WASHINGTON — A National Game Preserve on the Spirit Lake Reservation may soon be recognized by the United States by its traditional Dakota name if new legislation passes in Congress.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., introduced legislation for a name change for the Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, which Congress originally named in 1931 after Gen. Alfred Sully, whose troops killed hundreds of Indigenous people. The preserve’s name would be changed to “White Horse Hill National Game Preserve,” or in the Dakota language, “Sunka Wakan Ska Pa Ha.”
“I hope we pass this legislation to honor the history of this land and the wishes of this tribe,” Cramer said in the release.
In May, Lonna Street, secretary-treasure of the Spirit Lake Tribal Council, and Tribal Chair Myra Pearson signed a resolution to Congress in support of the legislation. They wrote: “White Horse Hill (Sunka Wakan Ska Pa Ha) reflects a positive experience to the Dakota people and their culture.”
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) introduced identical legislation, saying, “This game preserve in the heart of the Spirit Lake Reservation should have never been named as it was, so we’re going to put it back to its historical name.”
Nearly a century ago, Congress passed legislation to name the preserve after the general, meaning another bill must be passed to undo the law. Sully was a military officer during the Civil War and the Indian Wars, and committed several massacres against Indigenous people, including the Sept. 3, 1863 massacre, during which 300 people of the Spirit Lake Tribe were killed.
The new legislation comes on the heels of another bill introduced last month that would remove 20 Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 in South Dakota.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum wrote a letter to Congress in support of renaming the site to honor its Dakota history.
“As a state that shares geography and history with Spirit Lake Nation and as an administration that prioritizes tribal partnerships built on understanding and mutual respect, we support the efforts of U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer,” he wrote.
In Bismarck on Friday, Dakota Goodhouse, a Native American Studies professor at United Tribes Technical College, said when settlers renamed the landscape, history was forgotten.
But, he said, "when a place name is in our language, the history is remembered."