SD panel works to change offensive place namesPIERRE (AP) — For nearly two decades, state Rep. Dean Wink of Howes has been trying to change the name of Negro Creek, which runs through his western South Dakota ranch.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — For nearly two decades, state Rep. Dean Wink of Howes has been trying to change the name of Negro Creek, which runs through his western South Dakota ranch.
As of Monday, he has the help of a state board that is charged with getting rid of offensive names.
The South Dakota Board of Geographic Names decided to use the Meade County creek as a test case for a new process aimed at increasing public involvement in changing offensive names of places, most of which use the terms "Negro" or "squaw."
Wink said he has tried to refer to the 9-mile-long creek, which eventually drains into the Cheyenne River, as Black Creek, but it hasn't caught on.
"I think it's a good move to get rid of offensive names," Wink told the board. He said the creek was apparently named Negro Creek because a black family lived there decades ago.
In 2001, the 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. For example, Squaw Creek in Pennington County has been renamed Cedar Breaks Creek.
A state law passed in 2009 listed 15 names that hadn't been changed, and created the state Board of Geographic Names to handle it.
Even though the federal board has agreed to rename some places in South Dakota, it deferred action on others, partly because it said the state had not sufficiently involved the public in renaming creeks, gulches and other offensively named places. Most places are so small they do not appear on most maps, officials have said.
The state board's tentative plans for public input on the Meade County creek call for publishing a public notice early in July giving people 45 days to suggest a new name. The board then will hold a public hearing in late summer before recommending a new name to the federal board, which has the final say.
Board members said after dealing with this creek, they will tackle a county that has several offensively named areas.
The board also said that hearings eventually will be held on American Indian reservations.
"I'm just glad we're moving forward," said J.R. LaPlante, board chairman and secretary of the state Department of Tribal Relations.
Board members said they expect some people will resist efforts, because they want to preserve historical names.
"I think there's going to be some difficult ones down the road," said board member Jay Vogt, director of the South Dakota State Historical Society.