Interior Secretary Haaland wants to remove derogatory place names from the US

The government delegation tasked with naming the sites will look into eliminating what Haaland has called racist names in state use.


U.S. Secretary of State Deb Haaland on Friday announced "squaw" as a derogatory term and said it was taking steps to remove the term from the use of the federal government and replace other defamatory names.

Haaland instructs the state panel tasked with naming the sites to implement procedures to remove what he calls discriminatory policies in state use.

"The land and water of our nation should be places of external celebration and the cultural heritage we share - not to further the roots of oppression," Haaland said in a statement. "Today's actions will speed up the important process of reconciling the names of the desecrated places and mark an important step in honoring the ancestors who ruled our lands from time immemorial."

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The first Native American to hold a Cabinet position, Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.

The Native American Rights Fund applauded Haaland's move, saying the coalition government's action was too late.

"Still using derogatory terms is a disgraceful legacy of the colonial past and apartheid," said John Echohawk, the group's executive director. "It is too late for us as a nation to move forward, to go beyond the defamatory terms, and to show the Indigenous people - and all people - equal respect."

Under Haaland's mandate, the co-operative group will find names that replace national features with the word "squaw," which is used as an insult, especially to Indigenous women. The website hosted by the Geographical Names Board indicates that there are currently more than 650 organization sites with names that contain this name.

The task team will be made up of representatives of government land administration organizations and experts from the Department of Internal Affairs. International consultation and public response will be part of the process.

The process of renaming US territories could take years and government officials say there are currently hundreds of proposed changes pending before the board.

Haaland also called for the formation of an advisory committee that would recruit, review and recommend changes to other defamatory names of places and territories. That panel will be made up of international representatives and civil rights, anthropology and historians.

In the 1960's and 1970's, the Geographical Names Board took action to eliminate the use of black-and-Japanese derogatory terms.

The Board re-voted in 2008 to change the name of the famous Phoenix mountain range from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak in honor of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in the war while serving in the U.S. Army.

In 2020, Phoenix City Council unanimously voted to rename Squaw Peak Drive into Piestewa Peak Drive after a derogatory term.

In California, Squaw Valley Ski Resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year. The resort is located in the Olympic Valley, formerly known as the Squaw Valley until it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960. The tribes of this region have been calling for a change of name in the area for decades.

There is also a pending law in the ANC that will deal with derogatory terms in geographical areas in public places. Countries from Oregon to Maine have passed laws banning the use of the word “squaw” in place names.