Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What's In A Name? Are You Kidding? When It Comes To Harney, Everything's In A Name

          Talk about falling into the "if it ain't broke don't fix it category," why on earth are some of our state reps tinkering with the South Dakota Board On Geographic Names?  The
What's In A Name?
(photo from argusleader.com)
Board, which is charged with replacing offensive place names in our state has been the target of Watertown GOP Rep Lee Schoenbeck and a solid phalanx of Republicans in the House and Senate.  Numbered House Bill 1060, it was at birth an effort to "repeal" the Board, which was created by a law passed in 2009 to "solicit" input on possibly offensive geographical names in various spots throughout South Dakota.  The Board is charged to then "make recommendations to the appropriate local, state and federal agencies" as part of a process to get the names expunged and replaced.

     Apparently, Schoenbeck's intent of repealing the law met with some resistance, so his House Bill now is simply an effort to "revise" the statute.  This is an amendment of some consideration because it keeps the Board in place. The revised bill reads to me like the amendment  leaves everything pretty much intact with some extra emphasis on its charged purpose, which will probably bring the Board’s mission, not its very existence, into focus.  
         That means that despite failing to legislate it out of existence, Schoenbeck still has an opening to redefine its mission.  As he told the RCJ last week, it "got all the work done that the statutes directed them to do."  This is plain crazy because Schoenbeck's assumption is that there are no longer any offensive place names in South Dakota.  Schoenbeck's  ethno-centricity blinds him to the fact that there are indeed offensively named places in this state. Anyone here ever heard of a mass
Murderer, Kidnapper, Looter
murderer named Colonel William S. Harney? His slaughter, abduction and looting of an Indian encampment in western Nebraska is recognized by the Nebraska State Historical Society as "The Harney Massacre."  Does Schoenbeck just shrug this off as one of those things? Is getting offended by the fact that our most significant mountain in South Dakota is named for a human exterminator just a PC distraction to him? Schoenbeck contended in his RCJ interview that the law creating the Board was intended to replace names that have offensive words like "squaw" and "Negro" in them

and that the recent dust-up over Harney Peak is a "whole different mission."  
     Uh-uh.  It is not a whole different mission. The Board's empowering statute mandates that it "consider issues related to geographical place names." Regarding Harney Peak, this is an "issue" that has been raised by many South Dakotans and the board is charged with “considering” it.  The Board's work is not done and the Harney Peak name change is part of its mission.  By claiming otherwise, Schoenbeck is effectively telling many South Dakotans that their grievance regarding Harney's name is irrelevant--that in fact they are irrelevant.  Even in revision, this bill, at best, is an obnoxious attempt at ignoring people’s concerns.  At worst, it’s an effort at suppressing them. 

Addendum (added at 1613  1/26):  Shortly after I finished this, the SD House passed the bill on a mostly partisan vote.  If the bill becomes law, the state legislature will determine if a site has a name that has to be changed in accordance with state law.  This would effectively disempower the Board On Geographic Names.  


  1. It is, of course, a coincidence that the prime mover for this legislation represents a community with a homecoming ceremony that many people find racially insensitive. Yeah, right.

  2. Lets putany name change to a state wide vote. Then the people will have spoken.

    The Blindman

  3. From JOHN WREDE who responded on my facebook page to this piece: "This happens frequently in a heavily partisan legislature. They don't like the message and embarrassment and they further don't like the conflict so they just kill the messenger. It's a control issue. In this case, placing the entire process of selecting places for name changes is sophomoric micro management. What the heck do we have a functioning government for if the electorate decides for itself that it is going to control everything. This is nothing more than a solution wondering about looking for a problem. The board did it's job, it followed the law precisely and even in the end, they produced a recommendation that was apparently majority driven. If we're going to do this sort of thing every time there is a public debate, then what we aught to do is eliminate all the state boards and commissions etc. and bring every policy decision to this group of questionable ability, and let them handle it. Hey, Game Fish and Parks, the legislature should establish a special session each year to set hunting seasons, bag limits, fish possession limits, park maintenance budgets and all the other policies that some legislators don't like."

  4. There's facts and there's hearsay....I've read all the votes on the SDBGN site, THERE ARE MANY MORE VOTES TO CHANGE the Name of Harney Peak than to not change the name. Readers should read the (pdf's) of Tribal votes, petitions and concerned citizens and see for yourself before they dismantle this information and take it off the site.

    1. and if you read the opinions/letters of the dissenters (those that want to keep harney's name on there) the racism and bigotry are ultra ugly.

  5. "privilege is invisible to those that have it."