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'Negro' not offensive, SD place-name panel says

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — The word "squaw" is being removed from geographical place names in South Dakota, but the word "Negro" is likely to live on.

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Members of South Dakota's black community have agreed to work with a state committee charged with getting rid of offensive geographic names — such as Negro Hill and Squaw Creek — to persuade lawmakers to remove "Negro" from the list of offensive terms.

The state Board on Geographic Names voted unanimously Thursday night to keep Negro in place names after hearing half a dozen people testify in Sioux Falls that the word is an acceptable and even desirable part of place names, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

"The Negro word is not offensive. All the (black) people I have talked to ... they all agree that the word is not offensive," said Bob Harris, president of the South Dakota African-American History Museum. "I think it's important that we keep it here to give our culture some recognition, some historical value in the state of South Dakota."

J.R. LaPlante, South Dakota's secretary of tribal relations and the chair of the names board, said the group heard a "unanimous voice" from the black community.

"If one person is offended by the word Negro, that would cause us to have pause," he said. "But that's not what we're hearing tonight."

There are 10 place names in South Dakota with the word Negro, such as Negro Canyon in Custer County and Big Negro Draw in Jackson County. It will take a change in a 2001 South Dakota law for those names to remain.

The board still is pursuing changes to places with the word "squaw" in their name. Members on Thursday night voted unanimously to recommend changing "Squaw Creek" in Moody County to "Isanti Creek," after the Dakota language term for the Santee people.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has final approval for all geographic name changes in South Dakota.