Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Holding onto racist histories in South Dakota

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

Honoring a mass murderer or a Lakota Holy Man
What’s in a name?
By Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
For The Native Sun News

The struggle to survive the modern world goes on for indigenous peoples all over the world, but here in our Northern Plains, the Sioux Tribal Nation and its non-native neighbors seem to hold on to depressing and distasteful notions about how our paths crossed as histories were made. A 2016 decision by the feds to rename a mountain in the Black Hills over the objection of the white State government is an example of how the effort to respond to historical change is cause for conflict.

At contention today is whether a place in the Black Hills should retain the name Harney Peak (in honor of the occupational US Army and its murderers) or should be renamed in honor of Nick Black Elk, an Oglala holy man who was born here in Dakota Territory in 1863, a witness to war and violence. Black Elk is renowned as a spokesperson for the survival and defense of traditional tribal ceremonies, liturgies and language long outlawed by the government that Col. Harney represented. Harney was known to Black Elk as an enemy of the Sioux and a killer of innocent Sicangu at Blue Water, a tragedy which historians have said was a massacre.

Since 1889, the State of South Dakota has named thousands of places in our region in reflection of its exploration, occupation, settlement and claim to supremacy. Today U.S. Senator John Thune, a second term official, represents those in the state who are opposed to the Harney renaming which was a decision made by members of the US Board on Geographic Names, a group of citizens called by the senator “a bunch of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats waving a magic wand.” Aren’t they the same types who wanted it named Harney Peak in the first place? Whatever the history of that is, Thune will take the lead now, and we are told, in criticizing the decision though the elected officials in Daugaard’s Republican led Congress say they have no plans to take any action at this time.

Read the rest of the story on the all-new Native Sun News website: Honoring a mass murderer or a Lakota Holy Man: What’s in a name?

(Contact Elizabeth Cook-Lynn at elizcoly@aol.com)

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