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Interior Department fielding nominations for committee to replace derogatory names

By: - January 11, 2022 1:05 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

The U.S. Department of the Interior is moving forward on its plan to replace derogatory names of places on federal lands and is seeking nominations for members of the new Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place-Names. 

This comes nearly two months after Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland declared “squaw” to be a derogatory term and directed the National Park Service to create a committee to remove offensive names from federal geographic features.

The committee is responsible for identifying geographic names and federal land unit names that are considered derogatory and they will solicit proposals on replacement names.

“Too many of our nation’s lands and waters continue to perpetuate a legacy of oppression,” Haaland said in a press release. “This important advisory committee will be integral to our efforts to identify places with derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue.” 

There are currently more than 660 federal land units that contain the term, according to a database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names. In Arizona, there are 67 that are tied to various geographic features like summits, valleys, streams and reservoirs. 

Federal land units include National Forest System land, the National Park System, the National Wilderness Preservation System, the National Landscape Conservation System and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

There are several states that have passed legislation prohibiting the use of the word “squaw” in place names, including Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota. 

“The establishment of this committee is a momentous step in making our nation’s public lands and waters more welcoming and open to people of all backgrounds,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams in a press release. “These committee members, who will reflect the diversity of America, will serve their country in an important way.”

The Committee will consist of no more than 17 members that will be appointed by Haaland; it will meet as many as four times a year. 

The committee will be made up of four members of tribal nations; one representative of a tribal organization; one representative of a Native Hawaiian organization; four people with backgrounds in civil rights or race relations; four people with expertise in anthropology, cultural studies, geography, or history; and three members of the general public.

“I look forward to broad engagement from tribes, civil rights scholars and academics, stakeholders, and the general public as we advance our goals of equity and inclusion,” Haaland said in a press release.

Nominations for the committee must be submitted to Joshua Winchell, Office of Policy, National Park Service, at [email protected]

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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.