SD panel moves to remove ‘squaw,’ keep ‘Negro’

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A legislative committee approved a bill Friday that allows use of the word “Negro” in South Dakota place names but makes it clear that the word “squaw” should be removed from all locations.

Joe Nadenicek, a member of the state board responsible for getting rid of offensive names, was pleased with the vote.

“I’ve been working with this issue since 2001,” said Nadenicek, a staff attorney with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “I’m happy to be working toward a level of closure.”

The Legislature previously passed laws requiring the renaming of a list of geographic features that included the terms “Negro” or “squaw.” The state Board on Geographic Names has been working to find new names for such creeks, dams, lakes and other features. But black leaders in Sioux Falls told the board last fall that the term “Negro” is not offensive and should continue to be used to recognize South Dakota’s African-American heritage.

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously Friday for a bill that specifically declares the word “squaw” offensive and bans its use in place names. The bill also would remove references in previous law to specific features that were to be renamed because their names included the word “Negro.”

Porter Williams, curator of the South Dakota African American History Museum in Sioux Falls, said the measure was exactly what black leaders want.

“We did not want to diminish our history in South Dakota,” Williams said in a phone interview after the committee meeting.

The removal of “Negro” would be “erasing the history and contribution of African Americans,” said Sen. Chuck Jones, R-Flandreau, the bill’s main sponsor.

Jones, a member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, said many people have misconceptions about Native Americans.

“Help me defeat that stereotype. I can’t do it by myself,” Jones told the committee.

Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said the name-changing process can take too long and be arbitrary and complicated.

“I hope we can expedite the process in the future,” Rhoden said.

Creeks, dams, and other geographical features have already been renamed to replace the term “squaw.” A lake in Codington, for example, has been renamed as Serenity Lake.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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