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Interior Department identifies North Dakota community as using racial slur, moves to rename it

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names will vote on final replacement names for the nearly 700 identified geographic places this September.

The tiny hamlet of Squaw Gap in McKenzie County
The tiny hamlet of Squaw Gap in McKenzie County is on a list of seven communities on federally owned land that the U.S. Interior Department are recommending change their name because of the use of the racist and sexist slur.
Jimmy Emerson / Special to The Forum
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WASHINGTON — Seven unincorporated communities on federally owned lands, including one in North Dakota, could be receiving new names as part of a government effort to remove a racial slur from federal lands.

The Department of the Interior announced Friday that the 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, formed in February, has concluded its review of the more than 660 geographic features including the word "squaw," a term that has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women.

In addition to the already identified geographic features, including mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys and more, the DOI has identified seven additional unincorporated populated places that it feels warrants further review, including Squaw Gap, North Dakota.
The tiny hamlet of Squaw Gap is located in western McKenzie County in western North Dakota, near the Montana border.

The six other locations include two in California and one each in Alaska, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

Noting there are unique concerns with renaming the sites, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names will seek out additional review from the local communities and stakeholders before making final determinations.

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In February, the Interior Department launched a public comment period to provide feedback and review of recommended replacement names. Over 6,600 comments were submitted from the public, with an additional 300 comments gained through nation-to-nation consultations.

Last week, the task force provided replacement name recommendations to the BGN, which is expected to vote on those recommendations in September, at which point a final list will be published.

“I am grateful to the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force for their work to ensure that racist names like sq___ no longer have a place on our federal lands," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. "I look forward to the results of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names vote, and to implement changes as soon as is reasonable."

Haaland is a member of the Pueblo tribe from New Mexico, and is the first Indigenous person to serve as a cabinet secretary.

official-headshot-secretary-deb-haaland.jpg
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior

Under Haaland's original order to investigate changing names, the task force only focused on the use of the word "squaw." A separate order created a Federal Advisory Committee for the department to formally receive advice from the public regarding additional derogatory terms and the process for derogatory name reconciliation.

The next steps on the status of that committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

Though Haaland's orders only affect federally owned lands, some states and municipalities have taken the initiative to remove the slur from geographic names.

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