Several states already have legislation in place prohibiting use of the word “squaw” in place names, and bills are pending in both houses of Congress to address derogatory names on geographic features on public land units.
Now Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has formally established a process to review and replace such names in all the nation’s geographic features.
“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands,” said Haaland, in announcing this action on Friday, Nov. 19. “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.”
Secretarial Order 3404 formally identifies the term “squaw” as derogatory and creates a federal task force to find replacement names for all geographic features on federal lands earing the term, which has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for indigenous women. A database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names identifies over 650 federal land units containing that term.
The new Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force is to include representatives from federal land management agencies, and Interior Department experts on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Haaland has also issued secretarial Order 3405, creating a federal advisory committee to solicit, review and recommend changes to other derogatory geographic and federal land unit names. The Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names will include representatives of Indian tribes, tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations, civil rights, anthropology and history experts, and members of the general public.
Derogatory names have previously been identified by the Secretary of the Interior or the Board on Geographic Names and have been comprehensively replaced. In 1962, Secretary Stewart Udall identified the N-word as derogatory, and directed that the BGN develop a policy to eliminate its use. In 1974, the Board on Geographic Names identified a pejorative term for “Japanese” as derogatory and eliminated its use.