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This post contains discussion of a racial slur that readers may find offensive.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland took the first step toward changing the names of about 650 lakes, peaks, and other geographic features on Friday when she officially declared “squaw” a derogatory term and directed a task force to begin the work of finding alternative designations for federally-managed sites that include it.
In a press release, Haaland’s announced that she was “formally [establishing] a process to review and replace derogatory names of the nation’s geographic features,” and noted that previous secretaries of the interior had designated slurs—including the N-word and a racist term of people of Japanese heritage—for removal from public lands.
“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. 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. “Today’s actions will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial.”
Originally derived from an Eastern Algonquin word for “woman,” settler society adopted “squaw” as a derogatory term for Native women, working it into the names of everything from islands to plants to birds. State governments and private entities have wrestled with its use over the past decade, with governments from Maine to Oregon stripping it from place names. California’s Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort’s former name included the term; it chose to change its name this September, calling the word in question “offensive, derogatory, racist, and misogynistic.”
The Department of the Interior did not provide a timeline on when the new names would be announced or the changes finalized.
Haaland’s announcement comes one day after the Senate unanimously confirmed Chuck Sams as director of the National Park Service, making him the first Native person to hold the role.