Environment | Opinion

John Yellow Bird Steele: A great step forward with Black Elk Peak

A pilgrimage to the highest point in He Sapa (Black Hills) to welcome back the Wakinyan Oyate (Thunder Beings). Photo by Jeremy Vance / Native Sun News

My Voice: Black Elk Peak is right name
By John Yellow Bird Steele
President, Oglala Sioux Tribe

On Aug. 11, the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation, and the United States took a long stride forward towards justice in the Black Hills. At the request of our Lakota Oyate, the U.S. changed the name of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak. We thank our Oglala Lakota tribal members, Basil Brave Heart — a lifelong educator — and Myron Pourier, Black Elk’s great grandson, who brought this issue forward to the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council and the National Park Service.

Rising from the center of the Black Elk Wilderness, Black Elk Peak is the highest mountain in the Black Hills. The former name of Harney Peak was offensive to Native Americans, because General Harney and 600 U.S. Cavalry and Infantry soldiers massacred 86 Lakota men, women and children of Chief Little Thunder’s village as they slept along Blue Water Creek on Sept. 3, 1855.

Harney was sent out by the U.S. to “punish” our Lakota for the 1854 Grattan Affair, a U.S. Army attack to “avenge” the loss of a Mormon cow. When confronted by an angry Lt. Grattan (“Give me 20 men and I will ride through the whole Sioux Nation”), Chief Conquering Bear sought to maintain the peace under the 1851 Treaty by offering Grattan three horses to compensate the Mormon family for their lost cow (which had been left wandering on the prairie). Grattan, acting in violation of his orders, chose war. Lt. Grattan and his platoon were wiped out after Grattan ordered them to open fire on Conquering Bear’s village and assassinated the Chief. Our Lakota Oyate acted in self-defense. Against this background, General Harney’s massacre of our Lakota was pure genocide. The name Harney Peak was truly offensive to Lakota people.

Read the rest of the story on the all-new Native Sun News website: My Voice: Black Elk Peak is right name

(Contact John Yellow Bird Steele at (605) 867-5821)

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