Home Office removes slurs from over 650 public lands

In February 2022, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland announced that the slur “sq__” – used primarily against Native North American women – was being removed from all public lands. It means more 650 pitches (encompassing approximately 38 states) will be replaced by new names. A Press release of September 8, 2022, published by the DOIsaid a public comment period resulted in about 1,000 name suggestions, and consultations with more than 70 tribal governments resulted in hundreds more.

It’s a bit bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s great and long overdue. On the other hand, it’s really long overdue. While the word was used in the Algonquian language (spoken by over 24 groups) to mean “woman”, since colonization the word has been weaponized as a slur primarily against Indigenous women. The new official names are public and in the statement, Secretary Haaland wrote,

I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. It starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for too long. I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographical Names Working Group and the Geographical Names Board for their efforts to prioritize this important work. Together, we show why representation matters and chart the course for an inclusive America.

Another one biting the dust

All places where the word sq__ will be replaced by new names.  Image: USGS screenshot.

Not that it is necessary to have a legal precedent, but it comes decades after insults against other groups have been phased out of use on public lands, and the committee appears to have meticulously taken all necessary steps to work with each community and ensure it remains respectful. This push to change the names of taxpayer-funded public spaces, and even large corporations, finally seems to be yielding results. For example, after decades of pressure, major professional league sports teams changed their names and logos. The Cleveland baseball team became the Guardians and the Washington football team became the Commanders.

For those who can, at the bare minimum, recognize outright insults, failing to act often comes down to “it’s tradition” (or “cultural heritage” as if it were a stagnant idea) or “we have bigger fish to fry”. The first point is irrelevant, and the second ignores that we can do both. This was a large committee and is one of many reconciliation efforts led by the DOI. Hopefully, this change will encourage more people of color (especially Indigenous children) to feel welcome in these parks.

(featured image: Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images)

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Betty K. Park