Hundreds of Native Americans gathered at Black Elk Peak for the annual “Welcome Back the Thunders” ceremony. It’s the first time the spring celebration has been held at the sacred site since it was renamed in honor of the Lakota leader.
The Lakota have gathered at Black Elk Peak for generations to celebrate the return of spring. Russell Eagle Bear is the Historic Preservation Officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He says the “Welcome Back the Thunders” ceremony acknowledges the rains that nurture the growth of life.
“To come back into our territory…into our country in a good way,” explains Eagle Bear. “To bring forth the good things. Fill up the lakes and rivers and creeks in a good way. To bring forth that growth…that water. Water of life.”
Eagle Bear says this year’s ceremony is special because the mountain that was once named after U.S. Army General William S. Harney is now named after Lakota leader Black Elk.
“Which is really significant for us too,” Eagle Bear observes. “It’s kind of a blessing. There’s this whole history about General Harney and it’s kind of a sore spot for our people. Especially what happened at the Blue Water.”
U.S. troops under Harney’s command attacked and destroyed a Lakota village in 1855 at Nebraska’s Blue Water Creek. The Lakota along with descendants of Harney pushed for the name change of the peak. The US Board on Geographic Names approved the name Black Elk Peak last year.
The “Welcome Back the Thunders” ceremony ends with Lakota teens carrying a sacred pipe and food offerings to the top of Black Elk Peak. Eagle Bear says Black Elk Peak is the highest point in the Black Hills and is the most appropriate spot to bring prayers to the Great Spirit.