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Ancient Ceremony At Ancient Site: Indigenous People Pray At Peak Named For Enemy

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Credit Victoria Wicks
People gather near the fire watch tower at the top of the peak. The ceremony is held beyond this point.

Every spring, at the time of the Vernal Equinox, indigenous people gather at Harney Peak to welcome back the Thunder Beings. It's a ceremony that has ancient roots, held at a peak that has an ancient name.

Last year saw a push to change the name of the peak. Proponents of change, including a relative of William S. Harney, say the general's name shouldn't be on a site sacred to tribes, because he led a brutal attack on an encampment at Blue Water Creek in Nebraska, killing women and children.

That name change is still pending at the federal level and could be resolved next month. But no matter what name appears on maps and signs, the elders say they'll always think of the peak by its traditional name, Hinhan Kaga.

SDPB's Victoria Wicks joined climbers on Saturday and reached the top of the peak to bring us this story.

Russell Eagle Bear says First People will gather at another sacred Black Hills site for the Summer Solstice. That takes place at Pe Sla on June 20-21.

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Update on status of name change before U.S. Board of Geographic Names

A proposal to change the name of Harney Peak in the Black Hills is still pending before a federal board, despite recent changes in state law. That board could rule as soon as next month.

During this legislative session, lawmakers in Pierre approved a bill to curb the authority of the state Board on Geographic Names. According to committee testimony, the move was inspired by the recent push to change the name of the peak.

But the U.S. Board on Geographic Names is still considering the name change, and that decision rests on input from various sources.

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