Interior Department removes ‘squaw’ from names of 32 Michigan sites

Washington – Federal officials have renamed 32 sites on federal land in Michigan to remove the ethnic slur “squaw” as part of a government initiative to eliminate derogatory terms from federal use.

They range from Paint Lake (formerly Squaw Lake) in Oakland County to Quanicassee Creek (formerly Squaw Creek) in Saginaw County to Ojibwa Island (formerly Squaw Island) in Charlevoix County.

The new names for Michigan sites, mostly lakes, coves and islands, were among nearly 650 geographic features renamed Thursday by the US Department of the Interior after recommendations from a task force created last year by Secretary Deb Haaland.

“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 the racist and derogatory names that have adorned federal sites for far too long,” Haaland said. in a press release.

“Together, we’re showing why representation matters and charting the course for an inclusive America.”

Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member from New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as Cabinet Secretary, last year issued an order officially designating “squaw” as a pejorative term and setting in motion the process for determining alternate names. .

The Home Office said “squaw” has historically been used as a particularly offensive racial and ethnic slur for Aboriginal women.

The word comes from the Wampanoag language, which is part of the Algonquian language family, and means “woman,” said Cherry Meyer, assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Michigan.

The problem is the pejorative context in which “squaw” has been used over time by whites and other non-Indigenous people, which has imbued the word itself with that pejorative meaning, Meyer said.

“When a term for ‘woman’ from a Native American language is used to refer to a woman from any Native American culture, it reinforces the stereotype that Native Americans are all one homogenous group – that we all speak the same language, that we have the same culture and the same history,” Meyer said. “That’s just not true.”

That’s why the effort to rename all of these places and remove what has become a derogatory term for Native Americans is so “extremely” worthwhile, she said.

“Having these constant visual or oral reminders of stereotypes, such as park names, negatively affects the stereotyped group. It seems obvious,” Meyer said. “But they also reinforce this stereotypical behavior in the general population.”

Haaland’s 2021 order also created an advisory committee to recommend revisions to other geographic names on federal lands deemed derogatory. A Home Office spokesman said Friday that next steps on the status of that committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

This is not the first time the Home Office has undertaken such an effort, with Home Secretary Stewart Udall in 1962 ordering the Federal Board of Geographic Names to eliminate the use of the n-word. Its use. Similarly, the council in 1974 decided to eliminate the use of a slur for Japanese as pejorative, according to the Home Office.

Michigan’s Bryan Todd Newland, who is Haaland’s assistant secretary overseeing Indian Affairs, welcomed the decision to remove the “squaws” from public lands.

“The names we give to places tell who we are and what we value,” tweeted Newland, a former tribal chairman of the Bay Mills Indian community in the Upper Peninsula.

“I am grateful for the work the Department has done to remove derogatory place names and replace them with names that tell an inclusive story about America.”

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Betty K. Park