These six Kansas creeks and streams will be renamed because of slur to indigenous women

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Remnants of an old bridge are seen along Squaw Creek in Brown County. The name, which is an ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women, is one of six in Kansas that are expected to be changed by federal officials.
Remnants of an old bridge are seen along Squaw Creek in Brown County. The name, which is an ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women, is one of six in Kansas that are expected to be changed by federal officials.

Federal officials are expected next month to rename five creeks and a stream on federal land in Kansas because their names include a slur for Native American women.

That word, "squaw," was formally declared derogatory last November in an order issued by Deb Haaland, the nation's first Native American Secretary of the Interior.

"Squaw" is an ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women, Haaland said in a news release.

"Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression," she said.

Haaland ordered the Board on Geographic Names, the federal body tasked with naming geographic places, to find replacement names for more than 660 geographic features bearing that term, including the six sites in Kansas.

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Word's meaning has been skewed

Haaland is following the lead of past secretaries of the interior.

That department in 1962 began steps that resulted in its banning a six-letter word, which starts with the letter "n," from being used in place names on federal land in the U.S.

In 1974, the department banned the use in place names on federal land of a three-letter word, which starts with the letter "J."

The term "squaw" originated from the Algonquian word for "woman," but its meaning has been skewed for centuries by white people, Haaland said.

The order she issued last November created a 13-member federal task force to find replacement names for geographic features on federal lands that include that term.

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'Words matter,' Deb Haaland says

Haaland in February then made public suggested new names for each of those places, and asked for public comment about those recommendations.

"Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds," she said. "Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue."

Haaland announced last month that the task force had completed its review, and had received more than 6,600 comments from the public.

The task force provided replacement name recommendations to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is expected to vote on those recommendations in September.

Name changes expected for these Kansas creeks and streams

Light filters onto rocks and leaves Thursday afternoon in the shallow water of Squaw Creek in Brown County. Federal officials are expected to soon rename five creeks and one stream in Kansas that have the word "squaw" as part of their names.
Light filters onto rocks and leaves Thursday afternoon in the shallow water of Squaw Creek in Brown County. Federal officials are expected to soon rename five creeks and one stream in Kansas that have the word "squaw" as part of their names.

Here are the places in Kansas that are expected to receive new names, including their locations and five proposed new names for each:

• Squaw Creek

Location: Brown County in northeast Kansas.

Proposed new names: Albany Hill Creek, Lake Hiawatha Creek, Lake of the Oaks Creek, Mission Creek, Clear Creek Lake Creek.

• Squaw Creek

Location: Brown and Doniphan counties in northeast Kansas.

Proposed new names: Brown County State Lake Creek, Glacier Uplands Creek, Lake Hiawatha Creek, Mission Lake Creek, Clear Creek Lake Creek.

• Squaw Creek

Location: Chautauqua County in southeast Kansas.

Proposed new names: Butcher Falls Creek, Flint Hills Creek, Hogback Hill Creek, Osage Cuestas Creek, Santa Fe Lake Creek.

• Squaw Creek

Location: Montgomery County in southeast Kansas.

Proposed names: Bald Mound Creek, Berry Hill Creek, Elk City Lake Creek, Table Mound Creek, Walker Mound Creek.

• Squaw Branch

Location: Norton County in northwest Kansas.

Proposed names: Browns Pond Creek, Keith Sebelius Lake Creek, Horseshoe Hill Creek, Kleckner Reservoir Creek, Furnas Company Road Dam Reservoir Number 1 Creek.

• Squaw Creek

Location: Cherokee County in southeast Kansas and Ottawa County in northeast Oklahoma.

Proposed names: Big Hill Creek, Blue Mound Creek, Cherokee Plains Creek, Potato Hill Creek, Timber Hill Creek.

KDWP maintains boat launch that includes word 'squaw'

Though it isn't on the federal list, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks maintains a boat launch named "South Squaw" at Elk City Wildlife Area, which is located on "Squaw Creek Road" in Montgomery County, said Nadia Marji, KDWP's chief of public affairs and engagement officer.

The paved trail formerly known as "Squaw Creek Trail" in Elk City Wildlife Area is now called "Osage Lowlands Trail and Area," she said.

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Authorities to seek to identify other place names that should be changed

Haaland's order issued last November also created a federal Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names, which she charged with soliciting, reviewing and recommending changes to other geographic and federal land unit place names.

That committee includes representation from tribes, tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations, civil rights, anthropology and history experts, and members of the general public.

Haaland directed it to establish a process to solicit and assist with proposals to the secretary of the interior to change derogatory names.

Kansas communities have renamed other sites in recent years

The interior department's moves come at a time when two Kansas municipal governing bodies since 2019 have changed place names they considered inappropriate.

The Iola City Council in December 2019 renamed Coon Creek in that city with its original moniker, Small Creek.

The move came after an Iola teenager found old newspaper articles showing the creek's name was almost certainly a slur against Black people, the Iola Register reported.

The creek's previous name had been thought to have something to do with actual raccoons.

Ellis County commissioners voted in June 2020 to rename Noose Road, in Ellis County west of Hays, which reportedly received that name because of its link to the 1869 lynching by Hays townspeople of three Black soldiers who were accused of murder.

One commissioner said the name struck him as being "pretty insensitive."

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at threnchir@gannett.com or 785-213-5934.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Department of Interior moves to change names of Kansas creeks, streams