Interior Department seeks to remove derogatory name from federal lands

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 15: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland delivers remarks during the 2021 Tribal Nations Summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. The summit, which coincides with the National Native

Federal officials have compiled a list of potential replacement names for hundreds of geographic features in three dozen states that include the word “squaw,” kicking off a public comment period that will run through the end of April.

US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in November said the pejorative term and initiated a process to remove the word from federal use and to replace other existing derogatory place names.

Haaland said in a statement Tuesday that words matter, especially as the agency works to make the nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds.

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“Reviewing these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms with long overdue expiration dates,” she said. “Throughout this process, broad engagement with tribes, stakeholders and the general public will help us advance our equity and inclusion goals.”

Experts have said that the word ‘squaw’, derived from the Algonquin language, may have once meant simply ‘woman’, but over time it has morphed into a term used to denigrate Indigenous women. His removal by the Department of the Interior is part of many nationwide efforts to address a history of colonialism and oppression of Native Americans.

The agency plans three virtual meetings consult with the tribes in March, and written comments will be accepted until April 24.

Under Haaland orderedthe first action of a task force comprised of officials from several federal departments was to finalize a decision to change the full spelling of the derogatory term to “sq—-” for all related official communications.

It will also be up to the working group to prioritize the list of replacement names and make recommendations to the Geographic Names Council before it meets later this year.

As part of the process, the U.S. Geological Survey proposed five candidate names for every feature. The list includes more than 660 locations in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Idaho and many other states.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Geographic Names Board took steps to eliminate the use of derogatory terms related to blacks and Japanese. Over the past two decades, the council has received 261 proposals to replace geographic features with squaw in the name, according to the Home Office.

The council also voted in 2008 to change the name of a prominent Phoenix mountain from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak to honor Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in battle while serving in the United States Army.

The Arizona Senate recently passed a Memorial calling on the federal government to replace the names of geographic features in the Grand Canyon area with Native American names to promote an understanding and appreciation of the “unique and significant cultures and heritage of the Grand Canyon tribal peoples.”

State lawmakers are also considering a measure that would require the Arizona Board of Geographic and Historical Names to rename anything that includes the word squaw.

Betty K. Park