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Bill Keeps Geographic Name Board, But Limits Scope

Lawmakers are considering a bill that removes some power from the State Board of Geographic Names.  

The board was formed in order to change racist or offensive names of South Dakota landmarks.  In 2014 the board was instructed to remove all references to the word “squaw” which is seen as both derogatory and racist.

But when the board began looking at a possible name change for Harney Peak – some lawmakers say it went too far.

Originally some proposed dissolving the Board of Geographic Names altogether but changes to the bill in committee now keep the board but limit its role.  GOP State Representative Jim Bolin is a sponsor of the legislation.  He believes the board was over reaching its authority when it began considering a possible a name change for Harney Peak in the Black Hills.   

“I think the difference here is between sometimes the actual name is offensive in our culture.  Compared to the actions of an individual and when you start going down that road it’s very difficult to figure out where you’re going to stop,” says Bolin.

But others expressed concern.  State Representative Kevin Killer is from the Oglala Lakota County– which was recently renamed from Shannon County.  Many say the former county namesake Peter Shannon didn’t treat Native people fairly.   Some argue for a name change of Harney Peak for the same reason.  Some Lakota people accuse General William Harney of massacres  during the battles over Dakota Territory in the 1850’s.    Representative  Killer says the State Board of Geographic Names  has acted only with ample public input – and it plays an important role in reconciliation.

“As South Carolina finally rid itself of the confederate flag as a symbol of slavery and racism in the South, so should South Dakota continue rid itself of geographic names that stand for racism, inequality, disrespect, inhumanity, and cultural genocide of the Lakota Dakota people and African American Communities,” says Killer.

House Bill 1060which changes the role of the Board of Geographic Names went in to passed committee by 11 to 2.

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