Home Secretary seeks to remove derogatory place names in US
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – US Home Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday said “squaw” was a derogatory term and said she was taking action to remove the term from federal use and to replace d ‘other derogatory place names.
Haaland is ordering a federal panel tasked with naming geographic locations to implement procedures to remove what she called racist terms from federal use.
“The lands and waters of our nation should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage – not to carry on the legacy of oppression,” Haaland said in a statement. “Today’s actions will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark an important milestone in honoring the ancestors who have ruled our lands from time immemorial. “
The first Native American to hold a ministerial post, Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico.
Under Haaland’s order, a federal task force will come up with alternate names for geographic features on federal lands bearing the term “squaw,” which has been used as an insult, particularly to Indigenous women. A database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names shows that there are currently more than 650 federal sites whose names contain the term.
The working group will be composed of representatives of federal land management agencies and experts from the Ministry of the Interior. Tribal consultation and public feedback will be part of the process.
The process of changing place names in the United States can take years, and federal officials have said there are currently hundreds of proposed name changes pending before the board of directors.
Haaland also called for the creation of an advisory committee to solicit, review and recommend changes to other derogatory geographic and federal place names. This panel will be composed of tribal representatives and experts in civil rights, anthropology and history.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Board of Geographic Names took steps to eliminate the use of derogatory terms for blacks and Japanese.
Legislation is pending in Congress to deal with derogatory names on geographic features on public lands. The states from Oregon to Maine have passed legislation prohibiting the use of the word “squaw” in place names.
In 2020, Phoenix City Council unanimously voted to rename Squaw Peak Drive to Piestewa Peak Drive, in honor of late Native American soldier Lori Piestewa, after being decried as a humiliating and degrading word.
The move came after council approved a measure that would give the city the right to rename derogatory street names without residents’ consent.
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