Energy & Environment

Interior secretary announces review of racist place names on federal lands

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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Friday that the agency will create a process to review and replace racially derogatory terms used in the names of places on federal lands.

Haaland, the nation’s first Native American Cabinet secretary, declared the term “squaw,” a pejorative for Indigenous women, to be derogatory, and ordered the creation of procedures to replace all federal uses of the term. The word currently appears in the name of more than 650 federal land units, according to Board on Geographic Names data.

The secretary also announced the creation of a federal committee to review other derogatory names on federal land. The department, through a newly-created Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, will consult with the public and tribal representatives on potential changes, according to the statement.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage – not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” Haaland said in a statement Friday. “Today’s actions will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial.”

The department has taken similar actions over the years, including eliminating the use of place names containing slurs for Black and Japanese people in the 1960s and 1970s. Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota have already passed laws barring the use of “squaw” in place names.

Haaland, whose purview includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has centered Native issues and tribal relations with the federal government since taking office. Earlier this year, she announced a review of the federal boarding schools in which Indigenous children were forcibly placed. Haaland’s grandfather was a survivor of Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School, whose founder summarized the schools’ mission as “kill the Indian, save the man.”

Tags Deb Haaland Indigenous people Native American people

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