Feds change names of 650 places, including several in Colorado, with racist term for Native women

CHEYENNE, Wyo.— The US government has joined a ski resort and others who have stopped using a racist term for a Native American woman in renaming hundreds of peaks, lakes, streams and other geographic features on federal lands in the West and South. ‘somewhere else.

New names for nearly 650 pitches bearing the offensive word “squaw” include the terms mundane (Echo Peak, Texas) peculiar (No Name Island, Maine) and native (Nammi’I Naokwaide, Idaho) whose meanings at a glance will escape those who are not unfamiliar with native languages.

Nammi’I Naokwaide, located on the traditional lands of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes in southern Idaho, means “Young Sister Creek.” The tribes came up with the new name.

The names of about two dozen places in Colorado have been changed.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. It starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have adorned federal sites for far too long,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

The changes announced on Thursday capped nearly one year process which began after Haaland, the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, took office in 2021. Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.

Haaland in November declared the term derogatory and ordered members of the Board on Geographic Names, the Department of the Interior panel that oversees uniform naming of places in the United States, and others to offer alternatives.

Haaland has meanwhile created a panel that will collect public suggestions on changing other places named with pejorative terms.

Other well-known locations include Colorado’s Mestaa’ėhehe Pass near Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain, about 30 miles west of Denver. The new name honors an influential translator, Owl Woman, who mediated between Native Americans and white traders and soldiers in what is now southern Colorado.

The Geographic Names Board has approved the renaming of the mountain in December.

While the offensive term in question, identified as “sq___” by the Department of the Interior on Thursday, has only met with widespread scorn in the United States relatively recently, the changing of place names in response to the widening opposition to racism has a long-standing precedent.

The ministry ordered the renaming of places bearing a derogatory term for black people in 1962 and those bearing a derogatory term for Japanese people in 1974.

In some cases, the private sector has taken the initiative to change the offensive term for Aboriginal women. Last year, a California ski resort changed name in Palisades Tahoe.

A ski area in Maine also engaged in 2021 to change its name, two decades after that state removed slurs from community and landmark names, though it has yet to do so.

The term originated in the Algonquin language and may have once simply meant “woman”. But over time, the word has devolved into a misogynistic and racist term to denigrate Indigenous women, experts say.

California, meanwhile, has taken its own steps to remove the word from place names. The state legislature in August passed a bill that would remove the word from more than 100 places starting in 2025.

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has until the end of September to decide whether or not to sign the bill.

Adam Beam of Sacramento, California contributed to this report.

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