Courtesy Eric Rodriguez
Basil Brave Heart: “We’re doing this together. This is bigger than us. It’s reconciliation.”

Black Elk Peak ‘Answer to Many Prayers’: Basil Brave Heart

David Rooks

ICTMN caught up with Basil Brave Heart, Oglala Lakota ceremonial leader, the day after news broke that the U.S. Geographical Commission for Names had voted 12 to 0 (with one abstension) to rename the Black Hills’ highest peak from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak. Two years ago, Brave Heart began his quest to honor the revered Oglala Lakota Medicine Man. After several twist and turns, he learned yesterday’s ruling.

RELATED: Breaking: Black Elk Peak Soars Above The He Sapa, No Longer Harney Peak

Hau kola, Mr. Brave Heart. Hehanni was`te (Good morning). So, you received some good news?”

Ah, yes. It’s been really exciting … and the answer to many prayers.

Take us back a little, and fill us in on how this journey began.

About two years ago, I had a very deep, intuitive feeling that Harney Peak represented a very deep atrocity that was committed against the Little Thunder Tiyospaye at Blue Water Creek in 1855. There were women and children massacred. The way this whole thing was conducted by General Harney, to me, was despicable. As a military man, a combat veteran of Korea, I think he violated the deepest, most honorable military code of conduct, which relates to treating the enemy. First, there was a white flag that was lifted by Chief Little Thunder. Harney disregarded that, and he went in. His whole intention was to annihilate. This was to send a message. Soldiers don’t do that. They conduct themselves in a way that is ultimately humane.

So, you took the first step?

It weighed on my heart. You know, we Oglalas still live near this sacred peak. We see it all the time. Knowing as we do General Harney’s history with our people, it has always bothered me. Then a young man came to visit me (Myron Wayne Pourier); he is a direct descendant of Black Elk, and he said he wanted to see the name changed. I said: I don’t want to do it unless I have the Black Elk family’s full support. He said: You have it.

That must have really raised the stakes?

It really did. He said: In fact, I have Grandpa Black Elk’s pipe. I said: Well, let’s smoke it. Let’s say a prayer and ask Tunkasila, the Great Spirit, and all the Christology that I embrace, and then will come the effort that we’re going to put into it – but the outcome is up to Tunkasila, the Great Spirit.

So prayer was there at the beginning?

Definitely, at the beginning. We filled the pipe and we smoked it.

There was still a lot of opposition to be overcome …

Yesterday, when the guy at [the Associated Press] called, he said: Congratulations, I can’t believe this happened, because it’s been tried before, but you even had some opposition from the governor’s office, also Senator Thune. I said: Here’s the way I feel about it: A lot of people in South Dakota go to church every Sunday. They hear these words now and then, they go something like this: If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you could move mountains. I heard it many times. That’s for me where it’s at.

Were you able to generate a lot of support early on?

About a month ago, I got a call asking me to get a resolution from the tribal council. So I went to the tribe and to individual council members. I got a letter supporting the name change. That’s what I got first. We took it to council and they signed it. Then they said the board wants a videotape, and since you started this, you make it and we’ll send it to Washington, D.C. So I did that. They called me yesterday morning, and they told me the Board of Geographic Names is right now looking at that video that you sent. Let’s hope it changes their minds.

We had a lot of people’s support. But the opposition was very strong. But now I want to say this: I want Governor Daugaard to embrace this victory. Because I remember in January of this year, we had all the Korean Veterans of South Dakota come to Pierre (the state capitol) to receive the South Korean Ambassador’s Peace Medal. The South Korean government presented that Peace Medal to our governor. And we all, including myself, clapped our hands and embraced the moment that he received, on behalf of all Korean War Veterans, this honor. So I want the governor to know I supported him then, and so I want to ask for his support, his embrace, in changing this name.

I want to call Senator Thune and thank him for all the ways he supported us with the Veterans Administration. He’s a good man and I respect him. I like the way he conducts himself. He’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat. That’s an example of how we can all come together. We want him to join with us in this great moment for all our people.

How do you see things happening going forward?

We’re doing this together. This is bigger than us. It’s reconciliation. This decision wasn’t made by Native Americans, it was made in Washington. Let’s go forward with this movement. When I called Bear Runner (a representative of Oglala Lakota tribal chairman John Steele) he said this is really bigger than this. Let’s call all the Oceti Sakowin (the seven council fires of the Great Sioux Nation) of Montana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. This is a victory, and we need to continue this with one voice.

Is it possible there will be a gathering and a great ceremony in the He Sapa, possibly at Pe Sla?

Yes, we’re going to do a big ceremony. I just came from praying. We have to keep this movement going because it’s for our grandchildren.

What are some of the pitfalls you anticipate?

People have to know that the way to Black Elk Peak is more than just a geographic road sign. There’s a spiritual energy that’s going to shift. It will be an archeological and spiritual paradigm shift. Here the media is not very friendly to the Lakota voice. So we need people who can reach out to others in a good way, and with a friendly message. Because we need everybody.

Thank you very much. Pilamaya pelo.

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