Interior: These 3,300 names would be better than existing slur

By Jennifer Yachnin | 02/22/2022 01:48 PM EST

The Interior Department is suggesting alternatives for 660 federal sites that include an offensive word for Native American women.

Piestewa Peak

In 2008, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names renamed a mountain near Phoenix that had been named after a derogatory word for Native American women. Piestewa Peak now honors Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military in Iraq. Matt York/AP Photo

The Interior Department today unveiled its proposed name changes for more than 660 federal sites that feature an offensive term for Native American women — offering more than 3,300 alternatives — as it aims to purge pejorative monikers from public lands.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also announced that her agency will halt the use of the actual word in any “official-related communications,” substituting it with “sq___” instead.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” Haaland said in a statement.


An Interior spokesperson said that change — a recommendation from the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force — would not apply to agency websites while new names are considered.

Haaland issued a pair of executive orders in November aimed at speeding the erasure of offensive names from public lands units and specifically declaring “squaw” a derogatory term (Greenwire, Nov. 19, 2021).

Those orders also established the 13-member task force assigned to identify and recommend new names for sites that include the word.

The list of alternative names includes five proposals for each site.

According to the Federal Register announcement, each of the proposals was “derived through a search of nearby named geographic features.”

The names will be open to a 60-day public comment period, after which the task force will make final recommendations to the Board on Geographic Names. That body, which does not create names for geographic features, approves or rejects names proposed by others (Greenwire, Jan. 7).