Feds Take Big Step Toward Ditching 'Squaw' Names

They're inviting public comment on replacements for derogatory term
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 23, 2022 3:04 PM CST
Feds Propose New Names for Hundreds of 'Squaw' Sites
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Tahlequah, Okla.   (AP Photo/Michael Woods,File)

Federal officials have come up with 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 late April. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in November formally declared the term derogatory and initiated a process to remove the word from use by the federal government and to replace other existing derogatory place names. "Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue," she said Tuesday. "Throughout this process, broad engagement with tribes, stakeholders, and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion."

Experts have said the word "squaw," derived from the Algonquin language, may have once simply meant "woman," but over time it morphed into a term used to disparage Indigenous women. The agency is planning three virtual meetings to consult with tribes in March, and written comments will be accepted through April 24, the AP reports. Under Haaland’s order, the first action by a task force made up of officials from several federal departments was to finalize a decision to replace a full spelling of the derogatory term with "sq----" for all official related communications. It also will be up to the task force to prioritize the list of replacement names and make recommendations to the Board on Geographic Names before it meets later this year.

As part of the process, the US Geological Survey came up with five candidate names for each feature. The list includes more than 660 sites in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Idaho, and many other states. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Board on Geographic Names took action to eliminate the use of derogatory terms related to Black and Japanese people. The board 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 combat while serving in the US military. (More Department of the Interior stories.)

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