South Dakota’s Shannon County changes name to Oglala Lakota County

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On Thursday, the decision to change the name of Shannon County to Oglala Lakota County was finalized in South Dakota.

In the November referendum, 80% of county voters cast their ballots in favor of the new name. This clear message from the people transcended into the state legislative process where the House voted 64-5 on February 18 and the Senate closed the decision on March 5 with a 32-2 vote.

Rep. Kevin Killer (D-Pine Ridge) is the man behind the bill, having collected the signatures necessary to put the matter on the ballot in the first place. Jim Bradford (D-Pine Ridge) was the head sponsor of the bill in Senate; he thanks former legislators Paul Valandra, Larry Lucas, and Dick Hagen for their passage of a bill which allows for this kind of name change.

The now Oglala Lakota County was founded in 1875 and originally named after Peter C. Shannon, white chief justice of the Dakota Territory Supreme Court. Shannon was later appointed to negotiate land with the Lakota people. His work did not involve fair compromise or respect and resulted in devastating losses to Natives in the area. Any notion of continuing to honor his legacy as disrespect towards indigenous people’s rights lives on is quite backwards.

“He was part of the spear that brought all of that upon us,” said supporter Jesse Short Bull in reference to Shannon’s participation in colonizing the land and contribution to the stream of injustice still faced by Native Americans today.

Implementation of this change is now left in the hands of county officials. Letterhead, signage, logos, and equipment must be modified to represent the new name. This will certainly be a costly, time-consuming effort, but members of the community look forward to completion.

The former Shannon County is one of many locations in the United States carrying on the legacy of those undeserving of such honor. Hopefully, this change will act as a catalyst for others to come. It is due time for the United States to halt stale recognition of people who did little to benefit the full spectrum of people in our country.

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