A federal board on Thursday renamed Harney Peak in the Black Hills to Black Elk Peak, saying the name of the state's highest peak was derogatory to Native Americans because Harney was a general whose soldiers massacred Indians.
The decision by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names was met with displeasure by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Sen. John Thune, who called the name change a "unilateral decision" that ignored the will of state officials who had listened to public comment and had earlier recommended the name remain Harney Peak.
“The national board’s choice to reject the state’s recommendation to leave the name as-is defies logic, since it was state officials who so carefully solicited public feedback and ultimately came to their decision," Thune said in a statement.
The federal board determined from the input received that Harney Peak was concerning to Native Americans in the area, said Lou Yost, the board's executive secretary for domestic names. The vote was 12 in favor, none against and one abstaining, he said.
"In this case, the board felt that the name was derogatory or offensive being that it was on a holy site of the Native Americans," Yost said, adding that the change applies to federal usage on new maps or other products.
Army Gen. William S. Harney's men massacred Native American women and children during a battle in September 1855, according to historic records.
Some people last year argued to the state's Board of Geographic Names that Harney Peak was offensive and should be changed, but the board decided against backing a new name.
Basil Brave Heart, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, proposed the change to Black Elk Peak as a tribute to a Lakota spiritual leader who died in the mid-20th century.
Brave Heart told the Journal on Thursday that he was “shocked and elated.”
“But behind the shock is a prayer answered,” he said.
He hopes the governor will honor the decision, he said. Brave Heart also called the renaming of the peak an important step for Native Americans and people of all other races who have been subjugated.
“To put a man’s name on a mountain who killed Native people is wrong,” Brave Heart said. “Now the right thing has been done by this group of courageous men and women in Washington.”
The federal government's decision came after a nearly two-year discussion and debate over the name of the peak. State and federal officials for years have been evaluating historic place names and changing many that are now deemed to be offensive.
After the new name was made public, readers of rapidcityjournal.com took to the paper's website to share their strong views on both sides of the issue.
"There will never be a day that I will ever call it anything but Harney Peak, nor will I ever acknowledge it as anything but Harney Peak. Ask me where Black Elk Peak is and I will have no idea," one reader wrote.
Countered another, "Finally, some sense has bubbled to the surface. Renaming the peak was long over due. When the peak was named Harney years ago, the Lakota were not consulted regarding the name."