Delphine Red Shirt: Restoring our sacred peak to its original name

The following opinion by Delphine Red Shirt appeared in the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

A view of Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo from BHrock / Wikipedia

Naming ‘Harney Peak’ to its original name which is ‘Hinhan Kaga'
By Delphine Red Shirt

I recently heard a small voice, my great-niece in the non-Lakota way, and my granddaughter in the Lakota way, tell me that she was named. She told me her name and her younger sister’s name. I felt very proud to hear her tell me with much excitement.

When she told me I felt great hope for us, especially for the youth at Pine Ridge. Her life has not been easy. When she was small, I would come into Rapid City and take her and her sister and brother, sometimes keeping them in my hotel room so that they could swim at the hotel. Then one day, her alcoholic mother told me that unless I send money, I could no longer talk to them. I was deeply hurt. I understand alcoholism. I grew up with it.

I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind what my niece said, how I could no longer talk to her kids unless I gave her money to continue her alcoholism. But, I also respected her and thought it best to stay quiet in the Lakota way, until my niece came to her senses. But, it never quite happened that way, things progressed from bad to worse. They moved away to Sioux Falls, then something happened there and they ended up back on the reservation with a dad who had already remarried many years back. He had problems too.

So, the three kids were stuck between someone whose addiction to alcohol was severe and someone whose new life didn’t include them. Somehow they survived. This past year, I started talking to them again, because they found me. They remembered. I remembered, their small faces, the hands that reached out to mine, and how they called me “Grandma”, in the Lakota way.

I still don’t understand their mother nor their father. The three children have grown up physically so beautiful. It is their spirit that I worry about. Then, the oldest girl reached out to me, “Granma, I received my Lakota name.”

Traditionally, a baby is named, four days after birth. Naming in our tradition is everything and the time to do it was the Sundance as is the ear piercing of the children so that they live according to our ways and obey our laws.

When a child is older and they are named, it is because of puberty and the crossing over into adulthood. These are things we have to do for their sake. These are markers in their lives that occur with a lot of instruction and guidance.

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

Today, it is as if we are waking up again because we are losing our language. If we lose our language we lose our culture. Those of us who speak it feel this is true as our language is old, it is full of truth and is a road map to the old way. It never lies.

At the end of the day, when we talk about naming, we must also turn our attention to the places we know were given English names like “Harney Peak” or even the mistaken “Inyan Kara” where the “r” is really the old orthography that the original speakers used to write in English. “Inyan Kaga” where the guttural “g” was originally represented with an “r”. So, the name means the place where stones-are-made.

Knowing the old orthography is so important, we must not change it because some linguist wants to be able to read our language. There are still many old documents written by the original speakers using the old orthography.

So, what do we rename “Harney Peak”? To its original name which is “Hinhan Kaga” or the place of owls. The same as “Inyan kaga”, not Inyan Kara. In keeping ourselves together as Lakota people we have to remember and do it correctly, as these things belong to us. That is what we were told, “Lena nitawapi”.

(Delphine Red Shirt can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation