Two of the Legislature’s Lakota members, Rosebud neighbors Senator Troy Heinert (D-26/Mission) and Representative Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission), are out to change some names that indigenous folks find offensive.
Heinert’s Senate Bill 178 would direct the South Dakota Board on Geographic Names to come up with a better name for Custer State Park. The board would recommend a new name to the Legislature by July 1, 2023; we’d change the signs and t-shirts by July 1, 2027.
State park frequenter Kevin Woster wrote up the case for redwashing Custer off our maps last August:
But to some—most notably many indigenous people of the Northern Plains–the Custer State Park brand comes with a bad name and a bad history. George Armstrong Custer, after all, had a bit of a reputation with indigenous people, and not in the best of ways. In some of the worst, actually.
Woodard, a retired SDSU English professor with deep connections to the Native American community, says there’s no question the name of Custer State Park should be changed.
“Custer was a reprehensible human being. Should that be masked by naming ANYTHING after him? Should a dishonorable person be honored by having places named after him?” Woodard said. “This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about doing the right thing.”
Part of Custer’s reputation was built as an “Indian fighter” on the Northern Plains after the Civil War. And, of course, he died in one of those fights, along the Little Bighorn River in what is now Montana on June 25, 1876, a day celebrated by people of the Great Sioux Nation each year.
Custer’s expedition through the Black Hills in 1874, a violation of the 1868 Treaty, also discovered gold. And Custer’s reports of precious metals were part of what eventually led to a flood of miners and others to the Black Hills, which the indigenous people of the region considered and still consider to be sacred.
The loss of the Black Hills is associated with many things to Northern Plains tribes. Custer is one of them [Kevin Woster, “A New Name for Custer State Park? Let’s Talk About It,” SDPB: On the Other Hand, 2021.08.30].
While SB 178 awaits action from Senate State Affairs, Representative Bordeaux’s two name changers are up this morning in separate committees.
At 7:45 a.m. in Room 414, House State Affairs will hear a basket of tribally related bills, including House Bill 1144, in which Rep. Bordeaux proposes to add “scalp” to a statute (SDCL 1-19C-1) that already bans the term “squaw” from South Dakota place names. HB 1144 also orders replacement names for five map features in Gregory County: North Scalp Creek, Scalp Butte, Scalp Creek Indian Site, South Scalp Creek, and South Scalp Creek Recreation Area. The bill would logically require Gregory County to rename South Scalp Road, which leads to the South Scalp Creek Recreation Area; it would not require any name change for private campground Hillbilly Haven a couple miles south of the recreation area because white folks are free to insult themselves all they want. Like Heinert, Bordeaux does not specify what new names he wants; HB 1144 just sets the process in motion.
Meanwhile, across the hall in Room 413 at 7:45 this morning, House Education will take up House Bill 1183, in which Representative Bordeaux seeks to ban South Dakota schools from using derogatory Native mascots and names. Rep. Bordeaux tries to give school districts some grace. HB 1183 says they can keep getting use out of all the logoed basketball shorts and football helmets they’ve spent good money on for up to five years, but only if they get to work on picking a new mascot or team name, not buying any more gear with the old offensive logos, and removing any signs and building fixtures bearing the offensive branding. HB 1183 doesn’t name any specific school district, but in the press, Bordeaux tells the Sioux Falls Washington Warriors and the Britton-Hecla Braves that a change would do them good.
Hey, if the Governor can try banning ideas that make white kids feel bad, surely the Legislature can justify banning names and symbols that denigrate our Lakota brothers and sisters. But if legislators reject these bills and tell South Dakota’s original but minority population that they need to just suck it up and take their colonialist lumps, then they’ll have no choice but to turn to the Governor and tell her and her white-as-snowflake (am I missing an s?) base to back off their fake-CRT bills and take their anti-colonialist lumps.