South Dakota Changing Place Names Containing ‘Negro’ And ‘Squaw’

South Dakota is changing place names that may offend certain ethnic groups or minorities and is seeking public assistance to do so.

The state is renaming five geographic features and a further 13 sites that include the word “squaw” or “Negro” in their names, terms that are seen as offensive by African-Americans and native Americans.

Amongst the locations on the list for renaming are places such as “Negro Wool Ridge” and “Negro Gulch” (pictured above). Previously, such landmarks were known by a different “n” word.

However, renaming such locations is not the elementary process many might expect. A number of the replacement names suggested by the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names have been rejected by a federal body called the US Board on Geographic Names (USBGN).

This little-known federal board rules that names must center on local history, folklore, events, or natural aspects of the area, adding that names must not duplicate others attached to geographic features in South Dakota or nearby states.

As June Hansen, a member of the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names, acknowleges to The Toronto Star:

“It is hard for us to come up with a good name. There is some pretty strict criteria for what the name has to be.”

Part of the problem is that the USBGN does not regard the words “Negro” or “squaw” to be offensive.

South Dakota is not alone in changing place names. Around a dozen US states have tried to tweak location names that include the word “Negro” in recent years. Amongst these are Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho, Florida, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina.

In South Dakota, the process of name-changing began in 2001, and the state has so far been successful in renaming 20 sites that have been deemed to carry offensive names; for example, Little Squaw Creek has now become Badger Clark Creek.

Some have accused the state renaming board of taking political correctness too far, but board member Jay Vogt thinks taking action is worthwhile:

“It is easy for us not in the shoes of someone who has had racial slurs used against them … not to understand. But we need to step back and take a look and be sensitive.”

What do you think about South Dakota changing place names?

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