Rep. Deb Haaland
Photo: Twitter/ @DebHaalandNM
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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Plans to Remove Offensive Terms from Sites including “Squaw”

Native Americans continue to fight for representation and justice and part of that is offensive language that pervades in pop culture and sites across the nation. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wants to remove and replace the names of sites on federal lands that she says have historically been derogatory. The nation’s first Native American to hold a Cabinet position is taking action to remove offensive and derogatory terms like “squaw” from sites. The secretary, 60, has established an advisory committee to consider changing the names of places that use offensive or dated terms and ordered that a task force  be created to rename places that use such terms. “Squaw” has “historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women,” according to the announcement.

“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. “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.”

“Squaw” comes from the Algonquin language and originally meaning “woman” but has overtime become a  misogynist and racist term to disparage Indigenous women, the Associated Press previously reported. States including Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota have already passed laws to prohibit the use of the word “squaw” in names of naturally or historically meaningful places.

In California, The Squaw Valley Ski Resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year and last year, Squaw Peak Drive in Arizona was renamed Piestewa Peak Drive. Army Spc. Lori Piestewa was the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military. Additionally, last year the Washington NFL franchise announced it was dropping the “Redskins” name and Indian head logo after decades of criticism for the offensive moniker. They will announce their new name in 2022.

The Native American Rights Fund praised Haaland’s initiatives and said the federal government’s response is a  long time coming. “Names that still use derogatory terms are an embarrassing legacy of this country’s colonialist and racist past,” said John Echohawk, the group’s executive director. “It is well-past time for us, as a nation, to move forward, beyond these derogatory terms, and show Native people — and all people — equal respect.

A database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names shows there are currently more than 650 federal sites with names that contain the term “squaw”.The task force will be made up of representatives from federal land management agencies and experts with the Interior Department and tribal consultation and feedback from the public will also be part of the process, AP reported.

“The term has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women,” the Interior Department said in a statement.