Charles Trimble: Celebrating a new name for sacred Black Hills site

Charles "Chuck" Trimble. Courtesy photo

Celebrating Black Elk Peak
By Charles "Chuck" Trimble

On August 11, 2016, I received an email from my good friend, Myron Pourier, great, great grandson of the Lakota holy man Black Elk:
“It's official Black Elk Peak as of today. Basil (Brave Heart) and I will begin a name change Ceremony to be determined at a later date. Thank you very much for your support on this ethical and moral name change to promote Cultural Diversity and Understanding for all walks of life, as my Great-Great Grandfather Black Elk and the Great John Neihardt had begun the process of reconciliation many years ago.”

Myron graciously acknowledges my help in the historic accomplishment of getting the name of that world renowned Holy Man to replace the name of the notorious General William S. Harney in designating the landmark peak in the sacred He Sapa, the Black Hills.

I thank Myron, but I can only claim a small bit of credit – if any at all – and defer to the real movers behind this; and that is Myron himself, and my good friend and holy man, Basil Brave Heart. My only contribution was in a column I wrote several years ago entitled “What’s in a Name,” in which I noted the following:
“We must ask ourselves, why was it that colonizers – the Europeans especially – wanted to change the tribal names of the peoples they encountered in the New World, and on all other continents? Surely, it wasn’t just the inability of the European invaders to spell the names so the indigenous peoples and their landmarks could be recorded in their reports back home.

“Why was the highest mountain on planet Earth changed from its Tibetan name Qomlangma to Mount Everest, after an obscure 19th Century Surveyor-General of British colonial India? Or why was Denali Peak, which was named for the Athabascan people of Alaska renamed Mount McKinley, after the 25th President of the United States?

“What does it signify? Conquest? Possession? Superiority?

“Closer to home, why was the highest point East of the Rockies designated as Harney Peak? It was, after all, General William S. Harney who led the punitive campaign of 1855 against the Sioux, which was in retribution for the Sioux annihilation of Lt. John Grattan and his troops in response to their unprovoked attack over the so-called Mormon cow incident. Harney’s most famous ‘battle’ in that campaign was at Blue Water Creek, which actually was a massacre that rivals Wounded Knee in its senseless brutality.

“One historical account tells of treachery added to the brutality: ‘Harney divided his force and led his infantry towards the village. While he engaged in a delaying parley with Chief Little Thunder, the mounted troops had circled undetected to the north.

“The infantry opened fire with its new, long-range rifles and forced the Indians to flee toward the mounted soldiers, who inflicted terrible casualties. Eighty-six Indians were killed, seventy women and children were captured, and their tipis were looted and burned.”

Renaming the peak that Oglala holy man Black Elk referred to as the “center of the world” after such a man as Harney added insult to the presumption of conquest of the Sioux people, and the stealing of their sacred He Sapa, the Black Hills.

But I hope the new designation doesn’t foment a new exploitation of that sacred spot – “The Lakota Center of the World,” with jeep tours of tourists riding up to have their picture taken beside an ersatz chief in full regalia at the Center of the World.

In my mind, Black Elk didn’t mean that the erstwhile Harney Peak was the center of the Universe or the world. The way I have long interpreted it was that his description of the six directions (the six Grandfathers) surrounded the center of the universe, which at that moment was himself. When he described the Harney Peak as such, he added, “But anywhere is the center of the world.”

For wherever you are, you are surrounded by the six directions – you are the center of that universe and bear the responsibility to the universe, to God. He described his vision that took place while he was young and ill and near death, of standing atop that mountain peak and seeing the whole world around him. To my knowledge that peak was never considered the center of the Universe to the Lakota. As far as I know, Black Elk merely described where he was standing at the time of his vision as the center of the World.

So, wherever you are, you have the East, red in color as the rising sun and the daybreak star; the South, Yellow in color as the life-giving summer sun; the West, blue or black as the storm clouds that bring the rain; and the North, white in color and the great cleanser that prepares nature for new life. Above is the sky and the eagle, and below is Grandmother Earth from which we have come. And dead center is you, the Flowering Tree.

Hecetu yelo. That’s the way it is.

Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1969 and served as its Executive Director to 1972 when he was elected Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. His website is and he can be reached at

Join the Conversation
More from Charles "Chuck" Trimble:
Charles Trimble: Tribal nations must join together for Hillary Clinton (08/02)
Charles Trimble: Thanking Lakota veterans for sharing their stories (06/06)
Charles Trimble: The facts about the high stakes at Wounded Knee (04/15)
Charles Trimble: Disgusted with the 2016 presidential campaigns (03/14)
Charles Trimble: A great leadership opportunity for Native youth (02/15)
Charles Trimble: Taking responsibility for upkeep of our cemeteries (02/05)
Charles Trimble: Thoughts and questions on the sale of Wounded Knee (1/6)