Society

South Dakota Attempting to Change Place Names Like 'Negro' and 'Squaw'

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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South Dakota is aiming to change geographic place-names that could be seen as offensive, such as “Negro” and “squaw” canyons, creeks, and ridges.

The state legislature has designated the renaming of a total of 18 sites, which include the word “Negro” or “squaw.” Officials are asking the public to help them rename five of those geographic locations, after some of the names suggested by the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names were rejected by a federal body called the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN).

Apparently there is a long list of criteria for renaming the areas. "There is some pretty strict criteria for what the name has to be," said June Hansen, a member of the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names.

For instance, when they suggested renaming “Negro Creek” to “Medicine Mountain Creek” it was rejected by the BGN.

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According to the BGN, the new names should focus on local history, associated wildlife, folklore or natural aspects of the area. “This includes Native American and other ethnic names appropriate to the area in which the feature is located,” says the BGN’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures handbook.

The BGN says the state cannot “duplicate” names from other geographic features in South Dakota or from nearby states.

Their code on derogatory names states that the board, “will not adopt a name proposal that implies discrimination or is shown to be derogatory to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group. This also applies to names considered obscene or blasphemous in a present-day cultural context.”

However, the federal body does not consider the word “Negro” to be offensive, said BGN executive secretary Lou Yost. “Squaw” is not an offensive term by their standards either. The three-letter shortened form of the word Japanese is, however, Reuters points out.

South Dakota has changed 20 names since it began the renaming process in 2001. Working for over a decade, the legislature has garnered criticism that it has taken political correctness too far, but board members remain committed.

"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," said renaming board member Jay Vogt.

After more than a centry of using the term "Negro," the U.S. Census Bureau this year announced they are dropping the word from its surveys and will now use "black" or "African-American."

Source: Yahoo!, USGS