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I Just Learned Why “Squaw” is a Derogatory Term and Why Its Being Removed from Public Land Sites

We’ve come a long way since the early 1900s regarding equality, especially around the words we use to describe each other. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. However, we’ve taken stride after stride to create a country that truly stands for liberty and justice for all. Much of society is no longer content with overlooking the use of derogatory terms. One we’re seeing wiped from public land sites is the word “squaw.”

Today, we’ll learn about this term. And we’ll show you why activists are working so hard to raise awareness of the offensive word and how they’re getting it removed from public land sites. Let’s get started. 

Why Is Squaw a Derogatory Term?

Depending on which website you click on or which source you trust the most, the origin and definition of the term vary. However, in general, the word started as a term for an Indigenous woman. Like many words, the use of the word changed over time. The term began to get misused and used negatively to degrade women. 

Shannon O’Loughlin, the CEO and attorney for the Association on American Indian Affairs, said, “the term has been used in derogatory ways by colonizers until today, as a sexualized stereotype of a Native American woman.” Many would use the term to describe a female who they viewed as having a lot of relationships with men.

Why Are Officials Removing Squaw References from Public Land Sites?

In February 2022, the Department of the Interior released a large list of more than 660 geographic features across the country that include the derogatory reference in their name. 

According to a press release, Secretary Deb Haaland said, “Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds.” 

She said, “Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders, and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”

If people don’t know whether a term is offensive or derogatory, they should not use it. However, once people learn that a word is inappropriate or offensive, they should eliminate it from their vocabulary. 

Now that more people are becoming aware of this particular offensive term, we’re starting to see more action behind removing it from public land sites to create a more welcoming and accepting environment for all.

Where Are the Squaw References Located?

Unfortunately, the term is used all across the country in various ways to name places and objects. You’ll find it in the names of streams, reservoirs, summits, and other landforms. Luckily, officials received recommendations for new names for all the references on the list. They’re taking a massive step towards eliminating the use of the offensive term. 

Will this stop everyone from using it? Likely not. However, it’s only a matter of time before the word is seen as offensive as other terms that we’ve nearly eradicated from our everyday use.

What States Use the Offensive Name?

Unfortunately, most states had at least one reference to the derogatory term somewhere in their state. You can see the full list of offensive names that use the slur and see the names of places and landforms near you.

However, the biggest offender was the state of Arizona. Thus the state made a push recently to remove more than 70 references.

Public Land Sites That Had Offensive Names

A name is important. If not, parents wouldn’t stress over what they’ll call their children. Unfortunately, some other public land sites had names that were considered offensive. Luckily, leadership stepped up and changed their titles. Here are a few other public land sites that once had offensive names.

Mount Doane

Yellowstone National Park contains the massive 10,551-foot Mount Doane, which most weren’t aware had an incredibly offensive name. The National Park Service announced in June 2022 that they would change the mountain’s name from Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain. 

The original name originated from Gustavus Doane, a U.S. Army captain who played a major role in the 1870 expedition to the area. This came before Yellowstone became a national park. 

However, most don’t know that Doane led an attack on a tribe of Piegan Blackfeet natives. The incident was a retaliation attack on the tribe for the supposed murder of a white furrier. However, the retaliation resulted in the killing of nearly 200 Native Americans. 

Park service officials couldn’t stand by and continue to honor the life of someone responsible for such evil. 

According to an NPS press release, the new name was “based on recommendations from the Rocky Mountain Tribal Council, subsequent votes within the Wyoming Board of Geographic names, and support of the National park Service.”

Indian Garden

Grand Canyon National Park announced in September 2021 that they were changing the name of Indiana Garden. It is a sacred spot for local Havasupai people along Bright Angel Trail. 

The creation of the national park here essentially evicted the Havasupai people from their land, who had been there for more than 1,000 years. Park officials announced the name change to Havasupai Garden, a more respectful and less offensive name.

Melvin Hazen Trail and Park

In February 2022, the National Park Service announced another name change. This change would remove all references to Melvin Hazen from the Rock Creek tributary and trail in Washington, D.C. 

Hazen was a powerful local government official responsible for a tremendous amount of segregation between residents. Monika Nemeth, an area Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner said, “He made it a point of basically excluding, ejecting or removing Black people. There’s no polite way to say that.”

However, NPS faced an obstacle because only Congress can name national park units. To remove all references to Melvin Hazen as quickly as possible, the NPS began referring to the park as “Reservation 630,” which is the parcel of land’s reservation number in the city. The park has not yet received a new name.

Stonewall Jackson Shrine

There’s a small white farmhouse in Woodford, Va., once called Stonewall Jackson Shrine. However, in 2010 the National Park Service began receiving requests for the name change. The complaint was that the shrine communicated the wrong message for the historic site. 

The site’s chief historian and chief of interpretation, John Hennessy, told Virginia Mercury there were online references to angry individuals wanting to take down the offensive “shrine” to the Confederate leader.

Hennessy said in the article, “The term shrine implies a place of veneration, and traditionally the National Park Service tries to interpret history in an objective and holistic sort of way.” 

Using the term shrine placed a different focus on the historic site. Now, the site goes by “Stonewall Jackson Death Site.”

A Name Is More Than Just a Name

It’s good to see that the country wants to take steps toward considering names and thinking through how someone can interpret them. Who we choose to recognize and remember in our history is important. 

However, we must be aware of our progress and continue improving our treatment of each other. We cannot forget about our past as that’s a surefire way to repeat it. Let’s continue to create a more unified and genuinely united United States.

Have other monuments near you undergone a name change?

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