DOI moves toward final steps to remove derogatory name from federal lands

·2 min read

Story at a glance

  • On Friday, the Department of the Interior announced that a special task force has finished their review of the use of “squaw” in hundreds of place names on federal lands.

  • The task force, dubbed the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, reviewed over 660 place names of towns, lakes, rivers and creeks with the offensive word and recommended name changes to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

  • The board is set to vote on the name change recommendations in September.

The Department of the Interior is one step closer to removing the term “squaw” from hundreds of place names on federal land.

On Friday, the agency announced that its 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task force concluded its review of over 660 geographic features — like lakes, rivers and creeks — that use the offensive term “sq___.”

“Sq__” has been traced to the Algonquian language where it means woman but the word has been used as a racial and sexist slur against Indigenous women for centuries, particularly by white settlers.

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“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” said DOI Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement back in February.

“Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”

Haaland, the first Indigenous woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, created the task force in February roughly three months after declaring “sq__” a derogatory term last November.

The task force launched a public comment period in February to review recommended replacement names and received over 6,600 comments from the public and gained another 300 comments through nation-to-nation consultations, the agency said.

Now, the task force will send its replacement name recommendations to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which is expected to vote and publish a final list of name changes in September.

“I am grateful to the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force for their work to ensure that racist names like sq___ no longer have a place on our federal lands. I look forward to the results of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names vote, and to implement changes as soon as is reasonable,” said Haaland.

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