Earlier this month the Interior Department’s Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously, 15-0, to change the name of Mount Doane in Yellowstone National Park to First Peoples Mountain.
The change was part of an ongoing program to remove derogatory names from national landmarks.
Addy Bink of Nexstar Media elaborates: “The 10,551-foot peak found east of Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming was previously named after U.S. Army Lt. Gustavus Doane,” who, “led an attack on a band of Piegan Blackfeet….The Marias Massacre of 1870 left at least 173 American Indians dead, including women, children suffering from smallpox, and elderly tribal members.”
Furthermore, the National Park Service reported, “Doane wrote fondly about this attack and bragged about it for the rest of his life.”
To acknowledge and stay alert to society’s racial injustice is known as being “woke.” It is recognition that our actions have often failed our ideals. Individually, who but psychopaths would never admit to making an error? Collections of individuals, such as nations, can only be as perfect as their imperfect components.
It is an unbecoming ancestor worship to claim our predecessors were always in the right.
It is a sign of national maturity to remove a genocidal butcher’s name from a mountain. It is a small but symbolically significant step.
And it has happened before. Four years ago, the same board renamed Harney Peak (one of my favorite hiking destinations) in the Black Hills as Black Elk Peak.
Black Elk was a Lakota spiritual leader whose visions in those mountains were recorded by John Neihardt and celebrated by mythographer Joseph Campbell.
Gen. William Harney precipitated the Bluewater Massacre in Nebraska, “retaliating” against an uninvolved Lakota village for the death of Lt. John Grattan and his men in another village – which dispersed after that battle.
Harney initiated a fake parley with the natives to give his men time to surround the camp and then had the Lakota negotiators shot dead to signal the troops to open fire. It was worse than a travesty to have his name placed on the highest peak in the Sioux’s sacred Black Hills — which they still claim, and which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1980 had been illegally taken from the tribe in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty.
At the time, the court awarded the Sioux $100 million. The interest has pushed the figure past $1 billion, which the tribes refuse to touch, citing the court ruling and insisting that the land, recognized as stolen, be returned.
In late May, a Congressional commission submitted its recommendations for new names for the nine United States Army bases currently named after traitorous Confederate officers who tried to destroy this country.
Six of those nine joined the confederated army by foreswearing their West Point oaths to serve and protect the United States. One who did not, politician Henry Benning, traveled to the Virginia secessionist convention with the message, “It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery.”
One does not have to be too “woke” to see the heinous affront of having young men and women of color serving at federal facilities named after men who thought their ancestors subhuman property.
But, there are many with sacred ancestors and fairy tale histories who prefer to bury unflattering facts and, by extension, perpetuate racism. (“You have to be taught how to hate.”)
They want to sleepwalk through life without a thought that might disturb their sense of (ignorant, scientifically refuted) superiority.
Some of these are the same folks who formerly objected to “political correctness,” which was no more than the basic politeness that should have been taught to them at their parents’ knees.
Darn right, our ancestors were brave to come to this hemisphere and then follow the frontiers into lands unknown to them, lands already occupied by people opposing their encroachment. But there were always those among them, from Roger Williams in the 1630s, who advocated the fair treatment of First Nations.
The peculiar abomination of slavery, building an entire economy on the whipped backs of subjugated human beings – many of whom were half-siblings or sons and daughters – has neither bravery nor honor attached to it.
And, again, there were moral people in those ancestors’ days who deplored the cruelty. We should honor them.
It’s time for some folks to woke up.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)