Final steps to remove derogatory names from federal lands underway

By: - July 27, 2022 2:02 pm

Wildflowers bloom near the base of Piestewa Peak in Phoenix in 2013. The mountain was renamed in 2003 from Sq— Peak because the word “sq—” is a derogatory term. There are still 67 places on federal lands in Arizona that use that term, and all will be renamed because of an order by the U.S. Department of Interior. Photo by Aznaturalist | Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Sixty-six of the 67 sites on federal land in Arizona with a name that includes a slur for Native American women are slated to be renamed in September.

With the public comment period now over, the U.S. Department of Interior is in the final stages of renaming more than 660 geographic features with the word “sq***” in their name. 

The term was declared a derogatory term last year by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. It’s a term that has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur for Indigenous women. 

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“I am grateful to the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force for their work to ensure that racist names like sq___ no longer have a place on our federal lands,” Haaland said in a press release

Per the secretarial order, the task force established a list of candidate geographic names to replace those declared derogatory by the order. In February, the department launched the public comment period, allowing feedback from the public on the recommended names. 

The task force received more than 6,600 comments from the public, with an additional 300 comments gained through nation-to-nation consultations, according to the Department of Interior. 

Several public comments were left for geographic features located in Arizona. Some included recommendations for new names, but most were merely supportive of the effort.

“I have lived in Arizona for 30 years. I am an avid hiker and climber and an amateur historian. I am pleased that there is a task force assembled to rename peaks and features named Sq***,” commenter Scott Surgent posted. 

He included a four page document that highlighted the name change proposals along with his comments that outlined why he agreed or disagreed with the name changes.

Surgent didn’t provide comment on all 67 sites in Arizona, but did express support for renaming the 18 mountain peaks with the slur. 

Amanda Benton told the task force it should rename a mountain near the Yavapai-Apache Nation, close to Camp Verde, “Porcupine Mountain.” She included the petition currently circulating that advocates for the change.

“The newly proposed name comes from the Dilzhe’e People who know the mountain as Das Zine Das Dahe which means “Where The Porcupine Sits” and the People that lived in that area were known to be of the Porcupine Mountain People Clan,” the petition states.

The petition states that the name was recommended by the Yavapai-Apache Nation’s director of Apache cultural preservation. It has received 170 signatures.

The sole location in Arizona that does not qualify to be renamed is considered historical, according to the Board on Geographic Names. Sq*** Beach is in Mohave County near the Fort Mohave Indian Tribe’s land. The Arizona Mirror reached out to the board to verify what made the location historical, but did not receive a response. 

The task force provided replacement name recommendations to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names this week, and the board is expected to vote on the recommendations in September. That is when the final list will be published, according to the Department of Interior.

“I look forward to the results of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names vote, and to implement changes as soon as is reasonable,” Haaland said.

There are currently 664 federal land units that contain the term, according to a database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names. Federal land units include National Forest land, the National Park System, the National Wilderness Preservation System, the National Landscape Conservation System and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Board on Geographic Names will also provide additional review for seven geographic locations from the list, according to the Department of Interior.

“Those seven locations are considered unincorporated populated places,” the Department stated in a press release. “Noting that there are unique concerns with renaming these sites, the (Board on Geographic Names) will seek out additional review from the local communities and stakeholders before making a final determination.”

The following places are up for additional review by the task force: Sq*** Harbor in Alaska; Sq*** Hill and Sq*** Valley in California; Sq*** Gap in North Dakota; Sq***berry in Tennessee; Sq*** Mountain in Texeas; and Sq*** Place in Wyoming.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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