Haaland plans review of racist names on federal lands

Race in America

FILE – In this April 23, 2021, file photo Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington. Haaland said extensive news media coverage of the death of Gabby Petito while on a cross-country trip should be a reminder of hundreds of Native American girls and women who are missing or murdered in the United States. Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, said her heart goes out to Petito’s family, but said she also grieves for “so many Indigenous women” whose families have endured similar heartache “for the last 500 years.” (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (The Hill) — 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 on 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.”

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