Posted on January 16, 2023

US Renames Five Places That Used Racist Slur for Native Americans

Madeline Halpert, BBC, January 13, 2023

The US government has announced name changes for five places whose designations included a racist term for Native American women.

The sites are in the states of California, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

The decision came after a year-long process to remove the racial slur from federal use, the government said.

The sites are the last of almost 650 locations selected by the Department of the Interior to be renamed.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to ensure our nation’s public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American cabinet secretary in US history.

The word ‘squaw’ has historically been used as “an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women”, the department said.

Nearly a year ago, Ms Haaland created a task force to replace derogatory names of the nation’s geographic features.

She said the panel would serve as a “big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue”.

In September, the Department of the Interior – which oversees public lands and is the federal agency that most closely oversees Native affairs – announced a final vote to change the names of hundreds of locations, but left seven places that it said needed to be further reviewed.

Five of the seven locations were included in Thursday’s vote. They were renamed in consultation with tribes and local communities.

  • In California, one site was renamed Loybas Hill, which was proposed by the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians and means “young lady”
  • Another California site was renamed Yokuts Valley, which translates to “people”
  • A North Dakota site was renamed Homesteaders Gap, which was selected by the community because it was relevant to local history
  • In Tennessee, a site was given the name Partridgeberry, a plant for which the community was named before
  • A location in Texas was renamed Lynn Creek in honour of Isaac Lynn, a man who lived on the creek nearby

Of the remaining two sites, one in Wyoming was removed from consideration because it is now privately owned land, while another location in Alaska was removed because it is a historical area that no longer serves an unincorporated community, the government said.

The move comes as several private companies and sports teams in recent years have also decided to rename teams or remove terminology and imagery considered racist toward Native Americans.