The U.S. Department of the Interior, under the leadership of Secretary Deb Haaland, announced yesterday that it had renamed five places that used a racist term for a Native American woman. The places, located in California, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas, will no longer contain the word "squaw" in their names.
Secretary Haaland, the first Native American to hold a Cabinet position, stated that "Words matter, particularly in our work to ensure our nation's public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds." and emphasized the importance of removing the term "squaw" which she deemed as "harmful."
This move follows similar actions taken by the Interior Department in 1962 and 1974, when derogatory terms for Black and Japanese people were removed from place names.
In western North Dakota, the new name Homesteaders Gap was selected by members of a small community as a nod to their local history.
Mark Fox, tribal chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, welcomed the change, telling The Bismarck Tribune that the slur "really causes serious and strong emotions and resistance to that term." In a statement to The Associated Press, he said it was long overdue, and "we are pleased that the racially insensitive and offensive name has been removed."
But Joel Brown, a member of the McKenzie County Board of Commissioners, said many residents in the area "felt very strongly" in opposition to the switch. Brown, who is white, said he and others prefer as little interference from the federal government as possible because "generally we find they're disconnected from what the culture and economy are out here."