The North Dakota congressional delegation introduced bills to the House and Senate to change the name of the Sullys Hill National Game Preserve to the White Horse Hill National Game Preserve.
White Horse Hill is the traditional Dakota name for Sullys Hill, which is located on the Spirit Lake Reservation.
The Spirit Lake Tribe requested that the federal government change Sullys Hill to White Horse Hill in cooperation with the governor’s office and the North Dakota Department of Tourism. The Tribal Council expressed unanimous support for the name change in a May 10 resolution.
“The Spirit Lake Dakota people … believe the name chosen White Horse Hill comes from historical happenings that are sacred as well as unique to the Dakota people,” the Tribal Council said. “White Horse Hill (Sunka Wakan Ska Pa Ha) reflects a positive experience to the Dakota People rather than an individual who was destructive to the Dakota people and their culture.”
Demus McDonald, a tribal elder, said elders had told him the story of the white stallion that lived on what is now called Sullys Hill. He has been working to change the name of Sullys Hill to its traditional Dakota name for several years.
When the Dakota people moved into the area, McDonald said, they would see a white stallion roaming the area. The nearby powwow grounds, which an old wagon trail went through, was the site of parades staged by Dakota people. McDonald said the stallion often went down to the parade to look for a mare. Eventually, the stallion died, but the name White Horse Hill remained for the Dakota people.
The federal government named the Sullys Hill preserve after Gen. Alfred Sully, who committed several massacres against Native Americans. In a Sept. 3, 1863, massacre, his troops killed 300 of the Spirit Lake Tribe’s ancestors.
“This game preserve … should have never been named as it was, so we’re going to put it back to its historical name,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., said in a statement.
McDonald said the name change would mean a lot not just to him but to other members of the tribe.
“That would be something great, to get it named after … an Indian story,” McDonald said.
Erich Longie, a tribal preservation officer, said that his office has been receiving concerned calls about the proposed change — some in support and some in opposition. He said most of the opposition comes from non-Native American people who are worried about the erasure of history.
“I don’t see why they can’t understand why they (the Spirit Lake Dakota people) don’t want that name,” Longie said. “This guy wasn’t a noble character, but they named a park after him in the land of the people who he committed the atrocities against.”
Cynthia Lindquist, the president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College, said that name changes like this do not erase history. Lindquist supports the change and said name changes offer an opportunity to educate.
“This country and our education system has done such a disservice to native and indigenous people in not telling our side of the story,” said Lindquist, who is a Spirit Lake tribal member. “It’s not about political correctness. It’s about educating and telling another side of the story and history … Let’s take this opportunity to educate each other and learn why it is so important to us on both sides, Indian and white.”
Theodore Roosevelt established Sullys Hill as a national park in 1904. It was removed from the national park system and became a wildlife preserve in 1931. Since the federal government named the preserve, state and tribal governments cannot change the name; federal action is required.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., introduced S. 2099, the "White Horse Hill National Game Preserve Designation Act," in the Senate, and Armstrong introduced a near-identical bill in the House of Representatives. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., signed on to the Senate legislation as an original co-sponsor.
Yes 29% No 71%
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