After reading South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law a bill that would allow teachers to carry firearms in public schools, I found myself cursing the state of South Dakota and its backward logics. I started to think of all the times in my life I’ve found myself cursing “South Dakota” as an abstract idea–the state, its people, its border towns, its good ol’ boy attitude, its self-congratulating history, its violent colonial logics and laws, etc. Then I started thinking about everything I loved about the idea of South Dakota, which included the place I call my home, my friends, my family, my allies, the land, the history of struggle against settler colonial oppression, the songs, the stories, the hardships, the winters, the long drives, the hospitality, etc. Then I though harder about how were “South” and “Dakota” commensurable?
What was then Dakota Territory from 1861 to 1889 was split into two states that became North Dakota and South Dakota. The territory and states derived their names from the D/N/Lakota Oyate (or the Oceti Sakowin Oyate). “Dakota” or “Nakota” or “Lakota” is commonly understood to mean “ally” or “the people” or “the nation.” Adding the “wo” in front of “D/N/Lakota” to become “Wolakota” sums up the philosophy of the Oceti Sakowin way of being. Wolakota means that which is balance and harmonious (human and non-human), the D/N/Lakota way of life, way of being, and way of knowing. It is the core philosophy of how one relates to the rest of the world with dignity and respect, honoring relationships and the seeking of balance in one’s life and with all of this material reality (which includes everything from the water, the birds, your human relations, stones, the land, etc.). To acknowledge this centering of relationships in your everyday is the very philosophy of Mitakuye Oyasin.
So how does the state of South Dakota honor these ways of knowing by adopting the name “Dakota”? The state has had little respect for the D/N/Lakota Oyate, given its history of land dispossession and attempts to usurp treaty rights and the very existence of the D/N/Lakota Oyate. The state has not and is not an “ally” or representative of “the people.” I could go into a diatribe of the state’s history of dispossession and hostility towards the D/N/Lakota Oyate, but I have committed my life’s work to unworking and unsettling those narratives and violent settler colonial logics. Plus, there are many books, published materials, stories, and lived experiences of Native people in the state that serve as testimonials to these injustices.
My point, however, is to address the negative thoughts and word I have flung in the face of the state of South Dakota, which provides a certain contradiction. In lambasting the state, I have included the “Dakota” and in South Dakota to do so. In a twisted logic of my tirades I have in some way defamed and caused harm to the notion of Wolakota and the term of “Dakota” as meaning just the opposite of what the state stands for. Because the state is a settler colonial state that encompasses egregious violences against the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, it is not appropriate that they have assumed OUR name. Therefore, I think is necessary to REFUSE to implicate the Dakota Oyate in the settler colonial violences of the state by REFUSING to put “Dakota” in South Dakota. I don’t know a better way to acknowledge the state without “Dakota” other than to put an “X” in place of it to signal a certain protest and refusal. Much like the “X” has served as a signature of assent in treaty signing, it can be re-worked as a form of refusal to give South X the privilege of perverting what it means to say that one is “Dakota” or “Lakota” or “Nakota.”
Perhaps there is a more clever way of reclaiming “Dakota”. Please share your thoughts.