Posted on March 30, 2022

U.S. Will Rename 660 Mountains, Rivers and More to Remove Racist Word

Nora McGreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, March 28, 2022

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed a list of new names for more than 660 geographic features across the country last month, the agency announced in a statement.

Led by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary, the February 2022 release of the list marks the next step in a sweeping plan to remove the racist and misogynist slur “squaw” from the national geographic landscape. Hundreds of U.S. geographic sites, including mountains, rivers, lakes, remote islands and more, currently are named using the word {snip}

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” said Haaland, per the statement.

“Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” added the secretary {snip}

Haaland first announced a secretarial order to remove the offensive phrase from federal lands in November 2021. She created a 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, composed of members from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and several other government agencies, which she then tasked with surveying federal sites and generating new name alternatives {snip}

At the time, the secretary also officially declared “squaw” a derogatory term and directed the task force to replace the word with “sq­_ _ _” in all official communications {snip}

Now, task force members are soliciting feedback on proposed name changes from Native American tribes and members of the public throughout the country. {snip}


Some states, including Maine and Oregon, have already banned the word from place names {snip} And this month, lawmakers in California proposed their own state legislation that would replace all uses of the word in place names and geographic features, with a deadline of January 1, 2024 {snip}

James C. Ramos, the first and only Indigenous member of the state Legislature, told the newspaper that the phrase, which is sometimes called the “S-word,” should be retired.

“There should be no reason why there shouldn’t be support to change the S-word, that is so degrading to Native American women, in the year 2022,” Ramos told the Los Angeles Times.

Also speaking with the Los Angeles Times, ACLU advocate Tedde Simon noted that slurs such as these both “perpetuate and allow for violence” against Indigenous women, which is an ongoing crisis in the U.S. {snip}