Local leaders want tributaries to have South Dakota names

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Board on Geographic Names plans local hearings in the months ahead on requests regarding two water bodies in Minnehaha and Spink counties.

Local people want them to have official names.

The proposal from Hartford calls for Turtle Creek.

That reflects the common name already used in the Hartford community for the unnamed tributary that flows into Skunk Creek.

From Spink County, the request is Iron River.

It refers to reddish sand in an unnamed tributary that starts near Doland and flows into the James River one mile north of Spink County Dam. 

“The meetings haven’t been scheduled yet.  I anticipate they will be in late July or early August.  We will send out notices when the meetings are scheduled,” chairwoman June Hansen of Pierre said Friday.

She represents the state Department of Transportation on the five-member state panel.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names would make the final decisions.

Three years ago, the federal board voted 12-0 to change the name of a Black Hills mountain from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak.

That came 110 years after the federal board had first officially named it Harney Peak.

The state board meanwhile had recommended a third name, Hinhan Kaga. The English translation of the Lakota phrase was “Making of Owls.”

General William Harney was a controversial figure during the U.S. Army’s wars against Indian peoples in the 1800s and died in 1889. Black Elk was an Oglala Lakota elder who died in 1950.

The U.S. board’s decision August 11, 2016, to rename the peak for Black Elk surprised then-Governor Dennis Daugaard and South Dakota’s senior U.S. senator, John Thune.

Daugaard said it would cause “unnecessary expense and confusion.”

Thune said the federal board’s decision defied logic. The senator also claimed the federal board “grossly misled my office” regarding a decision that Thune said wasn’t supposed to come to a vote until 2017.

A few months before the federal decision, state legislator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, had changed the South Dakota law that established the state board.

Schoenbeck first wanted to repeal the 2009 law altogether. Lawmakers instead said the state board could respond only to instances the Legislature identified in state law as offensive or insulting.

He explained Friday his reason.

“I drafted the bill because, after reading all the (state) commission’s minutes and studying the legislation, I thought the commission was outside of his scope of authority. That very concern appeared in their minutes as well,” Schoenbeck said.

So what has come of his change?

“I’m not sure about the result, in that I haven’t heard of any issues about our state commission since the law passed,” Schoenbeck said. “I guess that’s good news.”

He added, “I also do not believe the Legislature has considered any new bills on offensive names since then, which would give the commission more work to do.”

The place-names debate began in South Dakota around 2000 when Bill Janklow was governor. He decided that all places using the word “squaw” needed to be changed.

The Legislature followed with a 2001 law that prohibited “squaw” from place names, declared that squaw was “offensive and insulting to all South Dakota’s people, history, and heritage” and directed that maps be changed.

The last formal use of squaw for a place in South Dakota was eliminated in 2018.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s elected council approved a resolution August 16 changing Squaw Humper Dam, located on private land within the reservation, to Tahc’ a Okute Mni Onaktake.

Chairwoman Hansen and Jay Vogt, director of the State Historical Society, said at the state board’s May 8 meeting the translation referred generally to “running deer.”

“I butcher the English language, and I don’t have an ear for language, unfortunately,” Hansen said.

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