Interior Secretary to Wipe 'Squaw' From Government Use

Deb Haaland rules the term derogatory
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 19, 2021 5:05 PM CST
Interior Department to Take 'Squaw' Off Place Names
The Olympic rings stand atop a sign at the entrance to the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, Calif., in 2020. The resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year.   (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday formally declared "squaw" a derogatory term and said she is taking steps to remove it from federal government use and to replace other derogatory place names. Haaland is ordering a federal panel tasked with naming geographic places to implement procedures to eliminate what she called racist terms from federal use, the AP reports. The decision provides momentum to a movement that has included the dismantling of other historical markers and monuments considered offensive across the country. A database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names shows there are more than 650 federal sites with names that contain the term "squaw."

"Our nation's lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage—not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression," Haaland said in a statement. Haaland is the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Charles Sams III as head of the National Park Service, making him the first Native American in the position. The Native American Rights Fund applauded Haaland's move. John Echohawk, the executive director, called such terms "an embarrassing legacy of this country's colonialist and racist past," adding that it is past time to eliminate such terms "and show Native people—and all people—equal respect."

Environmentalists also praised the action, saying it marked a step toward reconciliation. The task force will find replacement names for geographic features on federal lands bearing the term "squaw," which historically has been used as a slur, particularly for Indigenous women. In the 1960s and '70s, the Board on Geographic Names took action to eliminate the use of derogatory terms for Black and Japanese people. In addition, states from Oregon to Maine have passed laws prohibiting the use of "squaw" in place names. (Ted Cruz criticized the Library of Congress for its choice of words.)

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