In this file photo, Home Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a press briefing. Haaland recently declared the term “squaw” derogatory and launched a task force to eliminate its use on geographic features, Washington, DC, April 23, 2021 | Associated Press photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News
ST. GEORGE – On November 19, Home Secretary Deb Haaland issued two federal orders to remove derogatory names from the country’s geographic features.
Secretariat Order 3404 formally identified the term “squaw” as derogatory and created a working group to find alternate names for geographic features using the term. Secretary’s Order 3405 established the Place Name Reconciliation Advisory Committee to research, review and recommend changes to other offensive names on public lands.
In a press release announcing the orders, Haaland said, “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 legacy of oppression.
At least 11 sites in southern Utah carry the term used as a sexual insult to Native American women, according to a place name database maintained by the US Geological Survey. Statewide, there are more than 50 geographic features with the derogatory name, including Squaw Peak in Provo, Squaw Canyon on Pine Valley Mountain, and Squaw Creek in Cedar City.
The federal government’s efforts to tackle derogatory place names follow the passage of similar legislation by the State of Utah government in early 2021. Senator Jani Iwamoto (D-Salt Lake City ) sponsored a bill to change the names of places, designated as SB 10, which was approved by both chambers and promulgated by the governor.
Iwamoto said she realized the term’s harms years ago and explained why its use is particularly harmful:
The meaning of the word “squaw” changed throughout the 1800s and became a word describing an Aboriginal woman as promiscuous, prostitute, or other meanings associated with sexual violence. Native American women experience sexual violence at rates above the US national average: more than a third of Native American women experience domestic and sexual violence in their lifetime. In Utah, Indigenous women make up less than 1% of the state’s population, but account for 27% of all reported rape cases. The perpetrators of 80% of this violence are non (American) Indian partners. Names like “squaw” all help to perpetuate this nefarious action against Aboriginal women.
Prior to the bill, the process of changing the name of a geographic feature or landmark was obscure at best. Approval of new names required input from local communities, as well as the Utah Geographical Names Committee and the American Council on Geographical Names – although neither organization has a formal application process.
The new legislation empowered the Utah Division of Indian Affairs to facilitate the application process by creating a template to help local groups or individuals organize their efforts and expedite name changes.
Dustin Jansen, director of the Utah Indian Affairs Division, said the state agency is working on a draft document that he hopes will be ready for comment and review by the public in January 2022.
Other geographic features that have already been considered for a name change include Lake Navajo near Cedar City and the Shinob Kibe Cave in Washington County. Representatives from the Paiutes Shivwits Band said these landmarks should have correctly spelled names and best represent local Indigenous peoples.
He said the only name change efforts his division had been made aware of since the bill was passed were at a well-known peak in the Utah Valley, and organizers are awaiting comments from the Ute Tribe to recommend. an alternate name.
“When we have place names like Squaw Peak that are derogatory and can perpetuate the image of Indigenous women being sex objects or just other women, we have to get rid of those things,” Jansen said. “Names like this appearing on landmarks across the country – it’s racial graffiti that people can see and it influences how they see Indigenous women. “
While the Indian Affairs Division can help lead and inform name change efforts, it has not been tasked with researching and recommending changes. This responsibility rests with members of the public or local communities, in relation to the federal working group created by order of the secretariat which is empowered to recommend changes related to federal benchmarks.
The state bill and federal ordinances require input from tribal governments where names referring to Native Americans are under consideration, and the Home Office calls for comment from experts in civil rights, anthropology and in history as well as members of the general public.
“I think with this legislation there is an education process that goes with it and the contribution of the public,” said Iwamoto. “I think it’s really important that people understand the story behind the name and why it’s so painful. It’s a process, and it needs tribal voices to be a good process.
This latest effort to remove specific derogatory terms is not the first for the Home Office. The agency identified the N word as derogatory in 1962 and decided to eliminate its use and removed a derogatory term for “Japanese” in 1974.
According to the statement, several states have passed legislation prohibiting the use of the word “squaw” in place names, and legislation is pending in both houses of Congress to deal with derogatory names on public lands.
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