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Our view: Erase racist names from nation’s map

Late in 2021, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally created a process to replace derogatory names of geographic features across the nation. She declared the word “squaw” to be derogatory and ordered a federal panel – called the Board on Geographic Names – to move forward with procedures to remove that word from federal usage.

Herald pull quote, 7/27/22
Herald graphic
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Late in 2021, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally created a process to replace derogatory names of geographic features across the nation. She declared the word “squaw” to be derogatory and ordered a federal panel – called the Board on Geographic Names – to move forward with procedures to remove that word from federal usage.

“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,” she said in November.

She added that it’s important to “reconcile derogatory place names” and honor the “ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial.”

Now the focus is on Squaw Gap, a tiny, unincorporated place in the extreme western portion of North Dakota. On Friday, the Department of the Interior announced that the 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force is pushing to change the name of that small hamlet in North Dakota.

At the time of that November announcement, that S-word – we agree it’s derogatory, and thus believe it should be scrubbed from place names as well as polite conversation – could be found on more than 650 federal units.

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Along with the hamlet in North Dakota, six other locations are being considered for new names, including two in California and one each in Alaska, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

It’s not just the S-word, either. Derogatory place names based on Asian and Black populations also still exist, and many of those are similarly being phased out by federal, state and local officials who understand how these racist names perpetuate incorrect and worn-out stereotypes.

Last summer, a report by the news organization Axios showed there were still more than 600 names that included the word “negro,” more than 25 with the word “Chinaman” and more than 90 with the words “redman” or “redskin.”

And it’s not just the tiny, out-of-the-way places that are changing. Even the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics recently changed from a derogatory name (Sq*** Valley) to Palisades Tahoe.

The previous name was a “hurtful term,” the resort’s COO said in a New York Times article. When the new name was announced, the resort – according to the New York Times piece – said “times change, societal norms evolve and we learn things we didn’t previously know.”

Exactly.

Times are changing. And if that means erasing ridiculously racist names that dot our maps, we think it’s for the better.

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