Nov 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Interior to remove anti-Indigenous slurs from names of federal lands

Photo of Deb Haaland speaking into a mic
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks during a welcome ceremony for a totem pole carved by the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation on July 29, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

The Interior Department will review, remove and replace derogatory names, including "squaw," from U.S. geographic landmarks, Secretary Deb Haaland announced Friday.

The big picture: Haaland's order formally declares the term as derogatory and creates a task force to rename the federal lands that bear it. A separate committee will review proposed name changes related to other derogatory terms.

Details: The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force will be required to engage in tribal consultation and consider public feedback on proposed name changes.

  • The term is a slur historically used to denigrate Native Americans, especially Indigenous women. Over 650 federal land units currently contain the word, according to a database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names.

What she's saying: "Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. 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."

Of note: The order also creates the Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names, which will work separately to review proposed name changes related to other derogatory terms.

  • It will include representatives from Indigenous tribes as well as tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations.

Don't forget: The federal government previously eliminated use of derogatory terms in the past, such as the n-word and anti-Japanese slurs.

  • Several states have already passed legislation to prohibit the use of "squaw" in place names.
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