The US Department of Interior is creating a new task force to identify federal lands that contain slurs or derogatory terms and rename them, mirroring changes already made by sports franchises and private businesses in recent years.
The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force will include representatives from federal land management agencies along with diversity, equity and inclusion experts, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Friday.
The process will include dialogue with tribes, state and local governments and the public, the department said, adding that it was now classifying the term ‘squaw’ – referring to an indigenous woman – as officially derogatory.
There are 600 federal land units with the name ‘squaw,’ according to the Native American Rights Fund, including Squaw Lakes in Oregon.
Other places named ‘negro,’ ‘wetback,’ and ‘Chinaman’ – all considered derogatory names for black, Latino and Asian people, respectively – will also likely be re-examined.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced plans to proactively rename US federal lands with derogatory names on Friday. She is the first Native American member of the Cabinet
There are over 1,000 places with the name ‘squaw,’ a derogatory term for a female Native American, in the US. Over 600 of them are federally managed
Other names that could be replaced include Negro Creek in Warren County, Illinois
Squaw Peak in Utah is one of hundreds of US places named after the slur for Native women
Which places’ names could be on the chopping block?
There are over 600 federal lands that use the name ‘squaw’ – a derogatory term for female Native Americans.
Among them are Squaw Lake in Minnesota and Squaw Creek in Oklahoma.
There are about 582 places with the name ‘negro,’ including Negro Jack Creek in Oregon and Negro Island in Florida.
In New Mexico, a reservoir is named Wetback Tank.
In Colorado, there is a Chinamans Gulch. Alaska has a Chinaman Lagoon.
There is a Redskin Lake in Minnesota and a Redskin Hammock in Florida.
The Interior Department’s new order creating a task force to consider renaming places with derogatory names will only affect federal land.
Sources: Geographic Names Information System, Axios
The department is also creating an Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names that will include ‘Indian tribes, tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations, civil rights, anthropology, and history experts, and members of the general public.’
The proposal was put forth by Haaland, who became the first Native American cabinet member in US history when she was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed in March. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of New Mexico.
The department says the current re-naming system is structured to act on a case-by-case basis and puts the onus on proponents to suggest name changes, which can take years.
‘Currently, there are hundreds of name changes pending before the Board,’ the department says.
‘The newly established Federal Advisory Committee will facilitate a proactive and systematic development and review of these proposals, in consultation with local community representatives.’
Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, who served under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, directed the board to eliminate the use of the n-word because people now consider the word ‘derogatory or worse’ in 1962
A decade later, he also took on a slur for Japanese people based on a shortened version of the demonym.
According to the Geographic Names Information System, Alaska and Oregon accounted for six of the nation’s 30 derogatory Japanese names, which have all since been changed, according to From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame by Syracuse University professor Mark Monmonier.
Places whose names could be on the chopping block include the unincorporated community of Negro Foot, Virginia; Big Negro Creek in Warren County, Illinois; Chinaman Hat, a mountain in Oregon; Chinaman Gulch in Colorado; Redskin Brook in Indiana; and Wetback Tank, a reservoir in New Mexico.
The Native American Rights Fund congratulated Haaland on the decision Friday.
‘Names that still use derogatory terms are an embarrassing legacy of this country’s colonialist and racist past. It is well-past time for us, as a nation, to move forward, beyond these derogatory terms, and show Native people – and all people – equal respect,’ said NARF Executive Director John Echohawk.
‘We applaud Secretary Haaland for taking action to make our federal government and public lands more inclusive and respectful of Native peoples.’
In 1962, the Department of Interior began to remove the n-word from US place names
Palisades Tahoe in California, which recently changed its name from Squaw Valley Ski Resort
Frog Woman Rock, formerly known as Squaw Rock, in Hopland, California
Paul Spitler, a senior legislative policy manager of land conservation nonprofit The Wilderness Society, also lauded the move.
‘The names of our mountains and rivers should honor and reflect our nation’s great diversity, and advance dignity for all people,’ Spitler said.
‘We support the Biden administration’s actions to eliminate the thousands of racist and offensive place names on public lands and to work with diverse populations in local communities to create more equitable and inclusive outdoor spaces for all people.’
In September, the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California changed its name to to Palisades Tahoe, according to CNBC.
In recent years, sports franchises with terms considered derogatory in their names have rechristened themselves.
Last year, the Washington Redskins renamed themselves the Washington Football Team.
On Friday, the Cleveland Indians officially renamed themselves the Guardians.