By JAMES NORD
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Harney Peak should keep the name of an army general whose soldiers in the 1850s killed Native Americans, a state board voted Monday in a reversal, even though some Indians may find the peak’s name offensive.
The South Dakota Board on Geographic Names issued a preliminary recommendation in May that Harney Peak be renamed “Hinhan Kaga (Making of Owls).” But the board decided not to back a change after a slew of public comments against the plan, including from at least two members of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s cabinet.
Supporters of the change also didn’t coalesce around a single replacement name for the peak, board members said.
“I have to say, based on what I’ve read, my opinion has wavered,” Board on Geographic Names Chairwoman June Hansen said at the meeting. “I again feel there is not a clear direction from the public.”
Harney Peak is the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. It was named for Arm Gen. William S. Harney, who in 1855 led soldiers who killed Sioux Indians in Nebraska. The state board’s recommendation not to change the name goes to a federal board that has final authority.
Basil Brave Heart, who proposed the change, has said that the peak shouldn’t be named after a man who committed atrocities against Native Americans and initially suggested “Black Elk” as the new name. Brave Heart, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Hansen said she began to feel that the board had overstepped its bounds when it recommended the new name and said she weighed input from many different commenters, including members of the Daugaard administration.
Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler and Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen submitted letters to the state board to oppose the renaming of Harney Peak. Hepler and Hagen said in their letters that the proposed name was difficult to pronounce and that it would confuse tourists.
Glen Lakner, who lives near Wall, also urged the board not to rename the peak. He said if the residents of Pennington County, where it is located, got to vote on whether or not to change the name, “It’d go down like a rock.”
Board member Steve Emery, secretary of tribal relations, was the only member who cast a vote against the recommendation.
“To have a slaughter of my people and possibly relatives of mine, I have to vote to change,” said Emery, who is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Emery’s attempt to recommend it be renamed “Black Elk Peak” failed.
A researcher from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names also wrote the South Dakota panel to say that the U.S. Board wouldn’t approve “Hinhan Kaga (Making of Owls)” with the translation in parentheses.