Jim Kent: Republicans in South Dakota whine about Black Elk Peak

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

South Dakota Objections To Black Elk Peak Moot
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Columnist

When it comes to being possessive South Dakota’s leaders are like spoiled kids in a sand box who consider everyone else’s toys their own.

Sadly, their avarice includes people and sacred sites.

This professional personality flaw was most recently displayed when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names announced its unanimous decision to change the designation of “Harney Peak” to “Black Elk Peak."

Although Governor Dennis Daugaard’s comment that renaming the peak will cause the state “unnecessary expense and confusion” merely showed his inability to be inclusive of all his constituents’ needs, Sen. John Thune’s observation that the decision impacts “one of South Dakota’s” most well-known landmarks pretty much hit the nail on the control head.

Black Elk Peak may be geographically located within South Dakota’s boundaries, but it’s first situated within the confines of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This means that -- putting aside the ongoing Lakota Black Hills claim for just a moment -- the highest peak east of the Rockies is national property. And it’s for this reason that comments on its naming were received by U.S. Board on Geographic Names from people living outside this state.

But whether referring to “our/South Dakota’s reservations” or “our/South Dakota’s Indians” (a favorite among many residents) the state’s leaders do have a problem understanding sovereignty – whether tribal or federal.

This mindset, apparently, is spread to those around them.

Jim Kent. Photo from Facebook

Case in point: comments by Gov. Daugaard’s chief–of-staff that "The map on our wall says 'Harney Peak” and "We need to change the fact that an obscure federal board can make this change against a state's wishes."

South Dakota has a long history of being dissatisfied with federal government versus state “wishes." It dates back to Gov. Bill Janklow’s suggestion that South Dakota secede from the union, continues with the state’s failure to submit for approval to the U.S. Justice Department (per court directive) hundreds of changes in voting laws – resulting in ACLU action against South Dakota early in this millennium and is clearly present today.

This behavior is emblematic of the contradictory image South Dakota offers to the world. On the one hand we’re “oh so patriotic, rah-rah, wave the flag, support the troops, attend church each Sunday, eat Mom’s apple pie, tried and true” Americans. On the other hand “we’re up here on the Northern Great Plains, we do what we want as we want and the last thing we want to deal with is any directives from the country’s leaders…a.k.a. the federal government.”

But…we will take the money the feds give us to keep the state running. Forty percent of all revenue dollars South Dakota spends each year comes from D.C. – which means we get more federal money than 47 other states in the union.

Yet we’re always on the verge of rebellion; at least from an adolescent stamp-your-feet perspective.

Okay, let’s look at reality.

In a situation where South Dakota could have taken the lead in building a bridge toward racial harmony, its leaders have chosen to whine about a federal decisions that some…”some”…of its residents will object to. For a state that’s so dependent on tourist dollars to create an economy (when not taking money from them feds) I’d have thought Daugaard and Thune would have jumped at this opportunity to show the world how supportive we are of “our” Indians.

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And while Gov. Daugaard’s assertion “I suspect very few people know the history of either Harney or Black Elk” may be correct, what a magnificent opportunity to educate the general public - and especially national and international visitors – about these two historic figures and the reality behind the push for the name change.

An opportunity that has been missed due to the enormous cultural blinders worn by so many South Dakotans.

That the Lakota still consider the Black Hills their own and that the federal government will change the name of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak on its maps – and GPS system – makes any objections by South Dakotans a moot point…be they by politicians or their underlings.

All such behavior does is make the state look even more out of touch with the progressive world we live in than it already is.

As for Gov. Daugaard’s concern over unnecessary expense, I’d remind him of the recent cost to redesign the state’s license plate – distributed this year to hundreds of thousands of South Dakota drivers.

Losing license plates or cultural bridges; what’s really more costly?

(Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on South Dakota Public Radio, National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at kentvfte@gwtc.net)

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