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Tiny North Dakota town set to have name changed to remove Indigenous slur

Replacement names for seven unincorporated places in the U.S. that contained the slur were approved, including one located near the North Dakota-Montana border.

FSA north dakota brief
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BISMARCK — A tiny North Dakota hamlet will be renamed to remove the racist and sexist slur “squaw” from the unincorporated populated place’s name, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Thursday, Jan. 12.

On Thursday, the Department’s Board on Geographic Names voted to approve replacement names for seven unincorporated places in the U.S. that contained the slur, including "Squaw Gap," North Dakota, located in McKenzie County near the North Dakota-Montana border.

Its replacement name, “Homesteaders Gap,” was selected by the community in the hamlet as relevant to their local history, said the Department of the Interior.

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The vote came after the result of a year-long process to remove the slur from federal sites using the term. In September, the department announced the final vote for nearly 650 geographical features with names that included the slur, but completed additional review for seven unincorporated populated places.

Before voting on the replacement names for each of the seven populated places, the Board on Geographic Names sought comment from Native American Tribes, local communities and stakeholders.

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“Words matter, particularly in our work to ensure our nation’s public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” said Secretary Deb Haaland in the Department of the Interior announcement. “I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to finalize the removal of this harmful word. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

The word “squaw” has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur referencing Indigenous women, the Department of the Interior said.

The U.S. Geological Survey website will be updated to reflect the results of the vote, along with a map of locations. The new names of each place are immediately effective for federal use, but the public may continue to propose name changes for any features to the Board of Geographic Names.

In September, five geographical features in North Dakota were also renamed to remove the slur from their names.

The Board on Geographic Names has previously deemed words, such as the N-word and a pejorative term for people of Japanese descent, as derogatory and overseen their removal from federal sites.

Haaland’s order to remove the Indigenous slur from geographic site names only applies to federal sites with names containing the term, not places under state or local jurisdiction.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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