CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The U.S. government has joined a ski resort and others that have quit using a racist term for a Native American woman by renaming hundreds of peaks, lakes, streams and other geographical features on federal lands in the West and elsewhere.
The names of more than two dozen places in Colorado were changed as part of the effort.
New names for nearly 650 places bearing the offensive word “squaw” include the mundane (Echo Peak, Texas), peculiar (No Name Island, Maine) and Indigenous terms (Nammi’I Naokwaide, Idaho) whose meaning at a glance will elude those unfamiliar with Native languages.
Nammi’I Naokwaide, located in the traditional lands of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes in southern Idaho, means “Young Sister Creek.” The tribes proposed the new name.
“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Colorado places renamed from racist term
The changes announced Thursday capped an almost yearlong process that began after Haaland, the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, took office in 2021. Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
Haaland in November declared the term derogatory and ordered members of the Board on Geographic Names, the Interior Department panel that oversees uniform naming of places in the U.S., and others to come up with alternatives.
Haaland meanwhile created a panel that will take suggestions from the public on changing other places named with derogatory terms.
Other places renamed include Colorado’s Mestaa’ėhehe (pronounced “mess-taw-HAY”) Pass near Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Denver. The new name honors an influential translator, Owl Woman, who mediated between Native Americans and white traders and soldiers in what is now southern Colorado.
The Board on Geographic Names approved changing the mountain’s name in December.
Here is the full list of places in Colorado where names were changed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey:
|New Name||Removed Sq__ Name||Feature Class||County or Equivalent||State||Latitude||Longitude|
|Petite Tetons||Squaw Mountain||Summit||Routt County||Colorado||40.97765408||-107.2300464|
|Earthlodge Rock||Squaw Rock||Summit||Weld County||Colorado||40.96735445||-104.5780369|
|Artists Fingers||Squaw Fingers||Pillar||Mesa County||Colorado||39.0708151||-108.7203767|
|Nuchu Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Summit County||Colorado||39.8105413||-106.1897465|
|Colorow Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Eagle County||Colorado||39.658875||-106.6386454|
|Bug Canyon||Squaw Canyon||Valley||Dolores County, San Juan County||Colorado, Utah||37.44656573||-109.1119561|
|Sego Point||Squaw Point||Summit||Dolores County, San Juan County||Colorado, Utah||37.64203642||-108.9450963|
|Kaan Paachihpi||Squaw||Pillar||Montezuma County||Colorado||37.1266613||-108.6895391|
|Pawnee Hill||Squaw Hill||Summit||Yuma County||Colorado||39.880269||-102.1849134|
|Snow Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Archuleta County||Colorado||37.2319479||-107.3997722|
|Pargin Creek||Little Squaw Creek||Stream||Archuleta County||Colorado||37.2283368||-107.4094946|
|Eightmile Canyon||Squaw Canyon||Valley||Archuleta County||Colorado||37.18227911||-107.0245768|
|Kaavapayawiyagat Gulch||Squaw Gulch||Valley||Ouray County||Colorado||38.00138746||-107.6941094|
|Grizzly Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Hinsdale County||Colorado||37.7244442||-107.2542204|
|Grizzly Lake||Squaw Lake||Lake||Hinsdale County||Colorado||37.63730138||-107.2568408|
|Little Spruce Creek||Little Squaw Creek||Stream||Hinsdale County||Colorado||37.728611||-107.2344978|
|Grizzly Pass||Squaw Pass||Gap||Hinsdale County||Colorado||37.6016682||-107.2161622|
|Hairpin Hill||Squaw Hill||Summit||Montrose County||Colorado||38.43942544||-107.6950477|
|Cimarron Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Montrose County||Colorado||38.4435992||-107.5567252|
|Red Gulch||Squaw Gulch||Valley||Gunnison County||Colorado||38.82050149||-106.9223694|
|Tabeguache Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Chaffee County||Colorado||38.583115||-106.081753|
|Porcupine Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Saguache County||Colorado||38.1211076||-106.4658666|
|Evening Star Mountain||Squaw Mountain||Summit||Teller County||Colorado||38.71480589||-105.1465493|
|Maize Gulch||Squaw Gulch (historical)||Valley||Teller County||Colorado||38.7309915||-105.1605981|
|Soapy Creek||Squaw Creek||Stream||Fremont County||Colorado||38.6063839||-105.5308298|
|West Pawnee Trail Canyon||West Squaw Canyon||Valley||Baca County, Cimarron County||Colorado, Oklahoma||36.97666866||-102.6664959|
|East Pawnee Trail Canyon||East Squaw Canyon||Valley||Baca County, Cimarron County||Colorado, Oklahoma||36.97665194||-102.6663643|
|Mestaa’ėhehe Pass||Squaw Pass||Gap||Clear Creek County||Colorado||39.679155||-105.4736076|
Changing racist names has long precedent
While the offensive term in question, identified as “sq___” by the Interior Department on Thursday, has met wide scorn in the U.S. only somewhat recently, changing place names in response to broadening opposition to racism has long precedent.
The department ordered the renaming of places carrying a derogatory term for Black people in 1962 and those with a derogatory term for Japanese people in 1974.
The private sector in some cases has taken the lead in changing the offensive term for Native women. Last year, a California ski resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.
A Maine ski area also committed in 2021 to changing its name, two decades after that state removed the slur from names of communities and landmarks, though it has yet to do so.
The term originated in the Algonquin language and may have once simply meant “woman.” But over time, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage Indigenous women, experts say.
California, meanwhile, has taken its own steps to remove the word from place names. The state Legislature in August passed a bill that would remove the word from more than 100 places beginning in 2025.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has until the end of September to decide whether to sign the bill into law.
Adam Beam in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.
Lanie Lee Cook with FOX31 contributed to this report.