Naughty names nixed on Pine Ridge reservation

SD panel: Offensive titles given to geographic features should go.

By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press

Published April 06, 2013, 07:49 AM in the Daily Republic


PIERRE — A South Dakota panel charged with scrubbing the state of offensive place names has recommended that two creeks, a dam and two other geographical features on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation be renamed to reflect the area’s traditional use for deer hunting.

The state Board on Geographic Names is proposing that the locations — all of which feature a variation of the phrase “Squaw Humper” — get new names in the Lakota language. For example, Squaw Humper Creek would instead be Tahc’a Okute Wakpa, which translates to Deer Hunting Ground Creek.

The names were suggested by Oglala Sioux tribal officials at a March 28 hearing on the reservation.

The state Board on Geographic Names will seek public comment on the proposed names before taking a final vote in June.

The names then would be submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which has the final say on naming places.

The renaming of the five features in northwestern Shannon County is the second case in which the state board has used a new process aimed at increasing public involvement in changing offensive names for places, mostly features that use the terms “Negro” or “Squaw” but are so small they do not appear on most maps. The board recently recommended that Negro Creek in Meade County be renamed Howe’s Creek because it’s near the community of Howes.

The board’s chairman, state Secretary of Tribal Relations J.R. LaPlante, said the panel is grateful for the grassroots effort by historian Wilmer Mesteth and other officials of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office to find culturally appropriate replacement names.

“Really, we were just ecstatic as a board to see the involvement. And of course, the names being recommended were in the original native tongue. It was just an exciting day for us,” LaPlante said.

Joyce Whiting, project review officer for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, said she is happy the state board accepted the Lakota names proposed for the creeks and other features.

“Years ago, all the names — all the creeks, the buttes, everything — they were in Lakota,” Whiting said.

“It’s something for me to witness this and to be a part of it.”

The features being renamed apparently got their original names because a man lived in the area with two American Indian women, Whiting said.

The 2001 South Dakota Legislature passed a law to start eliminating offensive names, and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has since changed the names of 20 places in the state.

Another state law passed in 2009 listed 15 names that hadn’t been changed and created the new state board to tackle the job.

However, the federal board has deferred action on some name changes, partly because it said the state had not sufficiently involved the public in renaming geographic features.

Next, the state board will seek new names for some places in Custer County, located in the southwestern corner of the state.

Whiting said tribal officials also would like to see something done about places with names that do not meet the official definition of offensive, but bother American Indians. Some places named for military officers sent to the area to subdue American Indians more than a century ago should also be known by their Lakota names, she said.