Black Elk Peak Clears Final Hurdle: Counts Coup on South Dakota Officials

South Dakota’s top political leaders now say they’ll go along with the Black Elk Peak name change – but they don’t like it.
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A week after Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, “This is a bunch of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats waving a magic wand,” he and the rest of South Dakota’s top political leaders now say they’ll go along with the name change of the state’s highest mountain– but they don’t like it.

Or, as Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna’s signature saying went in early episodes of Saturday Night Live, “Never mind.”

Late last week, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, along with Senators Thune, Mike Rounds, and Rep. Kristi Noem – all Republicans – stated they will not challenge the U.S. Board of Geographic Names’ unanimous vote on August 11 to remove the name Harney Peak and rename it Black Elk Peak.

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Despite deep misgivings by Daugaard and Thune, a week of consultations between the governor and the state’s entire congressional delegation resulted in statements that signal an end to any potential state and federal opposition to the name change.

Though Sen. Thune, South Dakota’s most prominent voice in Washington D.C., told the Rapid City Journal’s Seth Tupper, “I think it’s been Harney Peak for 150 years, and the recommendation that was made by the state board – which was based on input from a lot of people – was to keep it that way,” he indicated he has no plans to introduce legislation to oppose the change.

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Daugaard further said “he would direct state employees to change the name in all state-produced references, just as the federal government is already doing.”

Asked directly if he approved of the name being changed to Black Elk, Daugaard said, “If the name had to be changed, I like ‘Black Elk’ just fine.” That was as close to approval as any of South Dakota’s elected leaders went. In an election year, Rep. Noem told Tupper: “While I do not oppose the name being changed to honor him, I do have deep concerns about the overreaching and nontransparent nature of the Obama administration’s actions.”

Noem added: “The way in which this administration went about the name change has done a great disservice to Black Elk and his legacy. Meanwhile, in another profile in equivocation, Sen. Rounds stated: “I cannot defend this administration’s process in changing the name; however, I have the utmost respect for the memory of Black Elk who is truly a Lakota hero worthy of our respect. I do not object to a mountain being named in honor of Black Elk. I do have a problem with the federal process and the fact that it’s taken away from the honor that Black Elk deserves.”

Neither Noem nor Rounds provided any examples as to just how, or how much “honor” the process took away from Chief Black Elk. Meanwhile, Indigenous Peoples across the state, nationally, and internationally, hailed the decision.