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War Over Word In Lake Andes

October 10, 2012, 10:02 PM by Kelly Bartnick

War Over Word In Lake Andes
LAKE ANDES, SD -

A controversial sign is no longer up in Lake Andes, but that doesn't mean the community isn't talking about it.

The owners of the Circle H Motel maintain it was meant to be the word "renege," but they spelled it “renig.”

“It's a hate crime. It's a form of a hate crime as far as I'm concerned,” Charon Asetoyer said, who is the director of Lake Andes’ Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center.

Asetoyer and other drivers on Highway 281 saw the sign last week. The words were clearly a political message. But this Native American community believes it was more than that. 

“Your very extreme racists refer to us as "Prairie Nigger." Asetoyer said. “And so we know it had a dual meaning.”

The hotel owners insisted they spelled the word wrong. They say they took the sign down because of push back from the Native American community.

“If you're unsure and it might make someone a little uncomfortable you should check. Be careful with what you say,” Lake Andes resident Amy Emerson said, while watching her granddaughter play in the city park.

Emerson says the allegations are shocking and though her granddaughter is part African American, she says she still feels bringing her family to live in Lake Andes last year was the right decision.

“I felt like this was a safe place to bring my family and extended family and hope they do really well here,” Emerson said.

“It took several calls. It took a lot of discourse in the community before anything happened,” Asetoyer said. “I double-checked to make sure my bolt lock was on, that my screen door was locked. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable a few days.”

It's clear not everyone is on that page just yet. The words are gone, but it appears the debate over if this was a question of spelling or semantics is far from over.

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