Department of the Interior removes derogatory term from federal use

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The name change includes 71 geographic features in Idaho and 650 across America.

BOISE, Idaho- The US Department of the Interior completed removing the word “squaw” from federal geographic features such as buttes, streams, and canyons.

The term is considered pejorative towards Native Americans.

The name change includes 71 geographic features in Idaho and 650 across America.

One of the changes is “Squaw Butte” in Emmet, which is renamed Sehewoki’l Newenee’an Katete. A nearby creek becomes Chief Eagle Eye Creek.

There are competing theories on the origin of the term, although they agree that it is not Native American.

“What we do know is that it’s not really a Native American term,” said Erik Hadley, Native American history professor at Boise State. “It was used by settlers, especially white English settlers. It may have originally been used as an association for a Native American woman. But over time it has become associated with both the tropes of racism and sexism, and has become a derogatory term for women, not an honorable or respectful term.

The change has been compared to recent examples of sports teams changing their names.

“If you look at the history of the denomination in the West, there were a lot of settlers who came to the West in the 19th century. Many of them used derogatory terms, at least as they would define them today. today,” Hadley said. “Not just Native Americans, but those that were derogatory to African Americans or Asian Americans. Most of those names have been changed, starting in the 70s.”

Plans to phase out the term began in November 2021, when the Home Office announced Secretary’s Order 3404, who declared the term pejorative. He also created the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, which includes representatives from several federal agencies.

In February, the Home Office announced a list of possible replacement names. The agency conducted trial consultations and received public comments to recommend and review the new names.

“The question of whether or not it was originally wasn’t sexist, the fact is that many Indigenous people see it that way today,” Hadley said. “Its use over the past two hundred years has not been a neutral term, it is a pejorative term.”

The US Board on Geographic names is the agency that oversees the uniform use of geographic names across the federal government.

Changes are effective immediately.

A complete map with a list of modified geographical features is available on the US Geological Survey website.

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