The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed a list of new names for more than 660 geographic features across the country last month, the agency announced in a statement. The large list of rivers, mountains and other landmarks contain the term “squaw”, which has been deemed a “derogatory term” towards Native American women by a federal task force. The U.S. is now set to rename all federal geographic landmarks that include the term.
The effort is being led by U.S. Secretary of The Interior, Deb Haaland, who is Native American. In February 2022, the department released its plan to remove the “racist and misogynist” slur “squaw” from national geographic landmarks.
“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Haaland said in a statement. “Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue.”
Haaland first announced an order to remove the phrase from federal lands in November 2021. She then created a 13-member “Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force” comprised of members from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and several additional government agencies. The task force was later directed to survey federal sites and come up with ideas to rename hundreds of landmarks, according to a report from the Fresno Bee.
Haaland also officially declared “squaw” a derogatory term and directed the task force to replace the word with “sq_ _ _” in all official communications, according to NPR.
At least five candidate replacement names were chosen for each geographic site. Names were picked based on nearby features—for instance, if “Castle Creek” was the closest named feature to a place called “Squaw Mesa,” the first proposed name might be “Castle Mesa,” reports the Fresno Bee.
Task force members are now soliciting feedback from Native American communities regarding proposed name changes. According to the pre-census data released last year, 3.7 million Americans identify as strictly “Native American or Alaska Native”, while an additional 6 million claim partial ancestry.