United Native America seeks state park name change
In South Dakota
Sign the petition! - go to the link below:
Change Custer State Park To Chief Crazy Horse State Park Petition
By Heidi Bell Gease, Journal Staff Writer
January 19, 2005
If a national group accomplishes its goal, you could be spending weekends watching the buffalo and fishing the lakes in Crazy Horse State Park.
First, though, United Native America needs to find South Dakota legislators willing to sponsor a bill that would rename Custer State Park to Crazy Horse State Park.
"A lot of our members up here are not happy with the fact that there is Custer State Park right there at the monument to Crazy Horse," Mike Graham, founder of Oklahoma-based United Native America, said in a telephone interview. "It's an idea whose time has come, and our members are behind it."
The proposal hasn't made a big splash yet. Custer State Park Superintendent Richard Miller said Tuesday that he had not heard about the proposal. Neither had others in the tourism business.
Graham founded United Native America in 1993 in hopes of establishing a national holiday to honor American Indians. The group has since become involved in other issues, Graham said, including the renaming of a Longmont, Colo., street previously named for a militiaman involved in the Sand Creek Massacre.
United Native America claims a membership of 30,000, including 3,000 in South Dakota. Graham said the idea of renaming Custer State Park originated with South Dakotans, but did he not provide names of those members.
Graham drafted the proposed bill last month and distributed it to South Dakota government leaders. He said Gov. Mike Rounds has promised to give the issue "serious consideration" if it comes before him.
Graham is working with several legislators to make that happen, but so far he has had limited success. Two of them "wouldn't agree to sponsor the bill, but they said if the bill did get sponsored they would be in favor of it," he said.
Graham expected the name change would be an easy sell, especially given the fact that the state park lies near a private attraction, Crazy Horse Memorial, that attracts large numbers of tourists each year.
Graham said he had not yet contacted the Ziolkowski family, who own and operate Crazy Horse Memorial, about the proposal to rename Custer State Park.
"There still seems to be this 1800s attitude in the representatives up there that they tend to want to hang onto the U.S. side version of history, as opposed to honoring the Native American side of it," Graham said.
The way he sees it, changing the park's name would cost little and reap much in terms of tourism.
Others might disagree.
"It seems to me it would be quite an undertaking" to change the park's name, Superintendent Miller said.
Gerard Baker, superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, was superintendent at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana when its name was changed from Custer Battlefield in 1991.
"It's a paperwork exercise," Baker said Tuesday. "From my experience, you need to cross all your T's and dot all your I's on this kind of stuff."
That is not to say he disagrees with the idea. Baker, who is a Hidatsa Indian, believes many people would like to see places such as Custer State Park renamed.
"Sometimes we put names up there that are heroes that are not necessarily heroes to everybody, to all cultures," he said. "And I think … we need to take those things into consideration."
Graham's proposed bill may not have legislative backing yet, but the idea does have some grassroots support.
"I think it would be most appropriate," Mark St. Pierre, a writer and former director of the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce, said. "There's no question that any conscionable or thinking person would realize that in fact Custer was probably a war criminal."
St. Pierre cites Custer's history of attacking Indian villages at dawn. "He was not concerned at all about the welfare of non-combatants. He was strictly out for himself and his own place in history," he said. "I think, in the spirit of reconciliation, it would be a wonderful move (to rename the park)."
Leonard Little Finger, cultural-resource specialist at Loneman School and a descendant of Chief Big Foot, also sees renaming the park as a great idea for everyone, not only for Indian people.
Courts have ruled that the Black Hills belong to Indian people, but Little Finger said the issue isn't so much about holding title to the property as it is being caretakers of the land.
"There's a sacredness, a sacred interrelationship with the land itself," he said. "I think giving recognition and honor to Crazy Horse certainly is justified, because Crazy Horse really represents a certain mysticism of any people, of any human beings, that were just a notch greater than we as ordinary people.
"Nobody knows where he's buried, no pictures were ever taken of him, and he fought as much as he could to try to protect the land," Little Finger said. The park's current name conjures images of manifest destiny and broken promises, yet Little Finger said it is still a place of peace, harmony and connectedness.
"Crazy Horse the name itself, and what he stands for personifies that," he said. "That's much more appealing than the quest for gold."
Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or email@example.com
copyright © The Rapid City Journal
United Native America
Wording of bill for Chief Crazy Horse State Park
Whereas: The state government of South Dakota recommends
changing Custer State Park name to Chief Crazy Horse State Park.
Whereas: South Dakota State Government, in recognition of Chief Crazy Horse and his Monument sees fit to bring about a state park bearing his name.
Whereas: Bringing about Chief Crazy Horse State park would show honor and give well deserved respect to the man Crazy Horse. This was a man who has played a bigger than life roll in South Dakota history, a history known around the world.
Whereas: Custer State park is located next to Chief Crazy Horse Monument, changing the name of the park would be more fitting than bringing about another state park. This action would expedite the creation of Chief Crazy Horse State Park.
Whereas: Establishing Chief Crazy Horse Park will show a strong bond between the State Government and Tribal Governments within the state.
Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives(1) Recognizes and honor Chief Crazy Horse with a state park in his name.