The Secretary of the Interior seeks to rid the United States of degrading place names
Albuquerque, New Mexico US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Friday formally declared the word “squaw” a derogatory term and said it was taking steps to remove it from the federal government’s use and replace it with other derogatory place names.
Haaland ordered a federal committee tasked with naming geographical places to implement measures to remove what she described as racist terms from federal use.
“Our nation’s lands and waters should be places of outdoor celebration and our common cultural heritage – not perpetuating a legacy of oppression,” Haaland said in a statement. An important step in honoring the ancestors who took care of our lands long ago.”
The first Native American to lead the Cabinet Agency, Haaland of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
The US Senate confirmed Thursday that Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III, an Oregon resident and tribal citizen, as head of the National Park Service, making him the first Native American to hold that position.
Haaland previously said the Sams, a confederate native of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, would be an asset as the department works to make national parks accessible to all.
The Native American Rights Fund praised Haaland’s move to address derogatory place names, saying the federal government’s action was long overdue.
“Names that still use derogatory terms are an embarrassing legacy of this country’s colonial and racist past,” said John Eckohawk, the group’s executive director. “It is time for us, as a nation, to move forward, going beyond these derogatory terms, and showing equal respect for indigenous people – and all the people “.
Environmental activists also praised the action, saying it represented a step toward reconciliation.
Under Haaland’s order, a federal task force would find alternative names for geographic features on federal lands with the term “Squaw,” which has been used as an insult, particularly for Aboriginal women. The database maintained by the Geographical Names Board shows that there are more than 650 federal sites with names that contain the term.
The task force will consist of representatives from Federal Land Administration agencies and experts from the Department of the Interior. Tribal counseling and public feedback will be part of the process.
The process of changing place names in the United States can take years, and federal officials said there are currently hundreds of proposed name changes pending before the board.
Haaland also called for the creation of an advisory committee to request, review and recommend changes to other derogatory geographical and federal place names. This body will be composed of tribal representatives and experts in civil rights, anthropology, and history.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Board of Geographical Names took action to eliminate the use of derogatory terms for black and Japanese people.
The council also voted in 2008 to change the name of the prominent Phoenix Mountain from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak to honor the Army Spc. Laurie Pestua, the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. Army.
In 2020, the Phoenix City Council voted unanimously to rename Squaw Peak Drive to Piestewa Peak Drive after it was denounced as a derogatory and offensive word.
In California, Squaw Valley Ski Resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year. The resort is located in Olympic Valley, which was known as the Squaw Valley until it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Tribes in the area have been asking the resort to change the name for decades.
There is also legislation pending in Congress to address derogatory names in geographical features on public lands. States from Oregon to Maine have passed laws banning the use of the word “squaw” in place names.
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