
Emails: North Dakota faced complaints over Sioux image signs (AP 8/9)

An Opinion:
OUR OPINION: Mistake to replace Red Tomahawk's image (The Grand Forks Herald 7/22)

Related Stories
North Dakota sign change stirs strong feelings at Standing Rock (07/20)
North Dakota removes image of Lakota man from highway signs (7/18)

Join the Conversation