Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
Interior Minister Deb Haaland formally declared “squaw” to be a derogatory term on Friday and ordered a task force to find replacement names for valleys, lakes, streams and elsewhere in federal lands that use the word.
The promulgation, which takes effect immediately, stands to affect more than 650 place names that use the term, according to figures from the US Board on Geographic Names.
“Racist expressions have no place in our language or in our federal lands. The lands and waters of our nation should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our common cultural heritage – not to perpetuate the legacy of oppression,” Haaland said in a press release about the change.
The origin of the word “squaw” has been traced to the Algonquian language, where it simply meant “woman”. But its significance was skewed by centuries of use by white people, including colonists in the 17th century.
“The term has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist incantation, especially for indigenous women,” the Interior Ministry said.
The new federal action is one of the biggest steps yet in the pressure to remove hurtful words from place names. In recent decades, several states from Maine to Oregon have dropped the term “squaw” from place names. And earlier this year, a famous Lake Tahoe ski resort dropped its long-standing name Squaw Valley, saying it was racist and sexist.
Haaland is the first Native American to have served in the Cabinet in American history. She is a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo.
When announcing the ban on the term, the Home Office noted that Haaland is following the same path that her predecessors and Board on Geographic Names have previously taken when recognizing that a word was widely recognized as being derogatory or derogatory.
In the 1960s and 70s, the agency said, place names containing insults to blacks and Japanese were replaced at the wholesale level.
The news of the policy change comes when the United States marks Native American Heritage Month. Days ago, President Biden hosted a summit of tribal nations in the White House.
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