The U.S. Department of the Interior has replaced centuries-old derogatory terms for Native women in five regions across the country.
The Board of Geographic Names (BGN) voted to remove the term sq- from places in California, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, which is an “offensive form of ethnic, racial and gender discrimination,” the department announced. slander, especially against Indigenous women,” at a press conference on Thursday.
“Words matter, especially in our work to ensure our nation’s public lands and waters are open and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Deb Harland, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior to serve as Cabinet secretary, said in a statement. said the statement.
“I thank the members of the Derogatory Place Names Working Group and the Committee on Geographical Names for their efforts to finally remove this harmful word. Together we show why representation matters and blaze a trail for an inclusive America.”
In an effort to eliminate the term from all federal lands, Harland issued an order in November 2021 declaring “sq-” derogatory and calling for the term to be removed from federal use.
“The names that still use derogatory terms are an embarrassing legacy of this country’s history of colonialism and racism,” the Native American Rights Foundation said in a statement after Harland’s order. “As a country, we should move beyond these pejorative terms and move forward to show Indigenous people – and all people – the equal respect that has passed.”
The process of removing the term from federal use took more than a year. Haaland first set up a 13-person task force to rename the features. The department then released a list of possible alternative names for geographic locations and allowed public comment from the community on proposed names. The agency said it also conducted tribal consultations.
In September 2022, the department renamed and decontaminated nearly 650 geographical sites such as mountains, canyons, streams, islands, canyons, and lakes across the country. Many of the new names are Aboriginal terms, such as Shluxiksikswana, meaning “place to eat”, and “Mat Puy Nah Achhuukaayp”, which translates to “where we go to trade” in Kumeyaay Ipai.
One of the newly named locations in California is Loybas Hill. The name, which means “young lady,” was proposed by the Paskenta Band of the Nomlaki Indians “in honor of the past, present and future Aboriginal women who live in the region,” according to a press release.
The second newly-named site in California is Yokuts Valley, formerly known as Sq-Valley, where a community has spent two years trying to eradicate the slur.
Roman Rain Tree, members of the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians and the Choinumi Tribes, both indigenous tribes of the valley, launched a petition that received more than 36,000 votes to rename Fresno County’s Place.
“What if I told you that there is a common word used by Native American women, predator?” Raintree wrote in the petition. “What if I told you that some people vehemently defend the word as a form of honor and respect? What if I told you that entire communities are named after it?”
According to the University of Idaho, the term “sq—” was introduced by Lewis and Clark in 1805 and was used by early fur traders and hunters. In today’s social context, Native Americans consider the term a slur.
Rain Tree says “The historical roots of the word ‘squaw’ suggest that it used the word to emphasize sexuality; to refer to female genitalia; and to denote a Native American woman who provided sexual gratification.”
Such slander is often seen as harmful, especially with regard to the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Native American and Alaska Native women “represent a significant percentage of missing and murdered persons.”
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the murder rate for women living on reservation is ten times the national average and is the third leading cause of death among Aboriginal women,” the department said. “Furthermore, this group is significantly more likely to experience rape during their lifetime than other women.”
Eliminating the dehumanizing stigma of Native women is a critical step that must be taken “to honor our communities, all affected grandmothers, mothers, daughters, future Native American women and Mother Earth,” Raintree said.
“This is the first of many necessary steps to preserve the truth about Native American history and foster healing between Native communities and the state and federal governments,” he said after announcing the name change. “It’s not just a new name for a community. It’s an acknowledgment of the first stewards of the land, and a acknowledgment that we’re still here.”
The other three renamed locations that removed the word are Partridgeberry, Tennessee; Lynn Creek, Texas; and Homesteaders Gap, North Dakota.
Two other sites were excluded from renaming consideration because one “is now listed as private land” and the other is “a historic area that no longer exists as an unincorporated community,” according to the department.