South Dakota State Rep. and Native Nation Rebuilder Kevin Killer (Cohort 1) won his re-election to serve District 27 for a fourth-term in November — and a second victory at the polls he values just as highly. By a four-to-one margin, the community he represents in Shannon County voted in favor of adopting a new name: Oglala Lakota County.
Located entirely within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where 93 percent of the population is Native American, the county was originally named for a chief justice of the Dakota Territory Supreme Court who worked to wrest the Black Hills from Lakota tribes and place Native people on reservations. When Killer and other Native leaders learned of those origins, changing the name became an urgent cause. “We don’t want to be branded,” says Killer, one of four Native American members of the legislature. “This is a significant step: Half of our population is under 18 years old, and we want to leave them a better legacy.”
Rebuilder Anna Takes the Shield (Cohort 5), a member of the county commission, also played a leadership role in the historic effort to rename the county in recognition of the people who live there. The change must now be formally recognized by a joint resolution of the South Dakota Legislature and then be proclaimed by the governor.
Killer hopes the new name will remove the stigma that was associated with Shannon County and its high poverty rates, and replace it with a name reflecting the pride and heritage of the Oglala Lakota people. “This is a declaration saying, ‘Hey, we are still around — the policy to stomp out our language and our ways failed,’” Killer says. “All you’ll have to do is look at the map in 2015 and see we are still here. That’s something to build on, and inspire our young people, and all of our partners who invest in our community. It is setting us up for success.”
Watch for this piece and others by 2010 Bush Fellow NIck Coleman in the March 2015 issue of bmagazine.